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A Brief History of Delta

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Modified on 2017/10/06 09:16 by Jeff Joslin Categorized as Manufacturer Information
by Keith Bohn

Introduction

What follows was born from a request on rec.woodworking to put together a list of Delta's major machine release dates. It was later re-edited and re-released on a couple of woodworking forums. Please note, much of this consists of my own opinion but this opinion is somewhat based on fact.

Much of this information came about from my meager collection of old catalogs and Deltagrams. There are gaps and vagaries throughout. If you have any information to fill in the gaps and "devagarize", please feel free to contact me and I will update this article. I should also note, the Delta catalogs are not historically accurate in all ways. Old art work was re-used and recycled for years, and in some cases, decades. When possible I try to corroborate facts with coinciding *dated* publications, i.e., periodicals, from the same time period. So, without further ado...

Delta Brand & Model History

I've gone through and put this together in chronological order. I'm noting prices where I can. Before you start salivating consider the buying power of a dollar in those days and inflation. You might find the cost of tools today to be a much better buy. In fact I've taken the $168 (plus or minus) cost of a Unisaw in 1939 and calc'd it out to 1999 and the price should be around $1900. Of course a 1999 ain't holding a candle to the 1939 but it's still a fine saw none the less.

I have not paid much attention to the various Delta drill press lines as there were so many through the years it's darn near impossible to focus on one popular model. I also lack a number of catalogs making a drill press write up difficult. Similarly, lathes suffer the same fate. The Delta Specialty Company began business in 1919 in a one car garage at 969 Louis Avenue on Milwaukee's near northwest side. It was called the Delta Specialty Company until the early thirties. One of the co-owners, Herbert Tautz, was a machinist. The other co-owner was William Peters who left the company in 1923.

American Boy Scroll Saw

This was released in 1923. It was a small hand crank and later was self-powered with the addition of a motor. The scroll saw took off and the rest is history. There are surviving examples and they show up on eBay quite a bit. I've got one "with" a vintage motor. :-) The original sold for $20 which is about what I paid for mine.

American Girl Sewing Machine

When you have an American Boy it seems logical to have an American Girl. Actually, Tautz made many things and the American Boy/Girl were but two. I've often wondered what would have happened had the sewing machine took off instead of the scroll saw. By the way, I have the instructions for this machine and the address on it is 858 Third St., Milwaukee, Wis. These also show up on eBay from time to time.

Handishop

In 1928 Delta Specialty Company came out with this set of tools and it included table saw, lathe, disc sander and the American Boy scroll saw. This was a combination machine. It's interesting that Delta's closets rivals, Boice-Crane and Walker-Turner, also had a similar early history to Delta's and sold a similar machine though I suspect that Boice-Crane's pre-dated those sold by Delta and Walker-Turner as Boice-Crane had an 18 year head start in the machinery business.

From the beginning, the parent company was Delta Manufacturing Co., and Delta Specialty Co. was a marketing subsidiary. In 1929 the Delta Specialty name was dropped in favor of the Delta Manufacturing Company name. At this time their address was 1661-1667 Holten Street, Milwaukee, Wis.

4" Jointer and 8" Tilt Table Saw

These were released in 1929 and were separate machines on a common stand sharing the same motor. There was also a nifty mortising attachment. These were not the Homecraft line that came about in the 40's but similar in appearance.

"The Modern Motor-Driven Woodworking Shop" by Herbert Tautz and Clyde Fruits was released in 1930. This three volume set took the reader through most of the basic machine set-ups and usage and ended with a project to build. For all intents and purposes the books still hold up today as a rather good introductory manual. Keep in mind, when these books were first released, electricity wasn't a common commodity. So much so that there is a saw shown in one of the books that's powered by a small gasoline engine. There is a note in the text to vent the exhaust outside.

Delta Woodshop #12

Similar to the Handishop this was released in 1930. The difference being they were separate tools on a common bench and powered by a jack shaft below connected to one motor, sometimes gasoline. Imagine that noise in your shop. The machines were also available separately and eventually sold only that way because of demand.

12" Bandsaw

Delta began selling the No.385 12" bandsaw in 1924. This is the saw made for them by Blue Star Products/Heston & Anderson of Fairfield, Iowa. I have no idea when it was discontinued but it does not appear in the 1934 catalog.

10" Bandsaw, Bench Top Drill Press and 24" Scroll saw

These were originally released in 1931. None of these survive today in the current line. The 24" scroll saw was later replaced with the much more substantial Deluxe 24" Scroll Saw. The 10" bandsaw was near identical in design to the 14" released later but it didn't sport the better blade guides found on that saw.

