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Baxter D. Whitney

Modified on 2008/04/01 21:58 by Dan McCallum Categorized as History, Manufacturer Information
The following history of the Baxter D. Whitney Co. was published in the January 1957 issue of "The Wood-Worker":

The Baxter D. Whitney Story

Part VII in the Series: “The Story of Modern Woodworking Machines,”

Back in 1837 the goal of young Baxter D. Whitney was to build a more practical cylinder planing machine - one which insured the proper pressure and adjustment of feed rolls to prevent clipping the ends of the lumber planed. His determination to achieve this goal foreshadowed the construction of the first Whitney Planing Machine, and foretold the leadership position, 119 years later, of Whitney’s entire product line of finer performance woodworking machinery.

It was this search for a practical planer which led young Mr. Whitney to view critically the imperfections of the few planers then on the market, and to start in Winchendon, Massachusetts, a firm which was to produce a long line of successful woodworking machinery - planers, scrapers, gauge lathes, barrel stave sawing machines, moulding or shaping machines and other woodworking equipment to meet and solve the woodworker’s problems.

Today, Baxter D. Whitney & Son, Inc. can look back on the advantage of more than a century of experience to note that practical planers are still bearing the Whitney name – not the same machine by any means, but embodying the same principle – a high quality, economical, fast-feed, lower-cost performance.

Today, the Whitney main office and sales headquarters are in Winchendon, just a short distance from the old building where Baxter D. Whitney constructed his first planing machine. The manufacturing operation on the whole product line is carried out in the modern plant of Newman Machine Company, Inc. in Greensboro, N.C., an industry leader in the heavy woodworking machinery field.

The influence of Baxter D. Whitney during his lifetime on the woodworking industry was a tremendous one. To him is credited much of the improved machinery, many added facilities, and a great deal of the progress that has been made in the industry.

His machines won a silver medal at the 1867 Paris Exposition, were the object of great attention in the 1873 Vienna International Exhibition where they won a bronze medal given by the Austrian Government, and were awarded a bronze medal at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. Since that time, Whitney machines have won many awards.

Baxter D. Whitney was born in Winchendon in 1817. The lad’s attention was early turned to machinery, probably largely owing to his father’s ownership of a woolen mill in Winchendon. It was in the repair shop of this old mill that the young man received the practical part of his education. His mechanical genius was manifested by his construction, when 10 years of age, of a small sawmill operated by water collected in a pond, which he formed by damming a small stream.

Before Baxter Whitney had reached manhood, he had become a skilled mechanic able to hold his own with men of many more years and experience.

His first business venture was the building of machinery for the manufacture of tubs and pails, utilizing for this purpose a corner of his father’s factory. In 1837 he built 16 looms for weaving cashmere. His next step was to build two or three steam jigs. Then the young man tackled, successfully, the planing machine.

Although it was not the first cylinder planing machine ever made, it was certainly the first practical cylinder planer built, and it embodied innovations which were Mr. Whitney’s original ideas.

His improvements accomplished the goal of preventing the clipping of ends of lumber planed, but the machine was, comparatively speaking, a primitive one. The youthful designer had not advanced as far as the introduction of the pressure bars, and only two feed rolls were employed.

His first commercially-built Whitney Planing Machine was constructed in 1846, built in about six weeks and sold, when completed, to Messrs. Murdock & Fairbanks of Winchendon. The machine was a practical success, and some of the principles incorporated by the young man in his first planer are used in planers turned out by the firm today.

Improvements incorporated in the machines he built attracted more than local interest and attention, and demands came in from other sections for still other machines. Usually, the wants of the customer were not only met, but the inventive genius of the young man was brought into play to secure some changes or additions that made the machine constructed by him a decided improvement over the one previously used.

The dam at the Whitney plant, which furnished water power (until Whitney pioneered in turning to two-phase electricity), was built by young Whitney in 1845. He made his first Scraping Machine in 1857. It was used for paring box rims and, like the planer, embodied new ideas that that are still in force. About that time also the Whitney Shaper and the Whitney Gauge Lathe were designed.

At the outbreak of the Civil War a large number of Mr. Whitney’s employees enlisted, and he was strongly inclined to close his works. But, while the matter was in abeyance, so many new orders were received that instead of closing, he was obliged to exert himself to find skilled labor necessary to execute the orders.

Prices also improved, and he was kept busy building machinery for turning out the old-fashioned muskets and even on the then-new Springfield rifles. Mr. Whitney himself designed the machinery employed in this work.

In 1867, at the Paris Exposition, Mr. Whitney exhibited a planing machine, a scraper, a gauge lathe, and several other machines. He received a silver medal, and all his machines were sold before the close of the exposition.

