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Pioneer Firms of Early Days of Cincinnati Machine Tool Industry

Reprinted from: Cincinnati Ohio Enquirer, August 31, 1924. By Conteur

Steptoe & McFarlan Were the Earliest Manufactures of "woodworking" Machinery in Cincinnati.—J.A.Fay & Co.—Life of Thomas P. Egan—Strange Experiences of Frederick Danner—Consolidation of Fay and Egan Companies.

Application of the term "woodworking machinery" was not coincident with the earliest devices of a manufacturing plant producing this type of machinery. Neither did the term come from the making of tools to be used by hand in connection with wood material. A firm producing lathes or other machines of iron or steel to be used by other shops often turned to the production and sale of a machine suitable for making furniture, planing lumber, or a machine for tenoning or mortising.

Gradually master mechanic developed the idea of combining in one place the making of machines of various types that could be used in factories devoted to the manufacture of wooden articles. The great firm of Lane and Bodley, 70 years ago, working mostly in metals, had begun to introduce wood working machinery in connection with their greater business in steam engines and circular saw mills. And later, in 1874, they introduced "several woodworking machines."

Cincinnati was a pioneer in this industry of machines for use of those wishing to outfit shops with steam driven devices to make something or anything out of the products of the forest to such an extent that half a century ago and even earlier our great firms in that line were shipping their products to nearly all of our states those of Great Britain, Germany and other Continental countries of Europe, to all of the Americas, Australia, and Japan.

These shipments included surface planing machines and those for planing double surface planers; machines for edge molding, shaping and sanding; bandsawing machines and those for car-sill dressing and boring machines and those for the blind wiring and there were many other such designs.

Considerable research has resulted in the conclusion that John Steptoe may be regarded as the earliest pioneer in this business, although in 1842-43 he was a "foundryman." and in later years, as in 1850, he was a "machinist" on the west side of Clay north of Court, and living on Walnut near Twelfth. His future partner Thomas McFarlan was a "carpenter". In 1855 had began the partnership of Steptoe & McFarlan, machinists, and that of Lane & Bodley, also machinists. These firms were to lead the way in the new business of manufacturing wood-working machinery. Thomas P. Egan in 1894 remarked that Steptoe & McFarlan were "one of the earliest manufactures of wood-working machinery in the United States." We may conclude that he may have added, the very first in Cincinnati.

In 1959 Steptoe & McFarlan were advertising as manufacturers of planing mills. Lane & Bodley in 1859 were using the new term for business in connection with their circular-saw mills. Their heaviest line was in steam engines. In 1857 Steptoe & McFarlan were advertising their mortising machines. That same year the new firm J. A. Fay & Co. seems to have been in the advance of all others in general term, "manufacturers of woodworking machines." The firm members were J. A. Fay, John Cheney and George Johnson, south side of Augusta, between John and Smith. Next year Steptoe & McFarlan followed suit in naming their business. Philander P. Lane and Joseph T. Bodley (Lane & Bodley) were then on the southeast corner of John and Water.

Mr. Steptoe's name and business fame are perpetuated today in the John Steptoe Company, machine manufactures, on Colerain avenue, with Otto H. Broxterman, President Adair Lauther, Vice President,. and Fred Broxterman, Secretary and Treasurer.

The J. A. Fay & Egan Company has the following organization: Clifford P. Egan, President: S. P. Egan, Vice President: Fred T. Egan, Second Vice President and Sales Manager: William M Green, Secretary: Arthur A. Faber, Treasurer, and Raymond W. Eagan, General Manager and Superintendent.

The business of a few firms increased greatly year after year. Surprising inventions added to the long list of machines to be produced. Although band saws were invented a century ago, they required much improvement to attain the perfection of 1873 (?) when scroll saws and jig saws, (?) ornamental designs were made (?) as a thirty-second of an inch.

