Goodell-Pratt Company History

The Pratt Family

William M. Pratt, portrait William M. Pratt, the founder of the Goodell-Pratt Company, was a third generation tool man; he built his business on the basis of his financial acumen and sales ability rather than an intimate understanding of tool production and design.(1)

William Pratt's grandfather, Josiah Pratt, was the first of three generations of Pratts involved in tool manufacture. He was born in Mansfield, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1802. His father, a carpenter and farmer, moved the family to Buckland Center where Josiah became involved in making axes at a local blacksmith shop. Josiah liked the work, and at age twenty-one, in Stansted, Quebec, he assisted with the construction of the province's first trip hammer—a large, mechanized hammer commonly used in forging wrought iron and steel. He returned to the United States and eventually relocated to Charlemont, Massachusetts, where he set up shop in 1832 and was issued United States Letters Patent No. 6,989X for an axe-making machine. Using a trip hammer, he manufactured a variety of axes and edge tools, making scythe snaths as a side line. The substantial output pf his business was valued at $7,087 in 1832—a considerable sum for the time. Josiah Pratt stayed in Charlemont for eleven years before moving his operation to site with better water power in Shelburne Falls. Perhaps the most prominent of the Connecticut Valley's early axe makers, he was especially noted for the quality his cast steel products. He and his wife, the former Catherine Hall, were the parents of eight children. When Franklin J. Pratt, the first of their two sons, joined the family business, it was renamed Josiah Pratt & Son. When the second, Francis R. Pratt, joined the business, it became Josiah Pratt & Sons. Josiah Pratt retired from the tool business 1865 and died in 1887.(2)

Francis R. Pratt, William Pratt's father, was the second son of Josiah Pratt and was born in Charlemont, Massachusetts, in 1835. When the family moved to Shelburne Falls in 1843, Francis enrolled in the Shelburne Falls Academy and on completing his education went to work in his father’s axe-making enterprise. He left the family business at age twenty-seven to take a position with W. H. Maynard & Company, a Shelburne Falls tool manufacturer. In 1867, F. R. Pratt moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, to work in the office of Maynard’s wholesale grain dealership. Shortly after Pratt's departure, Maynard’s tool manufacturing operation became H. S. Shepardson & Company, a producer of such hardware items as braces, bits, awls, chisels and farm tools employing thirty-seven men.

Francis Pratt returned to Shelburne Falls in 1872 to take up a position as superintendent of H. S. Shepardson & Company. When Shepardson died in 1876 and the firm was sold to H. H. Mayhew, Francis Pratt stayed with the operation, adding the title of manager to that of superintendent. He became the firm’s assistant treasurer in 1886, and on Mayhew’s death in 1894, company treasurer. When his son, William M. Pratt, purchased a controlling interest in Albert Goodell’s Goodell Tool company in 1907, Francis Pratt became its vice-president. The elder Pratt also served as a director of the Pratt Drop-Forge and Tool Company, an entity created by his son when he assumed control of Ducharmes & Company in Shelburne Falls.

William M. Pratt and Goodell-Pratt

Born in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, on August 13, 1867, William M. Pratt graduated at age sixteen from the Arms Academy, the local secondary school. He moved to Pukwana, a small town in central South Dakota in 1884 and worked there as editor and publisher of the Pukwana Press and as cashier for the Bank of Pukwana. The following year, he accepted a cashier position at the Case & Whitbeck Bank in the nearby town of Kimball. Life on the prairie must not have been to the young man’s liking for he returned to Shelburne Falls in 1890 to become secretary of the H. H. Mayhew Company, the hardware manufacturer where his father served as manager and plant superintendent. William Pratt did not stay with Mayhew long. He moved to Greenfield in 1892 to become a sales representative for the Wells Bros. Company, a tool producer that would eventually become Greenfield Tap & Die. In 1895, William Pratt purchased a fifty percent stake in the Goodell Brothers Company, a Greenfield manufacturer of carpenters' and mechanics' tools run by Dexter W. and Henry E. Goodell. With the purchase, Pratt became treasurer and manager of the operation. In 1898, he purchased a controlling interest in the business, and in February 1899, the company's board of directors voted to rename it the Goodell-Pratt Company.

