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.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

History of Sturgis Cement Worker's Tools

Sturgis cement tool advertisement, date unknown
Sturgis cement worker's tools were a secondary brand sold by the large hardware wholesaler Baker, Hamilton & Pacific Co. of San Francisco. The firm was the result of a 1918 merger between Pacific Hardware & Steel Co. and Baker & Hamilton Co. Their first quality tool brand was Stiletto, but I can't find a record of Stiletto cement tools.

A Google Books "snippet view" from page 571 of their Catalog No. 8 stated, "The jointer and edger illustrated below are not intended for skilled mechanics' use. They are inferior in construction to the regular line of tools...." Despite that, the tools advertised appear to be as well made as any other steel concrete tools, and the Safetred Step Tool is cast bronze, as is the bottom of the jointer pictured here.

Sturgis cement tools are quite rare. The steel tools were probably marked with a paper label which would have washed off. The adjustable jointer has "STURGIS" stamped into the edge of the bronze.

Sturgis adjustable finishing jointer, bronze

Saturday, September 2, 2017

History of Heller Majestic Trowels

Heller Brothers Majestic trowel etching
Majestic trowels were first made by Irvin Otto Gierman (28 Oct. 1919 - 8 Aug. 1958), a World War II veteran and welder in Chicago, Illinois. Gierman was unable to find a satisfactory trowel for his personal use, so he decided to attempt manufacturing his own. Upon seeing his work, a large Chicago wholesaler gave him an order for 600 dozen. At its peak, Majestic Trowel made 15,000 dozen annually with a workforce of 20 in Franklin Park, Illinois, near Chicago.

Heller Brothers Majestic No. 310-6 6 inch pointing trowel
On 15 Oct., 1949, Heller Brothers Company of Newcomerstown, Ohio, purchased Majestic and moved all its equipment to Newcomerstown. Heller Brothers put Gierman in charge of trowel manufacturing. Trowels fit with Heller's product line of forged tools, including a brick hammer, many other types of hammers, blacksmith's and farrier's tools, and files of all types.

Heller Brothers Co. sold to Simonds Saw and Steel Co. in 1955, and the name changed to Heller Tool Co.  According to advertisements visible on "snippet view" on Google Books, Heller Majestic brick and plaster trowels were made through at least 1957. They were etched, not stamped, with the name and logo. The etching was light and tended to wear away quickly. This makes Heller Majestic trowels difficult to find and identify today.
Heller Brothers 1.5 pound brick hammer

Saturday, August 26, 2017

History of Peugeot & Compagnie, Pont-de-Roide

Peugeot & Cie. was a major French tool manufacturer in Pont-de-Roide and Bourguignon, in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region, near Switzerland. The company's founders were descendants of the Peugeot family of industrialists, and children of James Jackson (1771-1829), an Englishman who emigrated to France in 1814 to make steel. In 1838 William Jackson married Louise Peugeot, and Georges Léonard Peugeot married Anna Jackson, establishing a union of families and business.

In 1842, 4 sons of Jean-Frédéric Peugeot joined with 4 Jackson brothers, establishing themselves at Pont-de-Roide to make tools and other articles. Their enterprise changed names several times over the following decades:

1846 Peugeot Aînés et Jackson Frères (Peugeot Elders & Jackson Brothers)
1866 Peugeot Jackson et Cie. (Peugeot Jackson & Co.)
1889 Peugeot Aînés et Cie. followed by Peugeot Frères et Cie. (Peugeot Brothers & Co.)
1907 Peugeot et Cie.

In 1933 Peugeot & Cie. merged with Les Fils de Peugeot Frères, but production continued at Pont-de-Roide until 1936. There 1932 catalog is on the Internet Archive.

Peugeot & Cie. works at Pont-de-Roide 
Peugeot’s products included a variety of trowels for masonry and brick, masonry hammers, a full line of saws from back saws to large circular and band saws for mills, wood chisels, planes, and coffee mills. Their coffee mills are actively collected, and most internet resources are about their coffee mills.

Pont-de-Roide is at the confluence of 3 small rivers, the Doub, Roide, and Ranceuse. The availability of water power to operate trip hammers and grindstones made it an attractive industrial site. By 1932, the Peugeot & Cie. catalog shows large, modernized plants with their own hydroelectric plants.  