There came an endless variety of devices to reduce timber, from the softness of white pine to the toughness of lignum vitae. there were saws, planers, lathes and grinders. There was the gang saw and the circular saw, with rackfeed, planer with roller feed, the segment saw for cutting veneers almost as thin as an edge of paper; special machines for moldings, for mortising and tenoning and for dove-tailing; tilting (?) for mortises on the bevel. The lathes for metals and for woodworking were constructed on the same principle. Probably that was young Egan's incentive to leaving the metal lathe at Mr. Kirkup's shop for that of wood with Steptoe & McFarlan.

Immensely ingenious were some of the inventions. As an illustration, the "copying lathe," used for things of irregular shapes, such as gun stocks, ax handles, shoe lasts and other things.

Thomas P. Egan, born in 1847, was a baby nine months old when his parents brought him from Ireland to Hamilton, Canada. His father was a small farmer there. He died there in his eighty-fifth year.

Having graduated in his fifteenth year at the Central Public High School of Hamilton, Egan commenced work at a dry goods store at $2 a week. At 16 he decided to come to the United States as he wanted better wages. While visiting a sister in Cincinnati he sought work and was employed at William Kirkup's brass manufactory running a lathe at $3 a week. This was better than the Hamilton job, but the lad wasted 50 cents more a week, and the lathe running in metals had become too monotonous at the end of three months.

His next employment here was with Steptoe, McFarlan & Co. John Steptoe asked him what was his wage with Mr. Kirkup. He answered and stated that he wanted 50 cents more. Mr. Steptoe who took and always retained a liking for the youngster agreed to that. Egan worked with him 12 years until he was 28.

Apropos of Mr. Steptoe's confidence in his protege comes the fact that on his deathbed, while making his will, he directed that Mr. Egan should be executor. Asked about the bond that should go with the appointment the old gentleman very emphatically remarked: "Thomas shall give no bond." It is unnecessary to relate that the duty was executed promptly and with exact fidelity.

Within the first few weeks of Egan's work at that shop there came to him the misfortune of the loss of his left arm in the machinery. While that may have seemed a terrible calamity at that time, the result showed in a different way, for it took him out of the manual labor to other positions for which he was to display great ability. He was given a place as a boy in the office and immediately took a night course at John Gundry's mercantile college, where he perfected himself in bookkeeping.

He had already, at Hamilton, acquired some knowledge of that work and was soon graduated at Gundry's. He began keeping the books at Steptoe, McFarlan & Co.'s-still at $3.50 a week-when John Steptoe, noticing that his office suit had become shabby, gave him an increase to %5 a week. Eighteen dollars was his salary when he became of age. About that time during a talk with the partners (that mighty work "conference" had not yet come into common use then) Egan remarked: "Let me try my hand at selling on the road."

Some doubt about the business advantage of this in the firm was dispelled by Mr. Steptoe's agreement to make good any loss that could be made apparent by the change. The consequence of this guarantee of his ability spurred the young man to great efforts and he continued on the road for seven years, in which time his salary had reached #345 a week. When he came home from his first trip his sales were found to be larger than any in the history of the firm by any other salesman.

Having saved $5,000 and being now about 28 years of age he decided to marry and then to start business in a shop of his own. His wife was Miss Alma E., daughter of Reverend Frederick Haase, pastor of an Evangelical church, at Chillicothe, Ohio. This lady's mother, born Theresa Von Redenstadt, was a daughter of that General Von Bedenstadt of the German army in the time of George III of England, when the countries were allied in the war against Spain.

After using $1,500 in starting married life Mr. Egan had $3,500 to start in business for himself. That there continued fine relation between him and his former employers may be gathered from the fact that he and his two partners rented room and power from Steptoe, McFarlan & Co. That their was a small beginning is shown in the fact that the rented room was only 50 X 30 feet and also that the three partners did all the work and allowed themselves only $20 each per week.

Although this was the year following the height of the financial depression of 1873, this company, with its modest beginning of $10,500, was able to declare a dividend of the same amount for its first year. The business continued to prosper so that in 1881 it was incorporated as the Egan Company, with a capitalization of $150,000; the incorporators were Thomas P. Egan, Frederick Danner, Edwin Ruthven, Samuel C. Tatem and Florence Marmet. Mr. Egan was President and general manager.