Goodell-Pratt factory

The newly named Goodell-Pratt Company company was a modest operation but nicely positioned for growth. Its factory was less than ten years old, and though its product line was small compared to such giants as the Millers Falls Company, it was fairly diverse. At the time that Pratt acquired his controlling interest in the business, the lineup included push, hand, bench and breast drills, spiral screwdrivers, a bit brace, polishing heads, hack saws and blades, glass cutters, and hollow-handled tool sets. Its hack saw operation was flourishing due, in part, to its recent acquisition of Goodell, Son & Company. Goodell-Pratt owned the rights to a recently patented bench hack saw and had just developed a belt-powered hacksaw machine. The company was especially proud of its hacksaw blades and marketed them aggressively both at home and abroad. The foreign market initiative received a boost in 1900 when Goodell-Pratt Company hack saw blades won a bronze medal at the International Universal Exposition in Paris. Not content with operating a successful small business, William M. Pratt began an aggressive program of expansion. In 1900, his Goodell-Pratt Company undertook the first of several major additions to its Greenfield factory. A two-story structure measuring sixty by forty feet was built to house the Massachusetts Tool Company, a business created to support Pratt's foray into the precision tools business.

The Massachusetts Tool Company

Goodell Pratt complex, 1912In 1900, William M. Pratt organized the Massachusetts Tool Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Goodell-Pratt, for the purpose of manufacturing machinists’ and precision tools. The operation was capitalized at $25,000, and construction began almost immediately on a building with an eighty by sixty footprint situated on land leased from the Goodell-Pratt Company. Located next door to the G-P plant, Massachusetts Tool was run as a union shop, giving it an edge over its competitors in situations where a customer preferred a supplier with a unionized labor force. (At the time, Starrett and Brown & Sharpe were non-union.) The strategy was not without its pitfalls—relationships between labor and management were prone to seesaw, and the right to display the union label could be withdrawn. Then too, the advantage could be lost if a manufacturer’s competitors improved their labor practices and won union approval. Unable or unwilling to meet the standard union wage, Massachusetts Tool lost the right to International Association of Machinists label in 1910. An ambivalent L. S. Starrett Company lost and recovered the use of the label several times during the first dozen years of the twentieth century.(3)

In 1901, Massachusetts Tool purchased the machinery, stock, patents, fixtures, and good will of the Coffin & Leighton Company, of Syracuse, New York. Coffin & Leighton manufactured a line of highly regarded, tempered steel rules based on United States Letters Patent No. 325,096 which was awarded to John Coffin & Herbert J. Leighton in 1885. The Leighton rules were noteworthy for the presence of extremely accurate gradations on both their narrow and long sides, markings which served to facilitate bi-directional measuring.

Massachusetts Tool added micrometers to its lineup the same year (1901) when it purchased the Lavigne Micrometer Company of New Haven, Connecticut. The Lavigne purchase came with the rights to a half dozen precision tool patents owned by company founder Joseph P. Lavigne. Certainly one the most interesting of these was United States Letters Patent No. 515234 . Issued on February 20, 1894, the patent covered a micrometer with a foot-like extension on the end of the frame opposite its adjustment screw. A steel rod inserted through a hole in its anvil allowed the device to function as a depth micrometer, a feature that allowed a machinist to avoid the purchase of a second tool. (Micrometer pictured below.)

The Massachusetts Tool Company fielded a line of products that included rules, micrometers, calipers, levels, gages, squares, and cutters. It published its own price list until its content was merged into the catalog of the Goodell-Pratt Company in 1911. When the Goodell Pratt Company absorbed Massachusetts Tool in 1912, the smaller firm was capitalized at $40,000.

C. F. Richardson & Son

Charles F. Richardson, portraitIn 1904, Goodell-Pratt acquired the rights to a line of iron spirit levels manufactured by C. F. Richardson & Son, a small business based in Athol. As much a general machine shop as a factory, the operation was established by Nathaniel Richardson and passed on to his sons Charles F. and George H. Richardson after his death in 1883. Charles F. Richardson became sole proprietor in 1886 and brought his son, Frederick Ray, into the business about 1895. Located in a rundown, two-story frame building on the banks of the Millers River, the operation was powered by an undershot wheel that took advantage of a two-to-three foot drop in the riverbed. Never a large operation, employment in the 1890s averaged about twenty hands. In addition to manufacturing light-duty lathes, levels and transits, the shop did contract machining; sold and repaired bicycles and automobiles; and manufactured a prototype automobile of its own design. The bicycle and automobile sidelines reflected the interests of Fred R. Richardson who went on to active management of the company as his father turned his attention elsewhere. The Richardsons’ auto dealership sold an early steam-powered version of the Locomobile, the unsuccessful precursor to the famous Stanley Steamer.

The company’s iron levels were sold to Goodell-Pratt when C. F. Richardson & Son consolidated with the Oliver & Whitney Company, an Athol-based manufacturer of machine screws. The combined business was named the Richardson-Oliver Company and manufactured scientific equipment and machine tools. Located in Athol, the company was incorporated in Maine and capitalized at $10,000. It is likely that the proceeds of the sale of the line of metallic levels formed a substantial part of the Richardsons’ stake in the new operation.