Peugeot & Cie. masonry trowels
Peugeot & Cie. brick trowels

Thursday, July 6, 2017

History of Vet-O-Vitz Masonry Systems

Vet-O-Vitz brochure 
Vet-O-Vitz Masonry Systems, Inc., of  2786 Center Rd., Brunswick, Ohio, was a manufacturer of 3 electrically powered machines for masonry. These were the Vet-O-Vitz Mortar Spreader, Wall Grouter, and Floor Grouter. A scanned copy of a 4-page Vet-O-Vitz Mortar Spreader brochure which pictures all 3 machines is on the Internet Archive.

William Vetovitz (born in 1928) was the company owner and a bricklayer. He received US Patent 3148432 for the mortar spreader on 15 Sept. 1964. He received US Patent 3799714 on 26 Mar. 1974 for a version called a mortar applicator. The 4-page brochure is not dated, but appears to be from the 1970s. This 1975 book mentions the Mortar Spreader. By that year, Vet-O-Vitz Masonry Systems was making prefabricated brick panels for buildings and retaining walls. One of his best-known projects was for the Vontz Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. The company was in business as recently as 2013, but is now out of business.

Monday, July 3, 2017

History of Coulaux & Compagnie

Coulaux & Compagnie was a French manufacturer of tools and armaments, with manufacturing in Klingenthal, Molsheim, Mutzig, and Gresswiller. The operation at Klingenthal is famous for its swords. The Molsheim plant made tools, including a full line of brick trowels and finishing trowels. The arms manufacturing dates to 1729, and the business closed in 1962. More information (Français) (English), and here (German).

Their 1932 catalog is on the Internet Archive:
Coulaux & Cie. Truelles et Platoirs, Transplantoirs, Couteaux, Binettes  (Trowels & Finishing Trowels, Garden Trowels, Knives, Hoes)

A larger 1931 catalog is also on the Internet Archive:
Coulaux & Cie. Petit Outillage 1931 (Small Tools)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

History of James J. Ryan Tool Works

James J. Ryan Tool Works, later J.J. Ryan Tool Co. and J.J. Ryan Corp., made a brick chisel, chisels for metal and wood, and screwdrivers. J.J. Ryan Corp., if it is still active, is the parent company for Rex Forge, a contract forging works. Ryan has always been located in Southington, Connecticut, and the Plantsville neighborhood of the same city. Southington is best known as the home of Peck, Stow, and Wilcox (Pexto), a major manufacturer of machinery and hand tools. There were number of other steel forging businesses in Southington 100 years ago.  

James J. Ryan Tool Works Catalog No. 23, 1940s   
James J. Ryan was born 3 Oct 1872 in Southington, the son of Irish immigrants. In the 1900 US Census he was single and living with his widowed father Patrick Ryan, an iron molder. James was a bolt header at Clark Brothers Bolt Co., forging a variety of bolt heads on steel rods. At the 1910 US Census, James Ryan had been married 6 years to Mary A. Callahan, and he was a machinist at the same employer.

Between 1914 and 1917, according to Southington city directories, Ryan entered business as a tool manufacturer with David E. Conners at 81 Water St., Southington. By the 1920 directory, he was on his own at the same address, manufacturing primarily screwdrivers, according the 1920 US Census. By 1930 the business was at 315 Center St., Southington. Ryan took over making the famous Perfect Handle screwdrivers when Plantsville's  H.D. Smith & Co. went out of business between 1930 and 1933. The name changed by 1951 to James J. Ryan Tool Co.  

James Ryan continued to run the business as president, retiring in 1959 at age 87. Anna, the oldest daughter of James and Mary, worked in the business, eventually becoming secretary-treasurer. Harold Francis Donnelly (1915-1996), vice president and plant superintendent in 1951, became president after James Ryan. Donnelly was married to Helen D. Ryan, the youngest daughter of James and Mary. James Ryan died in Southington 26 Jun 1974, age 101.

Ryan brick chisel
In March 1964 the business had a fire, followed about 10 years later by another which destroyed the plant. Ryan then moved its operations to Rex Forge in Plantsville, which had space available. After a few years, the companies consolidated. The date Ryan stopped manufacturing tools is unknown.

James J. Ryan Tool Works Catalog No. 23, from the 1940s, is on the Internet Archive, but their brick chisel is not in this catalog.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

History of John Yates & Company, Ltd.

John Yates & Co., Ltd. was an English forged tool maker in the Birmingham area. The firm also went by J. Yates & Co., and Yates & Co. Their products included brick trowels, axes, brick axes, billhooks, spades, eye hoes, picks, mattocks, and other edge and striking tools. An early specialty was hoes and other tools for overseas cotton, rubber, and tea plantations.  By 1900, Yates was also advertising hand tools for road construction. Yates brick trowels and catalogues are very rare.

