The story of the Goodell-Pratt Company begins with a small business founded in 1866 by two of the five sons of Vermont-born farmer Anson Goodell and his wife Lucy Rice. The brothers, Albert and Henry, established a manufacturing operation in Buckland, Massachusetts. Working inside the Perry & Demming building on the banks of the Clesson River, the men—Henry was barely eighteen—made pieces for wooden chairs, and later on, small hardware items. In 1868, Albert invented a bit brace with a ring-type chuck that attracted the attention of the Millers Falls Mfg. Company. The men sold their business to the larger company in 1870 and signed on as employees.
The Goodell brothers were talented. Albert Goodell rose to the position of master mechanic and then to plant superintendent; Henry became a foreman and accomplished machinist. Albert developed a number of tools while employed at the Millers Falls plant. His designs included bit-braces, a bow-spring chuck, a treadle lathe, a spokeshave, adjustments for spirit levels and a self-tightening chuck for a breast drill. Given their obvious talents, it is not surprising that in 1888, the men left the Millers Falls Company to start their own business.
Note: The author is aware of the striking similarities in the appearance of the individuals identified here as Albert and Henry Goodell. The image of Albert D. Goodell is a photograph of the original labeled portrait in the Shelburne Historical Society—an organization located in a community where he was a leading businessman and long-time resident. The image of Henry E. Goodell, a Greenfield resident, is one he himself had placed in a county history. Despite the similarities, I have assumed a strong family resemblance and accept both identifications.
Albert and Henry E. Goodell located their new enterprise in Shelburne Falls, a village on the Deerfield River just five miles away from the site where they had first set up business some twenty years earlier.(1) Operating as the Goodell Brothers Company, they began the manufacture of boring tools, clamps, chucks and automatic screwdrivers. During their four-year partnership, the brothers developed and jointly patented two automatic screwdrivers, a push drill, a butt gage and a rasp for removing pegs and nails from the insoles of shoes. When Albert Goodell left the company in 1892, a third brother, Dexter W., joined the firm, and the business moved to a new shop in Greenfield. Located on Wells Street, the building had been built for $2,000 by A. A. Alexander for the purpose of attracting the Goodell Brothers operation to the city.(2)
Dexter W. Goodell was every bit as talented as his brothers. A skilled patternmaker, he had gone to work at the Florence Sewing Machine Company (in Florence, Massachusetts) in the 1860s and stayed with the company and its successor, the Florence Machine Company, for three decades. During his long and productive career, D. W. Goodell registered at least fourteen patents for inventions that ranged from an impractical bit brace with a rubber spring to sewing machine mechanisms and improvements to oil stoves. Dexter Goodell did not stay with Goodell Brothers for long—he sold his interest in July 1895 when William M. Pratt bought a stake in the business, and the operation was incorporated. After leaving the company, Goodell became a manufacturer of nail pullers—operating his business in Springfield, Massachusetts from his home in Greenfield until 1898.(3)
The Goodell Brothers operation in Greenfield was neither large, nor particularly successful. The number of employees in the factory is reported as having been between sixteen and twenty-four, and Henry Goodell served as owner, manager, master mechanic, tool sharpener, and machine setup person. Annual sales were in the vicinity of $30,000. The factory consisted of a single two-story brick building—100 feet by thirty feet—equipped with a boiler that provided heat in the winter and the energy needed to run the twenty-five horsepower engine that drove the belts powering the shop’s machinery. Since there was no foundry, castings were purchased from outside suppliers, brought to the plant from the local freight depot by two-horse wagon and machined locally.(4) The company’s first catalog did not appear until 1896. Very early on, its No. 1 push drill was sold by the Millers Falls Company. The arrangement was short-lived. Prior to the 1896 catalog, most of the operation’s tools were sold by the H. H. Mayhew Company of Shelburne Falls.
