Walworth Manufacturing Company
The Walworth Manufacturing Company
It is finally possible to tell this story. Several months ago, an email request was received from South Africa asking about the Walworth company. We had a book in our library and it seemed like an interesting company to research since this company has been in business for almost 160 years. During that time they supplied pipes, fittings, valves, tools, steam pumps, gas generators and even something famous, which will be revealed in the following story . Curiously enough, I have not been able to reach the fellow who prompted me to research Walworth in the first place.
The Walworth Manufacturing Company began in 1842 as Walworth and Nason (W&N) under the operation of James Jones (JJ) Walworth in partnership with his brother-in-law, Joseph Nason. The 2 men started out in New York and soon moved to Boston where they were classified as engineers and iron tube manufacturers primarily in the heating industry. Before long, this new company was involved in the installation of boilers, hot water and steam heating systems in large buildings, textile mills and ships.
This was a pioneer industry at the time. Heating contractors and the science of central heating installation did not exist. Yet the need for central heating, especially in large buildings, was desperately needed. The conventional stoves and hot air furnaces used in the mid-1800's were inadequate and the W&N company met the need at a most appropriate time. The creativity of Walworth and Nason led them to build finned pipes coiled into compact enclosures to produce what we would now simply call a radiator. This new invention made life much more pleasant in hotels, churches, theatres and homes. W&N are credited with the installation of central ventilation systems using steam driven fans as well as hot water pipes run under the floors, a radiant heating method gaining much favour in recent years By 1850, W&N where involved in major installations throughout New England, Mississippi, Virginia and at least one in Florida.
Around 1847, J.J. Walworth's younger brother, Caleb Clark (CC) Walworth joined the company, having returned from the American West where he had hoped to make his fortune. CC was called a mechanical genius and a prolific inventor, talents he used well while working as a production engineer and factory executive at the W&N company. These features are likely what kept the company successful throughout the American Civil War which was followed by economic depression and revolutionary industrial change.
However, in 1852, the partnership of Walworth and Nason was dissolved mainly because Joseph Nason was unable to stand the severe winters of Boston. He moved to New York and set up a similar business which he carried on successfully until his death. It is interesting to note that one of Nason's associates was Henry Worthington, inventor of the steam pump and founder of the Worthinton Pump and Machinery Company.
Following the dissolution of the W&N partnership, JJ and CC Walworth moved the company on to remarkable success under a new name, J.J Walworth & Co., a name which stayed with the company for many years. They soon installed a line of gas generators to allow gas lighting in factories, farms, hospitals and homes in areas where gas was not available due to the distance from the larger cities that provided it. Rosin, oil and gasoline were used as fuel and these machines were popular up until the early 1900's when electricity became a more practical alternative.
The company had always used valves to properly control the flow of steam, water and gas in their many installations. They began to expand on a line of globe, gate and check valves that was to become their main business to this day.
Although the Walworth name may not ring a bell to most people, one invention in particular will certainly be familiar to anyone who ever used a tool. In fact this one tool was destined to play an important role in Walworth's business and was to become one of the company's most successful ventures.
(Having come from a long line of mechanics, machinists and steam-fitters, I was familiar with mechanical terms and the tools of the trade from an early age. However it was many years before I realized that a pipe wrench was called anything else but a "Stillson". The story continues.)
The Walworth company had already established itself as a substantial business within 25 years however in 1869, there occurred one of the most important events in Walworth history.
Colonel Levi Greene was Walworth's chief engineer having been an experimental metallurgist with the US Navy who was lured away from Navy service by the Walworth Company. During Col. Greene's service as engineer on a gunboat in the Civil War, he acquired considerable respect for the mechanical abilities of a firemen on the boat, Daniel C. Stillson.
After the War, Dan Stillson went to the Walworth Company to ask for a job from his old boss, Col. Greene. He was hired immediately and was set to work as a mechanic in the Cambridgeport plant. About 2 years later, in 1869, Stillson whittled a pattern out of wood that represented a new type of pipe wrench that was superior in design to anything else being used at that time. Col. Greene agreed that the concept was good, a wrench like that was badly needed in the growing pipe industry and Stillson was instructed to build one in steel.
The steel wrench was shown to C.C. Walworth who instructed Stillson to test the wrench on a piece of one and one-quarter inch pipe. He was told to " twist off the pipe or break the wrench. Put enough strength on the wrench to do one or the other". A half hour later, Dan Stillson returned with a piece of pipe which had been twisted off, the wrench was intact.