In 1873 he again exhibited, this time in Vienna, but was dismayed to realize that the 1867 purchases had plainly been made merely to facilitate the imitation by other manufacturers of the machines shown at Paris. The Philadelphia Exposition in 1876 was the last great exposition in which the Whitney machines were exhibited.

The following few years saw introduction of a large number of new Whitney woodworking machines. The Silver Medal Planer 1866-1878, was used in lumber surfacing. Somewhat later the P-1 “New Whitney” Planer, 1878-1892, was built. This planer was the first to incorporate a chipbreaker mounted to swing concentrically with the cutterhead.

The influence of the chair industry is reflected in the Whitney Company around the period 1870-1880 with the introduction of the Chair Back Planer and Chair Back Tenoning Machine, the Chair Seat Forming Machine, the Gauge Lathe, and the Rod and Stretcher Turning Machines.

Various types of machines were made in the 1880’s, such as the Dimension Sawing Machine, Bottom Hoop Press (for pails), the Bolting Saw, Rotary Matcher for tub and pail staves, Chamfering Machine for edges of snag handle tubs, and the Tub Lathe.

The cooperage industry came in for a great deal of attention in the manufacture of stave sawing and jointing equipment. The earliest stave machines were made in 1857, but machines of later vintage included the 24” x 44” stave sawing machine, 1890; the bilge stave sawing machine, 1895; and the wheel jointer for jointing staves. For a time, the company was actively engaged in the manufacture of wood heel machinery, including a wood heel shaper and “jack” and a wood heel groover.

An interesting machine of the 1886 period was a slasher for “edge cutting thin boards.” About this same time there was considerable activity in boring machines, mortisers and edging machinery, including a three-spindle boring machine, nine-spindle boring machine, power feed matcher, jointing doweling machine, post boring machine and bit mortising machine.

In 1911 a planer, which the Whitney firm believes was the first of its kind built, saw the cutterhead driven by a “built-in” (on arbor type) motor.

During the years of the first World War, the facilities of the factory were used for making machine tools for Garvin Machine Company and Pratt & Whitney Company. Following, some effort was continued in the machine tool field on the Brown & Sharpe No. 23 Cylinder Grinder.

During this same period there was considerable redesigning of woodworking machinery. What Whitney believes was the first tilting arbor saw bench was built. It is interesting to note that in order to get an ample amount of the saw above the table, two small diameter motors were used on the same arbor rather than one motor of a larger diameter (this, of course, was prior to the time when special motors for saw bench applications were available).

During the 1920’s a vertical spindle boring machine was built, as well as a saw tenoning machine, and around 1922 a hollow chisel mortiser.

First shapers were designed back in the 1850’s, represented by the belt drive, bronze box type. About 1918, shaper spindles were motorized, accomplished by using a shell type motor, driven through a frequency changer. Later development of the shaper included the direct motor drive and ball bearings. Both air and electric guards were developed during this period. Around 1925 a Rotary Table Automatic Shaper carried two swinging arms. The present No. 299 Automatic Shaper has a pneumatic holddown and pusher roll.

Whitney workmen were always equipped with the best tools available. Mr. Whitney was the first to introduce a radial drill into the United States. This machine was bought from Sir Joseph Whitworth of Manchester, England, in 1867, and it remained in condition to do most creditable work for many decades.

For about 15 years before his death in 1915, Mr. Whitney exercised but passive interest in the works, and the active managements developed entirely upon William M. Whitney, his son and partner. Of the son, a company publication at the turn of the century states, “His aim, true to that of his father, is to make the Whitney Plant a model of its kind, and to maintain the same position for the Whitney Machines that they have always occupied in the woodworking world.”

A catalog of the company’s products at the turn of the century showed as top models the Whitney Patent Single Surface Planing Machine, the Whitney Patent Double Surface Planing Machine, the Whitney Patent Wood Scraping Machine, the Two-Spindle Upright Moulding or Shaping Machine, the Back Knife Gauge Lathe, and the Patent Barrel Stave Sawing Machine.

Active management was carried on by William M. Whitney for a span of 50 years and until just a few years before his death in 1953. The value of his experience and knowledge was felt in the firm even in those latter years.

Guidance of the company went to R. L. Smith, general manager, and William H. Morlock, vice-president, who had worked alongside the Whitney son in shaping the firm’s progress for many years. Mr. Morlock was named president of the firm in 1953.

On the death of William M. Whitney, the Whitney family sold the stock and control of the firm.

William H. Morlock; K. O. Brown; Guy R. Prebble, Jr.; George F. Newman, Jr.; and William M. York are the principal members of the purchasing group.

The first three named men have more than 100 years of service with the Whitney organization, and for the last 15 years of the life of William M. Whitney were the principal officers who operated and managed the Whitney Company. George F. Newman, Jr. and William M. York are officials of the Newman Machine Company, Inc. in Greensboro.

