The Men Behind
Issue No. 56
In the year 1860, Thomas H White, together with William L Grout (1888-1908) were manufacturing chairs at Orange, Massachusetts, and at that time knew nothing about sewing machines.
Little sewing-machine factories had sprung up throughout New England, many of them to be closed by the combination controlling basic patents, while others defended law suits brought against them.
White saw a good field in the sewing-machine line, and that year he and Grout - with a cash capital of $350 and with the help of three employees and a lathe, a planer and a drill press - started to manufacture machines.
They opened their plant in a little shop between Templeton and Phillipston, Massachusetts, and produced a hand-operated sewing machine known as "The New England".
Grout and a W P Barker spent most of their time out on the road selling this machine for $10 while White's task was to remain in the shop and assemble the parts. Grout severed his partnership with White in 1861 and moved to Winchendon, Mass, where he started another sewing-machine business.
White and Barker continued manufacturing sewing machines in a tiny shop no more than 100 square feet in size, in East Templeton. Together they would assemble six machines. Then Barker would hitch up his horse and wagon and proceed to dispose of them, out on the road.
By 1861 the business had developed to a point where larger quarters were necessary and White leased a shop for a year where he installed a few more pieces of equipment. About this time Barker sold his share of the business of White, but he continued to sell sewing machines on a commission basis.
At the expiration of the year's lease the shop owner increased the rent more than 50%. Not being satisfied with this, Mr. White and French went to Orange and found a new shop being built by Lyman Wheeler.
Railroad facilities were better and they liked the idea of the new and larger building, which Mr. Wheeler promised to have ready for them by February, 1862.
They started production in their new quarters with about 30 employees, and the first machine made in orange was named the "New England Family Sewing Machine'.
At about this time, Barker stopped selling for White and formed another sewing-machine company together with A J Clark, called their machine "The Pride of the West", and later the "New England Machine".
The sales of the French-White sewing machine increased rapidly, but Thomas White saw greater opportunities in the Middle West, which at that time was booming, and in 1866 he left France with his two sons and three employees, moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he designed the prototype of the White sewing machine.
Later with the introduction of bicycles, and later automobiles, he and his sons were quick to see their industrial possibilities.
In 1867 the Barker-Clark combination having developed the Gold Medal Sewing Machine Company, moved the plant to Orange, Mass, and a stock company was formed on April 27 of that year. The first annual meeting of the Board was held on July 31. Andrew J Clark was elected is President, with John W Wheeler Secretary-Treasurer and Stephen French as Superintendent.
John Wilson Wheeler (1832-1910) was born in Orange, and his only foundation for a business life was a common-school education.
He began working as a carpenter and when he was 24 years of age became a clerk in a general store. He worked there for seven years, then bought the store from his employer, Andrew J Clark, who then went into the building of hand sewing machines. Wheeler continued the store for four years and in 1867 joined Clark in the sewing-machine business.
French, as superintendent, secured for the company new patents both domestic and foreign. he created the "Home shuttle" and the "Home" machines in 1870 which were heavily advertised all over the world.
In 1872 Stephen French sold out his interest and W T Elliot became Superintendent. it was during 1877 that the "New Home was first placed on the market. William L Grout became Superintendent in 1878 and remained in this capacity until 1900.
It was in January 25, 1882 that the old Gold Medal Sewing Machine company was re-organised and succeeded by the New Home Sewing Machine Company and the first election of officers found J J Schencker as President, Andrew J Clark as Vice-President and William L Grout as Secretary-Treasurer. Clark died October 1882 after which Wheeler became Vice-President.
We now return to Grout. When we left him back in 1860 he had severed his connections with white and left for Winchenden, Mass, where he started another sewing-machine shop producing the same "New England" machine that white was building at that time. Later he moved to Cleveland where he formed a partnership with Maher and W G Wilson.
He later moved to Toronto, Canada, where he built the Grout hand machine on the Willcox & Gibbs principle. He then went to Europe where he established agencies for his machine. at the Canadian World's Fair at Kingston, Ontario, in 1873, he won a premium with his machine, in competition with leading American and Canadian manufacturers. later he moved to the Gold Medal Sewing Machine Company and was in charge of its Export Department.
In 1877 he became a partner in the firm and the following year he was made Superintendent and General Manager.
The newly-formed new Home Sewing Machine Company started to produce models known as "Octagon" and "New Home" and three years later came out with the "National" and the "Favorite".
In 1889 they purchased all the assets of the Orange Iron Foundry Company.
The old Gold-Medal building, of course, had been gone for many years and a move was made into a larger building having four floors and an annex, on the bank of the slow-moving dark waters of the Millers River.
The production of the National was confined to the second floor, the rotary to the third floor, and the New Home on the top floor.
The frames of the sewing machines came up from the japan room which was located on the main floor in quantities of 50 to a car. Then the japan was first placed on he slides, throat plates, etc. Four en worked on this job.
Then followed the various items of assembly, with the car moving down one side of the long room around one end, and back up the other side. The various operations along this route included fitting the arbour, putting in the fork, shuttle carriers, regulators, and then came the "head job". The faces were assembled separately. Needles were set, throat plates attached, and then the machines were inspected.