Yates began before 1838, when it advertised in Osborne's railway guide book. At that time they operated Pritchet Street Works, and by 1863 had added Exchange Works on Rocky Lane in Aston, later Aston Manor, Birmingham. It remained at Exchange Works for another 100 years.      

Osborne's Guide 1838
There are occasional print references to the company through 1965. By 1953 John Yates & Co. was included in the Eva Industries Group of Companies owned by Eva Brothers Ltd., of Crabtree Forge, Clayton, Manchester.  The group was renamed Eva Industries in 1960, and it continued to acquire toolmakers, including Edge Tool Industries (Edward Elwell Ltd. and Chillington Tool Co.) in 1962, reaching at least 10 subsidiaries in 1972.  In 1982 Eva Industries was acquired by Anglo-Indonesian Corporation plc. Currently, the John Yates & Co. name is held by the Ralph Martindale Group of Companies, who still manufacture agricultural hand tools as Ralph Martindale & Co. and Chillington Tool Co.  The date that John Yates & Co. tools stopped being manufactured is unknown.

Yates & Co. brick trowel stamp
Yates & Co. brick trowel (incorrect handle)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

History of Louden Machinery Co. Cement Tools

Louden No. 2 curved edger
Louden Machinery Company is best known for cast iron barn hardware and fittings, and they also designed barns for their customers. Louden made and sold at least 7 cement tools designed for building dairy barns. As shown in their 1918 barn plans catalog, these tools supplemented the conventional edger and finishing trowel in constructing concrete floors and stalls. Tools shown in their 1918 catalog are the No. 1 straight edger, No. 2 curved edger, No. 4 small curb tool, No. 5 and No. 6 curved steel trowels. Louden's 1928 catalog features the No. 2, No. 4, No. 5, No. 6, No. 7 radius trowel, the No. 8 cut-out smoother, and the No. 9 curved edger. The 2 small tool are very similar to foundry molding tools.

Wikipedia has an excellent history of the business. "The Louden Machinery Company was an American engineering, manufacturing and design company based in Fairfield, Iowa. Founded by William Louden, the company in its early years manufactured and sold the patented hay carrier that he invented in 1867. The company later expanded into a wide variety of farm equipment and, in 1906, began an Architecture Department that reportedly designed more than 25,000 barns from 1906 to 1939." Louden also had a Canadian location in Guelph, Ontario.

Louden 1918 dairy barn plans catalog
Louden 1928 catalog

Sunday, May 14, 2017

History of Sands Level and Tool

Sands Level and Tool Co. has been manufacturing levels and other tools since the late 1890s, with an emphasis on masonry applications. In addition, Sands made cement tools for an unknown time.

J. Sand & Sons advertisement, Feb. 1914 
Julius Sand, a bricklayer, started the business in Detroit, Michigan. He was born 28 May 1858 in Danzig, Germany, and died 13 Dec. 1929 in Detroit. According to the Sands website, Sand invented the solid-set vial and a lightweight aluminum level. Julius Sand and Julius Sand Jr. received US Patent 1,087,555 for a cast aluminum level on 17 Feb. 1914. By 1922 the firm was operating as J. Sand and Sons. The business relocated to 601 Clinton St., Clinton, Indiana, and at some point was purchased by Unit Rail Anchor Co., the parent company of Hubbard Tool of Pittsburgh, PA.

While in Detroit and Clinton, Sands made a line of cement tools, primarily of conventional cast iron design. They also made cement and corner tools from stamped steel, with the brand name "Clinsteel". I was unable to determine the date that this name was introduced, but it was before 1957. Sands catalogs are very scarce, so I am unable to document manufacturing dates.

Harmon Machine Co. of Wichita, Kansas purchased Sands around 1957, and Kraft Tools bought Sands in 2005.

Sands groover, Detroit, MI
Sands groover, Clinton, IN

Sands Clinsteel corner tool, Clinton, IN 
Sands Clinsteel groovers

Monday, February 27, 2017

Drywall Corner Tools

US Patent 2616285
Some corner tools were designed for specifically for drywall, instead of both drywall and plaster. One example that I came across on US eBay received US Patent 2616285 on 4 Nov 1952.

The inventor was Samuel Tilden Shields (28 Sep 1894 - 3 Mar. 1964), born in Cleveland to John J. Shields and Harriet Van Gorder. Samuel Shields was a salesman, a contractor in Cleveland in the 1920s, and in sales again by 1942. He also received US Patent 2787820 in 1957 with Alfred Knudsen. This was for a window buck, a steel jamb for poured concrete walls.

Shields drywall corner tool