Makita Tools – A History of the Company
The company was founded in 1911 by William H. Sawyer. Sawyer had been working at a sawmill in Chicago when he met John C. Dennison, a machinist from Ohio.
They decided to start their own business together and named it “Sawyer’s Sawmills”. The first product they manufactured was a saw blade holder. Their products were sold in small quantities until 1912 when Sawyer left the company to pursue other interests. In 1913, Dennison died suddenly and left $10,000 to his wife Mary Ann. She used part of the money to buy out her husband’s share in the company. He renamed it “Dennison Tool Works” and continued producing tools under the name “Dennison Tool & Die Co.”
In 1917, Dennison acquired the rights to manufacture a new type of pliers called the “Pole Plier”. The pole saw cut through wood with ease. The Pole Pliers were very popular among carpenters because they could be used over and over again without having to sharpen them. This made the Pole Pliers a great time-saver and many carpenters requested them by name.
During construction of the Great Northern Railway, Mary Ann Dennison travelled to Helena, Montana to sell their pliers directly to the workers building it. She noticed that there was a lot of vibration in the pliers while she was using them and a few of them even broke. Upon her return to Ohio, she designed a lighter-weight plier with a wider pivot and longer handle. The wider pivot reduced the vibration of the tool.
In 1919, she received a patent for the new design which came to be known as the “worm drive” pliers.
During World War I, the US government imposed restrictions on some products in order to conserve resources for the war effort. This prevented Dennison from purchasing high-quality steel to produce its tools. Dennison realized that if he were to continue to produce his high-quality tools, he would have to find another supplier of steel. He traveled to Europe looking for a suitable option.
In England, he met George Oakes of Oakes & Co Ltd, a major tool manufacturer. The two companies agreed to form a business relationship.
In the late 1920s, Dennison decided to move the majority of his operation from Ohio to Indiana, taking advantage of cheaper labor and materials. He decided to keep the tool business in Ohio and move the plier operation to his new foundry in Indiana, which he renamed “Makita Corporation”, named after a Japanese hero. In 1929, he decided to focus on the emerging automotive market and began manufacturing spark plugs and other smaller parts for automobiles.
The Great Depression hit in 1929, and affected sales. At first Dennison was able to weather the storm. In fact, Dennison’s business was so sound that in 1933 he was able to buy the foundry from Oakes. He then sold the Ohio tool business to the employees and renamed it “Dennison Industrial Tool Company”.
However, in 1935, the economy went into freefall and Dennison was forced to file for bankruptcy. At this point Oakes re-purchased the company. He re-named the company “Makita Corporation” and began selling Dennison’s automotive products under the Dennison brand name. Oakes continued to make these products until his death in 1956.
Dennison was inducted into the “Ohio Business Hall of Fame” in 1984.
In her later years, Mary Ann returned to woodworking, building a cribbage board for her father in 1916. Then at the height of her success with the company, she built a large hand-crafted $6,000 cherry wardrobe for her father’s 65th birthday. The wardrobe contained nine drawers that were each individually lined with camel hair.
In 1927, Dennison suffered a stroke and was partially paralyzed on his right side. He died in 1931 at the age of 90. Mary Ann continued to run the company until her death in 1935.
While Dennison no longer exists as a company, its pliers can still be found in use today. The company has been through several owners throughout the years, but the products that made it famous are still being manufactured by some incarnation of the company.
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