Clemens B. Rose

Rose bit brace Clemens Belden Rose was a carpenter and mechanic who developed a bit brace that was later manufactured by the Millers Falls Company. The son of Westall and Polly Rose, he was born in 1813, in Pownal, Vermont, and built a reputation as a mechanic and contractor specializing in the construction of saw and cotton mills. He spent much of his early career traveling from job to job in the counties of New York that border on Massachusetts—residing in such varied locations as Kingston Village, East Nassau, Rhinebeck, Rondout, Albany and Troy. The 1850 federal census records that Clemens was living in Kingston Village at the time of the enumeration and working as a patternmaker. Before the decade was out, Clemens Rose had relocated to Florence, Massachusetts, where he found work as an employee of Hiram Wells & Company, a firm that manufactured circular sawmills, pumps and wrenches. The job was a supervisory one; Rose served as superintendent of the foundry and pattern shop.(1)

Hiram Wells was a hard-driving man who had lost part of one hand in an industrial accident and who had a reputation for impatience.(2) On the morning of June 11, 1859, when a recalcitrant ten-horsepower steam engine was giving the operation some trouble, Wells ordered its engineer, Frank Spear, to weigh down a safety valve in order to increase steam pressure on the balky machine. The command was unfortunate. A thirty-foot boiler connected to the engine exploded moments later. The force of the blast smashed an eight-inch thick brick wall—hurtling bricks through the air for ninety feet and moving heavy iron machinery three feet off base. Hiram Wells, Frank Spear and a machine operator seated nearby were killed. Clemens Rose, who had been standing alongside Wells at the rear of the boiler, was badly scalded and bruised.(3)

A year or so after the explosion, the Rose family moved to Sunderland, Massachusetts, where Clemens became a farmer. Agricultural life must not have appealed to him, for in January of 1864, he purchased the Thomas E. Munsell fulling mill, a factory where cotton batting and wicking were manufactured. Rose paid $1,050 for the structure and an acre of land and began installing equipment for the manufacture of bit braces. Luck was not with him. A month after he bought the mill, a high wind blew the roof off the building. Despite the difficulty, Rose persisted in his endeavor and was issued a pair of bit brace patents later that year. Although no examples of the tools described by the patents have been reported, it is likely that braces of some type were built since the February 26, 1866, Greenfield Gazette and Courier noted that Rose was making arrangements to build bit braces at the Greenfield Tool Company. The arrangements with Greenfield Tool may never have come to pass, for a year later, the operation, now known as the Rose Bit-Brace Company, was still in Sunderland.(4)

On April 16th, 1867, C. B. Rose was issued a patent for a brace with a ring-type chuck and metallic head. His invention looked promising, but the issue of the patent found him with little cause to celebrate—six days prior to the award, fire ravaged his factory. Although the home of T. E. Munsell—a structure adjacent the factory—was saved, the shop itself was completely destroyed. The cause of the fire could not be determined, but Rose was insured, and his policy covered two-thirds of the $6,000 loss.(5) Apparently, production of the brace moved to Northhampton, for in October 1867, the Union Bit-Brace Company, an enterprise located in that city, received an award at the Annual Fair of the American Institute of the City of New York.(6) Rose continued with his design work. In fall of 1868, he was awarded yet another patent—this time for a two-piece sweep handle.(7)

Braces featuring both of Rose’s patents were subsequently manufactured in Greenfield by an entity known as The Bit Stock Company. Little is known about the business, though it may have been operated by the Greenfield-based firm of Nims & Pratt. In April 1869, the Greenfield Gazette and Courier noted that the Rose Bit-Brace Company had filed a law suit against the partners.

The editor of the Greenfield paper didn't have all the facts. Three weeks earlier, the Boston Daily Advertiser noted that Roberts & Stockbridge, a Northampton business whose principals included brace inventor Charles H. Stockbridge and Osmore O. Roberts, had filed suit against Nims & Pratt over the right to manufacture braces based on the Rose patents. Documents relating to the lawsuit have not been located, but when the dust settled, Nims & Pratt was manufacturing Rose braces. The issue became moot when Nims & Pratt employee Edward Lester acquired the Rose patents and sold them to the Millers Falls operation in the summer of 1869.(8) Production of the Rose brace continued at the Nims & Pratt factory until the new Millers Falls plant came online. The major player in Nims & Pratt was the prominent Greenfield businessman William Newton Nims. Given the close relationship between Nims & Pratt and Millers Falls Manufacturing, it is likely that W. Newton Nims's partner was none other than Henry L. Pratt.

Rose’s third son, Norman, worked for a time in his father’s bit brace operation and went on to spend three years in the employ of Nims & Pratt. After a year with the Millers Falls Mfg. Company, he abandoned factory work and took up farming. His father, Clemens, died in Sunderland on February 7, 1877, at age sixty-three. Clemens Rose’s last two patents, one for a bit brace and one for a latch, were issued after his death.

Patents

Patent Number Date Description
44,822 October 25, 1864 bit brace
44,823 October 25, 1864 bit brace
63,944 April 16, 1867 bit brace
82,251 September 15, 1868 handle for bit brace
192,018 June 12, 1877 bit brace
194,925 Sept. 4, 1877 locking latch with handle

Illustration credit

Author’s photo.