Milwaukee Tools Review for 2020: A Brief History of Milwaukeen’s Tool Industry
The history of Milwaukee tools begins with the founding fathers who were pioneers in the industry. They are credited with inventing many things including the first electric light, first telephone, and even the first automobile. However, they didn’t create any of these products themselves; rather they used others’ ideas or designs without credit.
The story of how Milwaukee became known as “the tool city” is one of great innovation and invention.
In 1848, George Bancroft (1793–1867) was working as a surveyor when he came up with the idea to build a sawmill using steam power. He had been studying the steam engine since childhood, but it wasn’t until 1849 that he built his own small model at his family’s farm near Green Bay, Wisconsin. By 1852, he had started making plans to open a sawmill in Milwaukee.
His plan was to have two large mills running side by side. One would produce woodworking tools and the other would make general machinery parts.
Bancroft’s plan worked well enough that he sold his company in 1860 to John Davenport (1795–1871). The mill was called the Davenport Mill Company and its name reflected its location near Milwaukee—Davenport. The company mainly made woodworking tools.
Hiram A. Matteson (1816-1892) worked at the Davenport Mill until 1860 when he left to start his own business making machinery parts. In 1865, he changed the name of his company to the Milwaukee Iron Company and started selling machinery and other types of iron products.
For the next few years, Matteson continued to expand his business and eventually merged with the Davenport Mill in 1871. The new company was called the Enterprise Manufacturing Company and it became the first company in America to manufacture all types of milling machinery.
Meanwhile, Byron J. Smith (1826-1912) had been working as a carriage maker when he decided to start making drills in 1866. He started a company called Byron J.
Smith & Co. and within a year, his factory employed 50 people. By 1883, he and his partner, George C. Johnson (1845-1904), were making so much money that they started the Milwaukee Tool Company.
Finally, in 1889, the Enterprise Manufacturing Company, Byron J. Smith & Co., and the Milwaukee Tool Company joined forces to form the Milwaukee drill & Tool Company.
The company continued to grow and by 1894 was making 35 different kinds of drills and bits, and 10 types of saws. They also had more than 500 employees at their factory on Chestnut Street.
Later, the company’s headquarters were moved to North 8th Street and Byron J. Smith was elected as the first mayor of Milwaukee. He was re-elected twice more: in 1898 and 1900.
However, the city soon outgrew its size and resources so Smith sold the company to a New York company in 1901. By this time, the company had become one of the largest drill manufacturers in the world.
They continued to make tools until 1903 when they closed for good. They had gone from making small hand drills to manufacturing large-scale equipment and machinery used by other companies.
Despite this story having a happy ending (sort of), the same can’t be said for all inventors. Many never see the success that they hope for and countless others die penniless as a result.
Acknowledgements: Special thanks to the Milwaukee Public Library for their help in finding images and information.
This story was updated in 2019.
Sources & references used in this article:
- Best Tape Measure for Electricians: Top 5 of 2020 (E Mentor – 2018 – electricianmentor.com)
- Best Step Drill Bit: Top 5 Unibits of 2020 (E Mentor – 2017 – electricianmentor.com)
- Best Cordless Hammer Drill For Electricians: Our Top 4 Picks of 2020 (E Mentor – 2017 – electricianmentor.com)
- Best Nut Driver Set: Our Top 5 of 2020 (E Mentor – 2017 – electricianmentor.com)
- Best Rolling Tool Bag for Tradesmen: Our Top 6 Picks of 2020 (E Mentor – 2018 – electricianmentor.com)
- Best Compact Drill for Electricians: Top 5 of 2020 (E Mentor – 2018 – electricianmentor.com)
- Best Tool Backpack for Electricians (Top 5 Picks of 2020) (E Mentor – 2019 – electricianmentor.com)
- Best Electrician Tool Bag: Our Top 6 Picks of 2020 (E Mentor – 2017 – electricianmentor.com)