The L. S. Starrett Company bought the C. F. Richardson line of transit levels the following year (1905). It was not the first time that the family had done business with Laroy S. Starrett. Between 1878 and 1880, the Nathaniel Richardson machine shop had served as the original manufacturer of Starrett’s ground-breaking combination square. When Starrett’s former partners threatened a law suit, the Richardsons—fearing involvement—opted out of the arrangement. Starrett bought the stock and tooling, moved a few doors away and founded the L. S. Starrett Company, a business destined to become the country’s leading manufacturer of precision tools. In 1907, the Richardsons sold their machine shop building to L. S. Starrett. It was razed in 1910.(4)

Growth and construction

In 1903, the Goodell-Pratt started construction on an eighty-five by forty-three foot three-story brick building to house its office and packing operation. Three years later, it contracted for another three-story warehouse of almost the same size.(5) The product line was growing—the operation's 1905 catalog contained forty-eight more pages and 100 more tools than the 1903 issue. The new catalog included the line of iron levels bought from C. S. Richardson in 1904, boxed tool sets for the home handyman and a unique clapboard marking gage patented by Greenfield resident Edward B. Shepardson. The 1907 catalog, 208 pages long, included fifty more tools than the 1905. The 1909 Goodell-Pratt catalog numbered 272 pages and included dozens of new tools. By 1912, the enterprise was advertising that its product line included "1200 sizes and kinds of tools" that were "sold everywhere the sun shines."(6)

shepardson's clapboard markerNot all of the Goodell-Pratt Company's tools were manufactured on site. Albert D. Goodell's Goodell Tool Company of Shelburne Falls produced bit braces, butt gauges and glass cutters for the operation. In 1907, Goodell Tool incorporated and William M. Pratt bought a controlling interest in the business. As a result of his purchase, the Goodell-Pratt Company became sole distributor for the Goodell Tool Company's products, and Pratt's father, Francis, who lived in Shelburne Falls, became vice-president of the operation. Not one to burn bridges, William H. Pratt had no difficulty in teaming up with former employer, the Wells Brothers Company, when conditions warranted. The Goodell-Pratt Company would share a sales office with Wells Brothers at 90 Centre Street in New York sometime between the years 1910 and 1914. Located in the hardware district, the front windows of the building were emblazoned with the Goodell-Pratt Toolsmiths logo and the trademark for Wells Brothers’ Little Giant taps and dies.

In spite of its growing and diverse array of products, the Goodell-Pratt Company was still purchasing rough castings from an out-of-town supplier and hauling them from the local rail depot to its factory. The situation changed in 1910 when the enterprise opened a-state-of-the-art, reinforced concrete foundry. The facility measured seventy-five by 100 feet and included a twenty-one by fifty-four foot pattern shop as well as walk-through access to the operation's thirty-five by forty foot machine shop. The design eliminated the need for columns on the casting floor, creating a large open area for the men involved in the work. The open area was made possible by the use of concrete beams that spanned seventy-five feet, were five feet ten inches deep, and that supported the workroom's concrete roof. The reinforced concrete shell allowed for the installation of massive windows which flooded the area with natural light.(7)

Ducharmes & Company, a small Shelburne Falls manufacturer of such small, hammer-forged tools as screwdrivers, awls and punches, fell to William M. Pratt’s voracious appetite in 1910. The business was fairly new; it had been founded by Francis E. Ducharme and his son—also named Francis—around 1907. Since two of the principals shared the Ducharme name, the plural form, Ducharmes, was proudly adopted for the business. Francis Ducharme Sr. had a long acquaintance with the Pratt family. He had first moved to Shelburne Falls in 1861 to work in the axe manufactory of William Pratt's grandfather Josiah. After the ax shop closed, he went to work for H. H. Mayhew Company, the firm where William M. Pratt served as secretary and his father Francis R. Pratt as treasurer. The purchase of Ducharmes & Company formed the basis for a new entity, the Pratt Drop-Forge and Tool Company, in which one of the Francis Ducharmes became a director and the other superintendent.