Stillson obtained a patent (back in the days when intellectual property remained with the individual rather than the company for whom you are working at the time-as it is now). He was originally willing to sell the patent for $1500 but was convinced by Walworth and Col. Greene to keep it and collect fees on a royalty basis ( You can bet that wouldn't happen now). After all, Stillson ended up collecting nearly $100,000 in royalties before his death.
The Stillson wrench was soon produced in many sizes and the design remained true to its origin throughout its production history except for the addition of the back spring in 1872 (to improve the ratchet action) and improved steel as the science of metallurgy dictated. The Stillson wrench was so important to the Walworth company, it became a barometer for economic change. As financial panic in the marketplace struck, the sales of Stillsons dropped immedialy!
In the late 1800's, economic and population growth drove the industrial market for pipes and especially Walworth's main product, valves. Industrial progess led to the improvement of assembly processes and interchangeable parts, which were in turn forged by increase in the accuracy of lathes, planers, slotters, jigs, threading taps and dies. All of these features were an integral part of the Walworth Company. They expanded into foreign markets, notably Europe and South America to play an important role in the development of those countires.
The shear size of the Walworth Company led to it's involvement in various other firsts in the workplace. They encouraged workers to deposit their money in a company bank by giving a guaranteed 8% at a time when investment was risky elsewhere. They were among the first to pioneer the 8 hour work-day because it was determined that a well-rested man could produce more in their factory in 8 hours than the same man could in twelve hours. They even took a radical step with a half-holiday on Saturday! They made the most of advertising by displaying handsomely-decorated delivery wagons.
Walworth hired women as secretaries when it uncommon to do so and they were quick to adopt new technologies such as the typewriter and most notably, the telephone. In fact, the Walworth Company was used to test Alexander Graham Bell's new invention since it was one of the very few companies large enough to have its own telegraph system connecting the main offices in Boston, 2 miles apart. Bell had asked permission to use the Walworth telegraph line around 1875. He had to do this experiment after normal business hours so as not to interrupt daily affairs. The test was completely successful and it represented the very first two-way conversation over a telegraph wire, outside of a single building and for a distance of 2 miles. As a result of this early association with the telephone, Walworth was soon equipped with a complete telephone system.
Walworth continued to grow, expanded its main offices to New York and was a major supplier for the New York City Subway Transit system in around 1905/06.
But Walworth was never one to rest its reputation on a single product and would always be quick to switch gears as the needs changed. For example, as electricity became common in rural areas, they dropped their line of gas producing machines (for in-house gas lights) and began to supply the hardware and fittings for the support of wires through city streets and to residences. They also supplied the fittings for electric trolleys, from the support poles for the overhead wires to the equipment fitted to the trolleys themselves to pick up current from overhead. However the Walworth name, no matter what it was attached to, spelled quality. They were quick to boast (in 1900 catalogue),
" The merits of our Gas machine and Mixer for dwelling house and hotel lighting are so well known, we need make no mention of them".
Walworth continued to supply booster water pumps for industry and city water supply and in the early 1900's, they were producers or distributors for; pipes, valves, waste pipe, boilers, ornamental cast iron radiators, electric trolley poles, steam pumps, steam oilers, guages, and whistles, drill presses, vices, wrenches, taps and dies, chain blocks, jacks, coal barrows, hand air and water pumps, sinks, domestic water heaters, heated glue pots, laundry machines and industrial sized laundry presses, storm drain grates and on and on
So in conclusion, the Walworth company has a stellar history, even moreso because it is still in business. At the time that the book was written, (from which this information was gleaned -1942), the company was still supplying steam fittings and foremost, valves, especially for WWII efforts.
In the years after this book was written, searches on the web have shown numerous business case studies were done, highlighting good business practices. The company is now based in Texas and no longer has offices in New York or Boston where it was founded. But most curious of all is that upon making contact with the Boston Historical Society in 2001, they had not heard of Walworth!
You will no longer find steam whistles and cast iron radiators in the Walworth inventory, however, if you need and 8 inch steel globe valve to withstand 3000 psi, give them a call. http://www.walworthvalve.com
All information was taken from a copy of a book sent to me by the Walworth Company
"A History of 100 Years of Valve Manufacturing - The story of the Walworth Company, Inc,
oldest maufacturer of Valve and Fittings in the United States -1942"
Last modified April 20,2001