While still involved with Goodell Brothers, Henry Goodell opened a hacksaw manufactory with his son Harry G. Goodell. The operation came to an unfortunate end—the younger Goodell was in poor health and could not continue in the enterprise. The business, Goodell, Son & Company, was sold to Goodell Bros. in 1898. Looking for a less strenuous career, Harry Goodell tried his hand at the grocery business but was soon forced to give that up as well. Harry Gaines Goodell died in 1900, a few days short of his twenty-sixth birthday.(5)
The site of the Goodell, Son & Co. operation is not certain, but it may have been the operation reported to have been located in a second floor room of the Goodell Brothers building where metal cutting saws were manufactured under the watchful eye of hacksaw expert Herbert D. Lanfair. A man of many talents, Lanfair was a former employee of the Millers Falls Company who had previously done much of the design work on that company’s highly successful power hacksaw. After patenting a four-faced spoke shave for the Millers Falls Company in 1893, he co-developed a bench hacksaw with Henry E. Goodell, and in 1895, he assigned the rights to his hand drill patent no. 544,411 to Goodell Brothers. In 1897, Lanfair cooperated with Henry Goodell on a patent for a reversible automatic screwdriver, and in 1900 he patented a design for a magazine to hold drill points. When his association with the various Goodell companies ended, “he drifted to Springfield and New Haven, always in the hack business.”(6)
In 1898, Henry E. Goodell sold Goodell Brothers to the company’s treasurer and manager, William M. Pratt. The business was doing well enough to export some of its production to Europe, an accomplishment that was likely the result of Pratt’s sales ability. After the sale, Henry Goodell became involved in the founding of the Greenfield Machine Company. In 1899, William Pratt renamed Goodell Brothers—calling it the Goodell-Pratt Company.
When Albert D. Goodell sold his share of the Goodell Brothers Company in 1892, he did so to go into business with his son Frederick. The men relocated to Worcester, Massachusetts, and established the Goodell Tool Company. The following year, they returned to Shelburne Falls “renting the space and power of the H. H. Mayhew Company, remaining until 1904, when they purchased the Peg Shop of J. R. Foster, located on the Buckland side of the river.”(7)
Constructed by Jacob R. Foster in 1893 for the purpose of manufacturing wooden pegs used to fasten the soles of shoes to their uppers, the peg shop had an interesting history. It had been sited at Shelburne Falls to take advantage of an apparently inexhaustible supply of the high-grade white birch best suited to peg manufacture. Unfortunately for Foster, the birch, considered adequate to support a century’s worth of production, was gone in five years. The peg shop closed; the equipment was moved to Plymouth, New Hampshire; and the building became home to the American Metal Casket Company. The casket company relocated in 1902, and the building stood vacant until its occupancy by the Goodell Tool Company.(8)
Goodell Tool employed at least some children, a situation not unusual in the era before the enactment of laws prohibiting child labor. In 1895, thirteen-year-old Thomas O’Neil took a job at the Goodell Tool Company factory. It was the beginning of a career that would span over fifty-one years, including three decades at the Goodell Tool plant in Shelburne falls and over twenty at the Goodell-Pratt/Millers Falls site in Greenfield. At the turn of the century, employees of the Goodell Tool Company worked fifty-five to sixty-hour weeks, and some workers earned just five cents an hour. Starting with the firm at an early age had its advantages; Thomas O’Neil was a company foreman by age twenty. His abilities were such that he was soon given responsibility for doing all the hiring and firing at the plant. At its peak, the Goodell Tool Company employed seventy-five men, and when the operation was folded into the Goodell-Pratt operation in Greenfield, O’Neil and twenty others took jobs at the new location.(9)
Goodell Tool manufactured such items as chucks, bit braces, glass cutters, hollow augers, nail sets, glass cutters and bench stops. When it was incorporated in 1907, one half of its stock passed to the Goodell-Pratt Company. After the incorporation, Albert D. Goodell served as Goodell Tool Company president; Francis R. Pratt (the father of William M. Pratt) served as vice-president; and Frederick Goodell (Albert Goodell’s son) was employed as its clerk. In 1918, several years after the death of Albert Goodell, the Goodell Tool Company was taken over in its entirety by Goodell-Pratt and renamed Goodell-Pratt Company Plant No. 3. The factory was closed in August 1925, and operations were transferred to the Goodell-Pratt plant in Greenfield. After the closure, Frederick A. Goodell stayed on in Shelburne Falls and set up a modest manufactory on Water Street for the production of small tools. He died in 1929.(10)
After Henry E. Goodell sold Goodell Brothers, he became the first president of the Greenfield Machine Company. Greenfield Machine’s primary product was a universal grinder used for sharpening machine tools and finishing small parts. Goodell sold his interest in the firm to Edward F. Smith not long after the company was organized and went on to form the Goodell Manufacturing Company with his son-in-law, Perley E. Fay. Goodell Manufacturing was incorporated in 1902 with the Goodell-Pratt Company serving as part owner of the operation and sole distributor of its products.
