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.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

History of Woodrough & McParlin, Ohio Saw Works

Woodrough & McParlin No. 21 Cincinnati Pattern, by Disston 
Woodrough and McParlin made some of the best plastering trowels in the US. It is a testament to their quality that after Henry Disston & Sons purchased the company's line, Disston continued to make the Woodrough and McParlin trowels as one of their better products. They were a single-post design, with large handles, and the extra quality trowels had a higher polish and walnut handles.

The history is complicated, beginning with young men trained as smiths and saw makers in Birmingham, England, emigrating to America, practicing their trade, forming partnerships and businesses, separating and relocating, intermarrying, joining together again into a trust, and having the trust taken over by Disston.

Joseph Woodrough (1813-1889) is at the center of this story. He was born in Birmingham, emigrated in the early 1840s, and settled in West Cambridge, MA, where he met and married Agnes Moreman in 1845. He worked for West Cambridge saw maker Welch & Griffiths, of which Charles Griffiths was also from Birmingham. In 1845 Woodrough formed a partnership with another Birmingham native, William Clemson (1821-1890). It is likely that the 3 men knew each other in England, because all were christened at the same church.

Woodrough and Clemson set up shop making saws in West Cambridge and in 1852 moved to nearby Woburn. Clemson was gifted mechanically and designed equipment for the shop. In spring 1853 Woodrough withdrew from the firm and it became Henshaw and Clemson. West Cambridge was renamed Arlington in 1867.

Woodrough & McParlin plastering trowel, 1874
Joseph Woodrough moved to Hamilton, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati, where he entered a saw manufacturing partnership with Michael McParlin and Henry C. Dunn, as Woodrough, McParlin & Dunn. By 1856, the firm had moved to Cincinnati, first at 823 W. 7th St., then to 15 Walnut St. the next year. This was 1 block east of the Roebling Suspension Bridge then under construction, and one block in from the Ohio River, shown on this 1865 photo.  From 1865 through at least 1872 they were at 10-12 W. 2nd St. and using a second name, Ohio Saw Works. By 1875 they had settled at the southeast corner of West 6th St. and Hoadly St. (later named Baymiller), still close to the river and across from the Cincinnati Hamilton & Dayton RR station so that Woodrough could commute daily from Hamilton on the train.    

James R. Woodrough
Woodrough made hand saws, circular saws, meat cleavers, and plastering trowels. His oldest son Horace W. Woodrough (1847-?) joined him in 1868, and James Richards Woodrough (1848-1894) in 1869. James R. was a saw maker according to the 1870 Census, and he became the most active in the business. Younger sons Rufus Lee (R.L., 1858-1935) and Herbert H. Woodrough (1855-1916) entered the business later. R.L. was a traveling agent for his father's business and started a hardware company in Chicago in 1885.

Increasing competition in tool manufacturing led to most smaller saw makers forming a trust the year after the elder Woodrough's death. "The National Saw Company was incorporated in 1890, with a capital of $3,000,000. George N. Clemson was made its president; Louis Duhme, vice-president; R. W. Clemson, secretary; R. L. Woodrough, treasurer; and H. H. Woodrough, treasurer. The company owns and operates the establishments of the Wheeler, Madden & Clemson Manufacturing Company, and the Monhagen Steel Works at Middletown; Woodrough & McParlin at Cincinnati, Ohio; The Richardson Saw Works at Newark; Harvey W. Peace, Brooklyn, N. Y., and Woodrough & Clemson, Montvale, Mass." From Between the Ocean and the Lakes: The Story of Lake Erie, by Edward Harold Mott, 1899.

George N. Clemson and Richard W. Clemson were the sons of former partner William Clemson. Richard W. Clemson had married Joseph and Agnes Woodrough's daughter Leona in 1881. James R. Woodrough was manager of the Woodrough & McParlin factory.

This 1891 article alleges how The National Saw Co., as a trust, was colluding with Disston to set prices and divide territory and products.  

Five years later, the Cincinnati plant burned. It was located in an industrial area near the Ohio River. An unnamed newspaper of Newark, OH, Wednesday, 17 April, 1895, wrote Big Blaze in Cincinnati:
1899 advertisement
"The large 6-story building of the National Saw Company, occupying almost a square at Baymiller and Sixth Streets, was burned about midnight. The building belongs to the estate of Wesley U. Cameron and was valued at over $50,000. The National Saw Company loss on stock, machinery, etc. over $250,000. The company has $225,000. insurance on the warehouse that was destroyed. The 6-story warehouse is a total loss, but part of the adjoining buildings that belonged to the saw company and not to the Cameron estate, were saved. The company saved its books and accounts, but nothing else. The walls fell in, making the loss complete. The burned works are the old plant of Woodrough & McParlin, of which James R. Woodrough is manager. The works belonged to the trust known as the National Saw Company."

Woodrough & McParlin plant as rebuilt, owned  by Disston, 1904
The factory was rebuilt at the same location, and National Saw Co. continued to make the Woodrough & McParlin plastering trowels. Disston's relationship National Saw grew closer. The 7 May 1896 obituary of Hamilton Disston said he had just attended a meeting of National Saw Co. in Newark, NJ. Eventually Disston took over National Saw, and continued to make some of its products under the original names, including the Cincinnati pattern plastering trowels. The Google Street View shows this corner today.

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