The new owners of the business made arrangements for the manufacture of the Whitney quality line of woodworking machines in the modern, excellently-equipped plant of the Newman Machine Company. They moved the Whitney Engineering Department, all patterns, jigs, tools and fixtures used in the manufacture of the Whitney line of machines to Greensboro, and opened a branch office in that city. The main office and sales headquarters were continued in Winchendon.

Key people in the Whitney organization, who have for many years had charge of and supervised the building of precision and quality into the Whitney machines, moved to Greensboro and joined the Newman organization.

The success of the Whitney Company in a large measure can be attributed to the long and skillful service of generations of faithful employees. Management, superintendents, foremen, office personnel, machine operators, assembly men, and factory maintenance works all shared the responsibility of making each new Whitney machine worthy of its name.

With such an illustrious past, and presently located in a modern, well-equipped plant, manned by experienced engineers and skilled machinists and craftsmen, the Whitney name will continue to be a symbol of quality, progressiveness and experience. Not only has the Whitney organization built a reputation of which it can be justly proud, but it has found satisfied users of fine Whitney equipment wherever quality products are made. The Wood-Worker readers can rest assured that the name Whitney will continue to be symbolic of the finest in woodworking machinery.

Mr. Morlock has spent all his business life with the Whitney Company, and retired from the firm at the end of 1956 with a remarkable record of service. He grew up under the training and tutelage of William M. Whitney, and in the latter years of Mr. Whitney’s leadership, held the principal responsibility for the firm’s growth.

Elliott D. May, chief engineer and vice-president in charge of engineering for many years, has succeeded him. Mr. May, a native of New England, graduated from MIT in 1919. Soon after graduation, he went with the Whitney firm as an engineer. In 1955, when Baxter D. Whitney & Son, Inc. opened the office in Greensboro, moved the Engineering Department to that city and started manufacture of Whitney machines through Newman Machine Company, Mr. May came to the North Carolina city along with key personnel.

Two men who played a major role in the sales policies of the firm are K. O. Brown, vice-president in charge of sales for years, who retired in the fall of 1955, and Lynn G. Young, in charge of installation and service engineering.

Mr. Brown, known as “K.O.” to the trade, was with the machine firm for several decades, and perhaps became best known of the Whitney leaders. He was advanced successively through the cost accounting and sales departments, and later became vice-president in charge of sales.

Mr. Young, a “dean” of woodworking, is known in furniture factories throughout the nation as “the Whitney man,” having installed and serviced Whitney machines in hundreds of plants. Mr. Young, who travels out of Winchendon and Greensboro, is looked upon as the goodwill ambassador of Whitney - testing, installing and servicing Whitney equipment and rendering service to Whitney users.

A list of Whitney users includes most of the oldest and largest furniture manufacturers, as well as the smaller discriminating user of fine equipment, in the United States and many foreign countries.

Today’s products are the finest that experience, engineering and research have produced, but those three attributes are forever seeking improvement. Research engineering even now is seeking new improvements, streamlining products, getting equipment ready for automation processes to come, and preparing equipment to best handle conveyorized methods of manufacture in woodworking. Engineering is successfully meeting the challenge of the new wood surfacing, the particle board (chip board) and other wood products, the Masonite and plastic products.

Today’s products include the Whitney S-290 Motorized Single Surface Planer which is being introduced for the first time in this issue of The Wood-Worker. The S-290 is built in three widths, 36”, 40”, and 44”. It will dress stock 8” thick and as short as 14” not butted, or 3” when butted. A sectional top infeed roll and a sectional chipbreaker are standard equipment.

Rates of feed to 90 feet per minute are provided by a built-in variable feed unit. Other features which are available on this modern surfacer are: centralized lower roll adjustment, centralized pressure bar adjustment, cutterhead brake, plug-in for grinder and light, graduated set dial handwheel for .001” bed setting, one-shot lubrication, automatic knife grinder, and totally enclosed motor for variable feed speed. The 40” model of the new S-290 Surfacer weighs 7,400 pounds.

The Whitney No. 97 Double Surfacer is one of the most popular of its type on the market today and is being used in many leading factories for surfacing. Furniture plants use it for surfacing of wood, particle board (chip core) and other wood products.

The Whitney New-Matic Power Feed Facer No. 600 is a streamlined machine designed to meet today’s needs. Other major Whitney products include Automatic Shapers, Hand Shapers, Gauge Lathes, Variety Saw Benches, Stave Saws, Horizontal Vibrating Bit Mortisers, Vertical Hollow Chisel Mortisers.

Today’s products and tomorrow’s blueprints of pace-setting equipment - a long way from the original practical cylinder planing machine of 1837 - are the fulfillment of young Baxter D. Whitney’s goal. The goal: practical machines doing a practical, efficient job, solving the woodworker’s problems year after year with a consistent best-buy machine.

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