Goodell Manufacturing was a relatively modest affair with a factory located in a one-story building on West Main Street in Greenfield. Though unremarkable in appearance, the shop served as production quarters for the Goodell all-steel miter box, the cast iron Greenfield miter box and the Greenfield double ball bearing chuck. Henry Goodell retired from the operation in 1916, and after his death in 1923, William M. Pratt, the president of Goodell-Pratt, assumed the presidency of Goodell Manufacturing. In March, 1930, the Goodell-Pratt Company purchased the remainder of the Goodell Manufacturing Company from Perley E. Fay and moved its equipment to the main Goodell-Pratt plant on Wells Street. As of this writing (2010), the building is in use as an automobile dealership. Sadly, it is scheduled for demolition.(11)
William M. Pratt, the man who acquired Goodell Brothers and renamed it the Goodell-Pratt Company, was a third-generation tool man. His grandfather, Josiah Pratt had patented an axe-making machine in 1832 and operated an axe and scythe manufactory in Shelburne Falls. Josiah’s second son, Francis, was the father of William M. Pratt. Francis R. Pratt worked for W. H. Maynard & Company, a Shelburne Falls tool manufacturer until 1872, when he became superintendent of the H. S. Shepardson & Company, a manufacturer of such hardware items gimlet bits, reamers, gouges and gardening tools. When Shepardson died in 1876, the firm was sold to H. H. Mayhew, and Francis Pratt remained 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, became treasurer.(12)
Although William M. Pratt had little shop experience when he installed himself as the president of Goodell-Pratt, he brought a background in banking and sales with him. After graduating from the Arms Academy in Shelburne Falls, he moved to Pukwana, South Dakota, where he became a bank cashier and editor of a newspaper. A year later, he moved to nearby Kimball, a hard-bitten village nearly as desolate as Pukwana and spent four years as a cashier at another bank. In 1890, he returned to Shelburne Falls to become secretary of the hardware manufacturer H. H. Mayhew and later worked as a sales representative for Wells Brothers—the firm that became Greenfield Tap & Die. An investment in Goodell Brothers in 1895 led to in his becoming manager and treasurer of the company.
One early result Pratt’s investment in Goodell Brothers was a change in the way the company sold tools. The Goodell brothers had been marketing their products through the H. H. Mayhew Company, William Pratt’s former employer and the business where his father served as a director. In 1896, the Goodell Brothers Company published its first catalog, No. 1, and began selling its own tools. Catalog No. 2 was published in 1897 and Catalog No. 3—the last to be published under the Goodell Brothers name—was released in 1898. Rather than restart the numbering system, the first catalog of the Goodell-Pratt Company simply became No. 4.(13)
Not one to burn bridges, William H. Pratt had no difficulty in teaming up with another of his former employers when conditions warranted. The Goodell-Pratt Company would share a sales office with Wells Brothers Company 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 Well Brothers’s Little Giant taps and dies.
In 1900, Pratt organized the Massachusetts Tool Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Goodell-Pratt, to manufacture machinists’ and precision tools in Greenfield. The operation was capitalized at $25,000, and construction began almost immediately on a new building 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.(14)
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.
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 for several years until its content was merged into the catalog of the Goodell-Pratt Company. The Goodell Pratt Company absorbed Massachusetts Tool in 1912.
In 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.(15)
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.
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.(16)
Ducharmes & Company, a 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 purchase formed the basis for a new entity—the Pratt Drop-Forge and Tool Company—in which Francis Ducharmes, a principal in the earlier business, became a director, as did William Pratt and his father Francis. A new factory was built for the business in Shelburne Falls, on the Buckland side of the river, just north of Wellington Street. The Pratt Drop-Forge and Tool Company eventually became part of Goodell-Pratt, and its factory was renamed the 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, it shuttered the factory. The building remains in use today (2010), and serves as the home of Mayhew Steel Products.(17)
By means of its acquisitions and affiliates, the Goodell-Pratt Company was able to market a diverse product line fairly early in its history. In 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 1925, the company added power tools to its offerings when it acquired the electric drill operation of the A. F. Way Company, of Hartford, Connecticut. Employing over 400 employees and capitalized at 2.1 million dollars in 1930, Goodell-Pratt was unprepared for a catastrophic economic downturn.
At the time of the 1929 stock market crash, Goodell-Pratt 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.(18) William M. Pratt took a seat on the Millers Falls Company’s board of directors, and the operation continued the use of the Goodell-Pratt brand on selected tools until the time of his death.