  • No. 785 10" Bandsaw - $17.85 W/O motor and stand
  • No. 620 Bench Top Drill Press - $16.95 W/O motor

The Deltagrams

These were Delta's "house organ" and consisted of ads and articles for the hobbyist woodworker. Early issues have loads of great pictures of Delta tools, but the articles and projects, for the most part, are pretty lame. The first Deltagram was released in January 1932 in a 6" X 9" format and published six times a year. This format continued up until the end of 1949. These issues, from 1932 to 1949, were eventually bundled into a 4-volume set and can still be found today on eBay and in used book stores. In January 1950 the format was changed to 8 1/2" X 11". The magazines also featured pictures of home shops and prove that woodworkers in the 30's, 40's and 50's had some pretty sophisticated set ups. During the 50's they featured a column called Flying Chips. By January 1960 (v29#1) the magazine had become known as Deltagrams/Flying Chips and in January 1963 (v31#1) the name was flip-flopped to Flying Chips/Deltagrams. This went on until the March-April 1969 issue (v38#2) when the name was finally changed to Flying Chips. The significance of the name change had more to do with Rockwell's wanting to drop the Delta name than anything else though a column called "Delta Citations", honoring a different woodworker each month, remained up into the 70's. In the 60's the magazine began to play down the industrial quality tools in favor of the bottom feeding Homecraft and Compactatool lines. Historically this was the low water mark for woodworking machines. It wasn't until this 80's that the course reversed itself and the hobbyist woodworker became aware of better tools. By the way, Arnold Palmer once acted as spokes model for Rockwell machinery. The publication was eventually discontinued with the November-December 1972 (v41#6) issue. Bound sets of each year's issues were issued by Rockwell for many years: 1963 is the first to bear the "Flying Chips" name on the spine. The beginning of the end...

Let's get back to the 30's...

14" Band Saw

This was the real entry into the *good tools* line that Delta became famous for. It remains almost identical in design today as it did in 1934. The major difference being the castings which are open on the back. They also sported pressed steel wheels which Delta claimed were better than cast wheels. Other major changes were in the styling and the stand(s). It should be noted that the riser block was immediately available from Delta. No. 890 14" Bandsaw - $43.85 W/O motor and stand In 1935 a new plant was built at 600-634 East Vienna Street, Milwaukee, Wis.

6" Jointer and Deluxe 24" Scroll Saw

These were added to the high end line in 1935. With some minor changes the scroll saw remained almost identical throughout its production run that lasted until the 90's. On the other hand the jointer has been modified several times and in my humble opinion the present jointer with the rack and pinion fence is the high water mark of this line though it lacks the styling of earlier models. Doesn't mean I'd give up my 50's 6" machine though.

Bench Top Shaper and 10" Tilting Table Saw

These were released in 1936 and neither survive today. The table saw was a near clone of the 8" tilting table saw. The bench top shaper did survive up into the Rockwell years with some modifications.

  • No. 1180 Bench Top Shaper - $25.75 W/O motor
  • No. 1160 10" Table Saw - $49.85 W/O motor and stand

6" X 48" Sander

This was released in 1937 but did not include the 12" disc sander option. Hardly any modifications have been made to this machine. It is not to be confused with the cheaper Sanding Center sold today.

  • No. 1400 6" X 48" Sander - $28.85 W/O motor and stand

12" Disc Sander

Released in 1938 this remains today an almost duplicate to the original and is a main stay in metal working shops.

  • No. 1425 12" Disc Sander - $24.85 W/O motor and stand

In 1939 Tautz sold the company to The Marshall Fields Company.

Unisaw

Delta says it was released in 1937 though it doesn't show up in the catalog until 1939. I have evidence supporting a late 1938 "introduction" and the aforementioned 1939 availability through the catalog. My obsession with the true release date has gone so far as to writing an article on the subject of collecting *dirty paper* and was published in Popular Woodworking in August of 2001. The base was changed to sheet metal in 1977. The original motor guard was a cast iron half goose egg shape and primarily sold to schools. It was changed to sheet metal in 1967. The dust door was eliminated in 1987 as part of the "50th. Anniversary Model". It should be noted that this was not the first tilting arbor saw available to the hobbyist but it is the first saw of its size available with the tilting arbor. It should also be noted that the casting marks LTA stand for "Light Tilting Arbor" and when compared to other industrial machines, this saw is a light weight.

  • No. 1450 10" Unisaw - $89.50 W/O motor (1939 catalog price)

Heavy Duty Shaper

Delta claims this was released in 1939 but it does not show up in that catalog so I am doubtful of their date. This is the big shaper that shares the same cabinet style and base as the Unisaw and with the exception of the sheet metal *donut* base it is as it was the day it was released.

  • No. 43-205 Heavy Duty Shaper - $116.90 W/O motor and switch

In 1940 Pittsburgh Equitable Meter and Manufacturing Company bought Crescent Machine Company of Leetonia, Ohio. Stay with me on this factoid.

I should stop and mention here that during World War II the production at Delta shifted to producing tools for the war effort and in order to buy a tool you had to prove that you were an essential industry. The Deltagrams advertised that "after the war, you'll be able to buy Delta again". I believe there was something of a pent up demand after the victory in the Pacific.

