A visitor to our Facebook page recently sent us pictures of a vise marked with (filling in a few blanks for worn letters) MAN_. BY NEW - ENG. VISE CO. WEST-ACTON, MASS and HOAR'S PATENT JUNE 19, 1866.
Getting ready for the "Made in Acton" exhibit at the Hosmer House museum, we were excited to receive pictures of an Acton-made product that we had never seen before. We wanted to learn about the New England Vise Company of West Acton. Searching the internet led us to the June 19, 1866 patent of John S. Hoar of West Acton (No. 55,656) for an improved rotary bench vise.
Online searching of local newspapers and the 1870 Census's manufacturing schedules for information about the vise company was fruitless. (Middlesex County’s manufacturing schedules were not available online, and local online newspaper coverage is sparse in the early years.) Fortunately, we found some useful information in the Society's library. According to an undated newspaper article in a scrapbook in the Society's collection, "The present Pail Factory in West Acton was built in 1867 to manufacture vises. These were the patent of J. Sherman Hoar, of West Acton, and was the first vise ever patented in any country with an off-shot jaw (so called). It could be used on an entire rotary base or on a one-half rotary base. The market for these vises is world-wide. "
John Sherman Hoar, born in Boxborough in 1829, was a carpenter who served in the Civil War, joining the 6th Massachusetts, Company E in 1862 with many others from Acton and nearby towns. He came home on disability, having lost his thumb in a gun accident. (This was mentioned in a November 1862 Henry Hapgood letter held by the Society.) Despite his injury, he carried on as a carpenter according to census records. In addition, he turned his attention to inventing a better vise. His patent says that his design gave the vise greater stability and versatility than others in use at the time. According to Phalen's History of the Town of Acton, Hoar's vise made it possible for a workman to hold a long piece of pipe or a wooden rod in a vertical position. In 1867, John Sherman Hoar assigned patent rights to himself, C. Hastings, and N. C. Cutter. Phalen’s History says that he wanted to sell his patent to an interested party, but his partners did not want to sell out. (His partners apparently were Charles Hastings and Nathaniel Cutter. Charles Hastings is listed in Acton's 1870 census as working in a machine shop. N. C. Cutter is harder to find. Bill Klauer's Acton book from the Images of America series contains a photo of the store of Charles Hastings and Nathaniel Cutler; perhaps the Patent Commissioner's 1867 report misspelled N. C.'s surname.)
Online versions of published public documents of Massachusetts show that the New England Vise Company of West Acton was organized on January 25, 1868. Improbably enough, searching online, we found a mention in the Galveston (Texas) Daily News of November 15, 1868 that the New England Vise Company of West Acton, Mass. had twenty employees working in their vise manufacturing business.
The West Acton vise manufacturing venture was short-lived. According to Phalen, the business was sold to a firm in Fitchburg in 1870. Massachusetts's 1877 Tax Commission's report shows the company still in Fitchburg. Hoar's patent expired around 1884, and the New England Vise Company seems to have been dissolved either in 1892 or by that year, as it was listed as one of the dissolved companies in an 1892 Massachusetts act of law.
John Sherman Hoar only lived for two years after the sale of the company. He died at age 43 of typhoid fever, leaving his wife Lydia (Whitney) and a large family. According to Phalen, one of the prized possessions of John Sherman Hoar's descendants was a model of his vise that he had created from what appeared to be cherry wood.
We have no idea how many vises were created in the West Acton factory during its short time in operation. We are very grateful to our Facebook visitor for sharing his vise with us!
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