After threading they were put through another inspection, and were then ready for the transfers to be applied and then down to packing. The New Home Sewing Machine was assembled on the fourth floor and the machines were "run in" in a partitioned-off room for the purpose of determining excess noise.
The sewing-machine production figures were alleged to be approximately 500 a day by 1884.
In 1893 New Home commenced manufacture of the Climax which replaced the "Favorite". Then they manufactured the "Ruby" which was a smaller machine but with the same operating principles as the climax. Then came the "Rotary" and the "Little Worker".
The woodwork was machined at the cabinet shop on the opposite side of the river bank, and at first black walnut logs were shipped there and were sawed and finished on the grounds, but the cabinet shop burned on March 9, 1878, and during the next three years the cabinet work was done in Peru, Indiana.
Meanwhile the company built its own woodworking shop in the railroad grounds near the freight houses. At about the same time a wooden building was put up on the northern bank of the river where the office structure was erected, in 1897.
On October 24, 1898, the Japanning Department was destroyed by fire and the loss exceeded $75,000.
The New Home company built special machinery for the manufacturing of their own needles and the department grew so rapidly that it wasn't long before needles were manufactured for competitors' machines as well.
In January, 1901, a new three-story building, 300 feet by 98 feet was completed, and in the following year another floor was added to enlarge production facilities. By this time, the production of needles reached 20,000 per day.
In 1903 the officers of the Company were as follows: President: W L Grout; Vice-President: J P Page; Treasurer: John W Wheeler; Secretary: E M Buell.
The old original shop, in which the manufacture of sewing machines was begun in the early sixties, was demolished in 1903, and a new four-story brick building, 100 feet by 80 feet was built.
The manufacture of needles in the year 1904 by reason of enlarged quarters and increased machinery, reached a high of 6,296,850 and by 1922 the company was manufacturing about 1,800 different types of needles and their annual production reached 13,000,000.
The Greyhound trade-mark which became a familiar sight all over the world was designed by manager Grey of the Chicago office.
At a meeting of the stockholders of the Company held on June 2, 1906, a re-organisation of the company was created. At this meeting it was unanimously voted to transfer the property and assets of the company to a new corporation, organised under the laws of Massachusetts. Capital stock was $3,000,000 of which $1,000,000 was 6% preferred stock, and $2,000,000 was issues as common stock.
The purpose of the re-organisation was to secure a larger capitalisation as well as broader charters. At this meeting, John W Wheeler was elected President; C R Scarborough, Vice-President; and E N Buell, Assistant Treasurer and Secretary.
In September, 1906, another building, 170 feet by 98 feet was erected to be used for the tumbling mills where the castings were received from the foundry.
For the years 1906 and 1907, the annual sewing-machine production was approximately 150,000 machines, and employees numbered 743.
To the rise of the great New Home Sewing Machine Company from its feeble beginning, Mr. Grout's mechanical skill, sagacity and perseverance had materially contributed. The patent records show a score of patents in which he was sole or joint inventor; half of them were on sewing mechanisms and others pertained to the means of producing machines.
His activity in the Company was not only confined to the factory although he was Factory Superintendent from 1878 to 1900, but he was for a long time an officer and director, and at one time President, and always participated in the policies of the company. It is to be noted that he started in the sewing-machine business in 1860 with Thomas White and a combined capital of $350 and at his death he was a millionaire.
Mr. Charles R Scarborough succeeded Mr. Wheeler as president, and he continued in this office until 1921. He managed the business of the Company from the New York office, leaving the active direction of operations to a resident Vice-President in orange.
In February of 1918 the Company purchased all of the capital stock of the National Furniture company of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in order to insure a continued supply of woodwork.
During the years 1920, '21 and '22, the company operated with a substantial losses and because of their indebtedness, the banks took over the management of its affairs. On October 8, 1921, Mr. DeForest Candee was nominated to the Board of Directors, representing the banks. A week later, President Scarborough was elected to the office of Chairman of the Board and DeForest Candee was elected as President.
On January 14, 1925 DeForest Candee resigned as Director and President at which time Charles R Scarborough returned to the presidency. In February of the same year the Company was re-organised.
In the spring of 1927 the executive and general offices of the New Home Sewing Machine Company were removed from 432 4th Avenue, New York city, to the plant works in Orange, mass. Six months later, because of the desire of Mr. Fred A Bender, newly-elected President of the Company who came from the Metropolitan Sewing Machine Company of New York, New York, manufacturers of industrial machines, the executive and general offices were moved back to New York City, same address.
In spite of the efforts of Mr. Bender to strengthen the Company, it nevertheless continued to lose ground and an effort was made to dispose of the company. The Free Sewing Machine Company of Rockford, Ill, became interested t the extent of taking over temporary management of the Company September 1, 1928, without disturbing the location of the works, and subsequently purchased entire control of the Company January 1, 1930, at which time the machinery, patterns, dies, tools, etc, were moved from Orange to Rockford.
The Free Sewing Machine Company, having moved the equipment of the New Home Sewing Machine Company in Orange to Rockford, commenced to manufacture some of the New Home models and the sales and production of the New Home sewing machine was from henceforth on amalgamated with the Free organisation.
By 1937 there were over 7,000,000 New Home sewing machines in use.
Editor's note: The script is reprinted from Company archive material and backed up with advertising and other material from the Forsdyke Archives.