With the infusion of Pratt capital, a new factory was built in 1913 and on the Buckland side of the river, just north of Wellington Street. Like the Goodell-Pratt factory in Greenfield it was built of reinforced concrete, a construction technique that was sounding the death knell for brick and wood industrial structures. The new building measured forty by 100 feet of which an area of forty by forty was given over to the forge room. Citizens of Shelburne Falls were delighted with the thirty jobs which were to accompany its opening. The Pratt Drop-Forge and Tool Company eventually became part of Goodell-Pratt, and its factory was renamed Goodell-Pratt Company Plant No. 2. At its peak, sixty men were employed at the site, but when the Millers Falls Company took ownership of the operation as part of its purchase of Goodell-Pratt in 1931, it shuttered the factory. The building remained in use as of 2010, serving as the home of Mayhew Steel Products.(8)

The Stratton Level Company

Edwin A. Stratton, portrait In 1912, Goodell-Pratt acquired the Stratton Level Company, a well-known manufacturer of carpenter’s and machinist’s levels located in a small factory at 26 School Street in Greenfield. A local fixture since 1869, the company had been founded as Stratton Brothers by Edwin A. and Charles M. Stratton, onetime building contractors who wanted to exploit their patent for adding brass strips to the edges of wooden levels to protect them from dings and chips. The levels were a success, and one of the operation’s best customers would turn out to be the Millers Falls Company. Millers Falls catalogs featured Stratton wooden levels from 1878 until almost 1890. The levels would reappear in the catalog in the mid-1890s after the Millers Falls Company’s attempts to manufacture its own wooden levels came to naught. A third brother, Oscar G. Stratton, worked for the firm although it does not appear that he became a partner. When Charles died in 1893, the name Stratton Brothers was retained.(9)

Edwin Stratton’s son-in-law, the company’s production supervisor, Roland O. Stetson, bought the business in 1902. O. L. Richtmyre became the operation’s new president, and Stetson remained in charge of production. Stetson continued the Stratton tradition of manufacturing high-quality wooden levels but expanded the line to include moderately priced models as well. In 1908, after a brief attempt to re-brand the business as R. O. Stetson, the operation was incorporated as the Stratton Level Company. The Goodell-Pratt Company bought the business in 1912 and moved production to the second floor of its Greenfield plant shortly afterward. Roland O. Stetson became a Goodell-Pratt employee. The acquisition of the Stratton Level Company brought a well-respected line of wooden levels to Goodell-Pratt—an addition that proved a nice complement to the metallic levels that it had been marketing since the acquisition of the C. F. Richardson line.(10)

Expansion and demise

goodell-pratt-plant no. 3 mapIn addition to its awls, bit braces, levels, miter boxes, breast drills, hand drills, push drills and screwdrivers, the company maintained a line of products that ranged from automotive tools to washer cutters. The main plant in Greenfield saw major expansions in 1913 and 1917, and during World War I, the Goodell-Pratt workforce reached an all-time high—740 employees. In 1918, several years after the death of Albert Goodell, his Goodell Tool Company was taken over in its entirety by Goodell-Pratt and renamed Goodell-Pratt Company Plant No. 3. The aging factory was closed in August 1925, and operations were transferred to the Goodell-Pratt plant in Greenfield. The same year, the company added power tools to its offerings when it acquired the electric drill operation of the A. F. Way Company, of Hartford, Connecticut.

Goodell-Pratt had held a a sizeable stake in Henry E. Goodell's Goodell Manufacturing Company since 1903. When Henry Goodell retired from the operation in 1916, the Goodell-Pratt Company became the the sole distributor of its products. After Goodell's death his death in 1923, William M. Pratt, assumed the presidency of of the operation. In March, 1930, the Goodell-Pratt Company purchased the remainder of the Goodell Manufacturing Company from Goodell's son-in-law Perley E. Fay and moved its equipment to the main Goodell-Pratt plant on Wells Street.(11)

Employing over 400 employees and capitalized at 2.1 million dollars, Goodell-Pratt was unprepared for a catastrophic economic downturn. At the time of the 1929 stock market crash, the company was operating three factories—two in Greenfield (the main plant and the Goodell Manufacturing Company) and one in Shelburne Falls (the former Pratt Drop-Forge and Tool Company)—and maintaining a line of 1500 tools. With the onset of the Great Depression, these measures of success translated into excess production capacity and a bloated product line. Profitability plummeted, and in 1930, Goodell-Pratt stock reached a low of fifty cents a share. John W. Smead, a Millers Falls Company’s vice-president and an executive at Goodell-Pratt’s bank, understood the financials and considered Goodell’s stock to be undervalued. Smead acquired enough of the outstanding shares to force a merger, and in 1931 Goodell-Pratt became a part of the Millers Falls Company.(11) William M. Pratt took a seat on the Millers Falls Company’s board of directors, and became an international sales representative for the firm. The operation continued to use the Goodell-Pratt brand on selected tools until the time of his death.

Illustration credits