It appears that the 1941 price list was used throughout the war years and there were no price increases.

In 1942 Marshal Fields sold the company to the Timken Detroit Axle Company, controlled by Colonel Willard Rockwell.

In 1945 Delta was purchased by Rockwell Manufacturing Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Formerly the Rockwell company was known as, ready, Pittsburgh Equitable Meter and Manufacturing Company. Doesn't really slide off the tongue like Rockwell does it? Anyway, there's our connection between Crescent and Delta. Technically Delta didn't buy Crescent but instead suffered the same fate.

After the war, Delta's parent company Rockwell, began tagging the line with their logo while keeping the Delta and Delta/Milwaukee brand name. In my humble opinion these years were Delta's best.

Homecraft

The 1946 buy out of Homecraft from The Arcade Manufacturing Company was one of Rockwell's greatest contributions to the future of the company and brought Delta back into a sharp focus on the light duty tools for the hobby market. In the long run, though, their eventual dependency of the lighter duty machines did the hobbyist woodworker more damage than good.

8", 10", 12", 14", 16" & 20" Radial Arm Saws

The 1948 buy out of Red Star products got Delta into the radial arm saw market. These saws sport the same turret arm assembly found today. The 12", 14" and 16" survive today while the 20" shrunk down 2".

I'll interject an editorial note at this point. 1952 was a sad year when the Delta factory was moved from Milwaukee to Bellefontaine, Ohio and later the Tupelo, Mississippi plant where all U.S. made tools are currently made. The move came about after the workers at the Milwaukee plant went on strike. Colonel Rockwell once predicted he'd shut the factory down before he put up with a strike and true to his word, he did just that. Today Delta's 1919 birth place in a garage on Milwaukee's near north side is possibly gone. There is a building at the corner of East Vienna and Holten Street but there is no address on it so I cannot confirm if it's the old plant. Around the corner the newer East Vienna Street plant remains. At one time it was a Pabst beer warehouse. Half of the building is currently empty and the words DELTA MACHINERY CO. can still be seen above the front door in the masonry anchors.

8" Jointer, 12"-14" Table Saw and 20" Bandsaw

These came into the line after the Crescent Machinery plant was closed in the Summer of 1952. Apparently they weren't paying attention to what was going on in Milwaukee and went on strike. Prior to 1952 Crescent machines were sold by Rockwell as a subsidiary.. The 12"-14" table saw and the 20" bandsaw were produced up through the 60's and then took on the modifications we see today.

Beaver/Delta

Callander Foundry, the Canadian maker of the line of Beaver Power Tools was bought by Rockwell in 1953. Its line was very similar to the Homecraft line. These Canadian machines mostly stayed in Canada. Over the years, the Callander designs were replaced by Delta/Rockwell designs, although the respected Beaver name was used on those machines for a couple of decades.

20" Drill Press and Ram Type Radial Drill Press

These came into the line after the 1956 buy out of Walker-Turner. Rockwell put out a separate catalog of the Walker-Turner line and eventually the line was absorbed into Rockwell's Delta catalog. Rockwell continued to market Walker-Turner up until the early 60's. With the exception of these two tools W-T's line was abandoned.

Porter-Cable

P-C was bought by Rockwell in 1960. I'm not sure when they dropped the P-C name but I think it was rather immediate. I know by the early 70's all the portable tools were branded with the Rockwell name. Despite that the P-C reputation survived until Pentair revived it in 1981. As we all know it thrives as one of the better lines and it ain't painted that turd yellow color.

Contrary to popular belief Rockwell did not spin off a pneumatic tool line based on the P-C electric tool line. The air tools came from a 1963 Rockwell buy out of Buckeye Tool.

In 1973 the bean counting really started with the merger of Rockwell Manufacturing with North American Rockwell. The resulting merger was called Rockwell International and the machines were branded such and took on the *up-side down "Y" (peace sign) logo*. The 14" band saw and 6" X 48" sander suffered the most from this, in my humble opinion. This was Rockwell's greatest crime against humanity. I should note, production was spotty throughout this period and consideration of buying a Rockwell International machine should be proceeded by a lengthy *look over* and running.

Sorry for the big gap but there was very little excitement during the Rockwell International years...

Rockwell sold off the portable electric tool division to Pentair in 1981. Pentair renamed this division Porter-Cable and it is as we see it today.

Rockwell sold the machine tool division to Pentair in 1984. Pentair in turn re-names it the Delta International Machinery Corporation.

In 1985 Delta introduces their imported *consumer market* line of tools and history repeats itself as Rockwell had done years earlier with the Homecraft line though there's considerably less weight in this new line. Hopefully Pentair will continue to market the industrial quality machines along side the import line. As it looks, the imports might be subsidizing the industrial machines as the Unisaw hasn't had a significant price increase in over 10 years.

Biesemeyer

Delta buys Biesemeyer in 1995.

There you have it. Please feel free to add to or dispute any of the above. I'm going to go rest now.

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