Please note

Because of the lack of published trowel and masonry tool histories, the information here is based on other sources that may be less reliable and certainly are incomplete. These include eBay and tools that I purchase myself that are the starting points for my research. I will write what I know as I learn it. If what you read here interests you, please check back often and look for revisions and corrections. Scanned catalogs are either mine or by Rose Antique Tools and used with permission, and are on Google Docs as pdf files. A few are links to other websites. Your photos and information are welcome. Please click on any picture to enlarge it. Comments are welcome, but any with links will be deleted as possible spam.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

History of GTW, Germantown Tool Works and Griffith Tool Works

"Hardware", 1900
Germantown Tool Works, which became Griffith Tool Works around 1919, was located in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Their logo, as stamped on tools, was a simple “GTW”, and their brand name was Master Builder and later was Germantown. GTW made forged striking tools, including hammers, hatchets, and axes. Their masonry tools included brick hammers, napping hammers, hand drilling hammers, mason's hammers, double face stone and bush hammers, mill picks, and chisels. GTW had a smaller product line than local competitor Fayette R. Plumb.

G. Selsor & Co., Germantown
According to 1915 and 1922 advertisements, the company had made tools since 1858. What the ads did not say was this was under different ownership. Griffith Tool Works existed at least through 1977.

"The Lather", 1916
Germantown Tool Works began as a partnership of Samuel F. Wilson (1838-1922) and John R. Griffith (1839-1918). The partners took over George Selsor's (1821-1909) hammer and axe works on Armat St. in Germantown. The date is unknown, but the works appears on this 1871 map, to the left of the railroad tracks.

Germantown Tool Works was affiliated with Shields & Brother, a Philadelphia wholesale hardware firm in which Samuel F. Wilson was a principal. John R. Griffith was working there as a salesman in 1871, at 119 N. 3rd St., and this building is standing today.

Griffith Tool Works paper label 
From 1899 through 1920, and possibly longer, Germantown Tool Work’s office was in several different but adjacent and back-to-back buildings in the 500 block of Commerce St. and Market St., between N. 5th St. and N. 6th St. This is 3 blocks north of Independence Hall, in what is now called Center City. Commerce St. no longer exists in this block, and it is now part of Independence Mall and Visitor Center.

In the early 20th century, this area of downtown Philadelphia was densely constructed 4 and 5 story brick warehouses and retail stores, including several hardware stores. Hardware wholesaler Supplee-Biddle occupied most of the opposite side of Commerce St.

GTW brick hammer with new handle
Germantown Tool Work’s plant was in several locations, all well to the north of Commerce and Market Streets. The first known plant was 59 Armat St. in Germantown, 8 miles away. The 1912 plant was 6 miles north of Commerce St. The company then bought 3 acres along a rail line near N. 2nd St. between Ashdale St. and Duncannon Ave., where it planned 7 one-story buildings ranging from 30x100 to 40x100 feet. This area was the far suburbs at the time, but it quickly developed into row houses. GTW's plant remained at this location for at least 44 more years.

The partner's sons took over both businesses by 1922. John's brother Paul C. Griffith (1846-1934) was a long-time Shields employee and sales manager. With the urban renewal occurring downtown by 1956, Griffith Tool Works was using the plant for their office address, 5143 N. 2nd St., 1½ blocks south of Duncannon Ave.

Griffith mansion, 2015, work in progress
The 3 Griffith sons married late or not at all. Charles F. Griffith (1919-1954) and his wife bought a mansion at 231 Laurel Lane, Haverford, PA in the 1920s. The house was only 1½ blocks from Fayette R. Plumb's house.  His 2 unmarried sisters moved in during the 1930s, and his unmarried brothers Paul A. (1866-1953) and Edward J. (1872-1959) did the same by the early 1950s. Paul's occupation was listed as hardware merchant at his death. Here is more information about the mansion in 1989, after the last Griffith died, and it is for sale now for $2.5 million.

The last known owner of GTW was John R. Griffith (1912-1985), grandson of Paul C. Griffith (1846-1934). Paul became manager of the wholesale hardware firm and his grandson was a salesman there in 1930. When John R. Griffith's (1839-1918) 5 children died with no offspring, the business and mansion appears to have passed to John R. Griffith (1912-1985).

Following are some dates and addresses associated with GTW's history:

1840 – Shields & Brother founded, retail and wholesale hardware, Philadelphia
1858 – Germantown Tool Works began manufacturing tools, according to their 1915 and 1922 advertisements
1871 – Germantown Tool Works is not in city directory, John R. Griffith was a salesman at Shields & Brother (James Shields, owner), 119 N. 3rd St., Philadelphia. George Selsor & Co. was in Germantown.
1899 – Germantown Tool Works, office 518 Commerce St., Philadelphia
1901 – Germantown Tool Works, plant 59 Armat St., Germantown, Philadelphia
1902 – listed as Shields & Brother (Germantown Tool Works) in Annual Report by Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce
1908 – construction bids being accepted for a 3-story building 68x80 feet, offices at 85 Armat St.
1911 – Germantown Tool Works, partnership of Samuel F. Wilson & John R. Griffith
1912 – Germantown Tool Works plant under construction at N. 2nd St. and W. Ashdale St., to replace one that burned 27 Feb. 1912
1916 – Germantown Tool Works, office 520 Commerce St.
1918 – Shields & Brother, office 521 Market St., Philadelphia
1918 – Germantown Tool Works, owner Charles F. Griffith
1919 – (approximate) changed name to Griffith Tool Works
1920 – Griffith Tool Works, office 520 Commerce St., Philadelphia
GTW foil label with Zip code
1924 – US Patent issued (tool handle wedge)
1956 – Griffith Tool Works, office 5143 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia
1959 – Griffith Tool Works, GPO Box 8657, Philadelphia 1, Pa.
1958 – US Patent issued
1977 – Griffith Tool Works Inc. PO Box 8657, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101


  1. Thank you for putting this together. I was not expecting to learn this much about my hammer.

  2. Thank you for putting this together. I was not expecting to learn this much about my hammer.

  3. Thanks for the history on the company...I have a couple GTW half-hatchets and often wondered where they were made. Excellent tools.

  4. Own a hammer hatchet gtw use it for kindling. Often wondered who made this fine tool

  5. What kind of high carbon or medium carbon steel were the GTW lath and other GTW hatchets made from ??

    1. Do not know. I have never seen one of their catalogs.

  6. I found a Hatchett with a logo. The handle was broke and it appeared little to no use. The name was over GTW in a block with made in the USA to the left and since 1857 (last digit appears as 7).