Meanwhile the original one-room shop, used a year and a half, had been changed to an old mill on front between Central avenue and john, 30 X 80 feet, and three stores high. Later an additional floor was place there and also another addition as business still improved. Then came destruction by fire of all the plants, including the original old mill. There was a speedy rebuilding, on a greater scale, to make place for the work of 400 employees who at last succeeded the original pay roll of the three partners. These were Mr. Egan, Harry J. and C.A. Cordesman, under the name of Cordesman, Egan & Co. woodworking machinery, south east corner Second and Central avenue.

Early days of the Ohio country often compelled stern adventure for many of the pioneers before their settlement to peaceful enjoyment of work and life. In later decades there migrated from other countries many who, in their hazards of new fortunes, had left the turmoil of the older work for the peace and plenty of the new.

That in our own times a man prominent in the industrial life of Cincinnati should, in his youth, have been chasing in the India the great "Butcher of Cawnpore" suggest a store of strange experiences as often related by Frederick Danner.

There was a long line of ancestry in England following the coming to that country from Germany of the Danner family and up to the birth of Frederick Danner, of Hyde Park, this city, and First Vice President of the great J.A. Fay & Egan Company, native (1843) Northhampton, England; son of John and Ann (Turner) Danner. After attending the grammar school there Frederick was, at the age of 14, apprenticed for seven years to a machinist. After serving half that time he, in 1860, ran away from his master and took the Queen's shilling for enlistment in the Ninety-fifth Regiment of the British army, in which he served four years.

During his first six months in the service his regiment was quartered in Ireland. The horrors of the Indian mutiny were still being rehearsed in army service and all over the civilized world. The regiment was transferred by the long voyage around Good Hope to Bombay. Four months later it was sent to Poona.

At that time the leader of the Cawnpore massacre, the sahib Nana, known as Nana Sahib, was still at large. He had caused the horrible slaughters of 600 men and 200 English, Scotch or Irish women and children and the British authorities were hunting for him with grim determination. There was a report, then believed reliable, that Nan was in hiding with a few miles of Poona. Private Danner was of a detail of the Ninety-fifth sent to capture the fiend. They were successful in taking the suspect, who later turned out to be a person of mistaken identify. The Sahib was never found, but was supposed to have ended his days in Thibet.

Nana Sahib, also known as Dander Panth, was once a Rajah of Bithur. He was an adopted son of the ex-Pasha of Mahrattas, Raji Rao, who had headed the 1818 revolt and had been placated finally with the enormous pension, for his life only of $400,000. It was because of his failure to succeed to this pension that the sahib and Rajah Nana took part in the great massacre of the late fifties.

At various times Danner's regiment was quartered at Bombay, Kurrachee, Lower Sinde, Hyderabad, on the Beelochistan border, and at Aden, in Arabia. At times while in the service in that regiment he was employed in detailed work, as in the armor shops, in tailoring, shoemaking, woodcarving, and engraving. Some of his time in these employments in the army he was paid for, as extra tasks. These experiences became of value to the young man in later years in his employments in European countries and finally in Cincinnati, particularly in machinery for wood-working.

At Kurrachee Danner obtained his discharge. He returned to England on ship Annie Williams, coal laden, and on which he shipped as a seaman. The trip took five months, during which he painted the ship inside and out. For a mere landsman this job of painting the exterior of the vessel, making eight to ten knots and hour would today be called a big one. However, Danner was accustomed to variety of employments and did not seem to have been daunted by any of them.

In 1865 he married to Miss Sophia Kightly. They settled at Leamington, Warwickshire, for four years. They came to the United States on the old City of Paris in 1869. His first work was, during six months in Newark, N. J. as a hatter-for he could turn his hand to any kind of work, and in a very short time was a full fledged hatmaker.

Owing to illness, he concluded to come West. With his savings much depleted he sold his watch and reached Cincinnati. With 25 cents in his pocket he took employment with Steptoe & McFarlan for 2 years.

After two years with that firm he commenced work with J. A. Fay & Company, where after one year, he became foreman. In 1882 he was one of the incorporators of the Egan Company and was successfully, Assistant Superintendent, Superintendent, and Vice President. When the J. A. Fay and Egan companies were consolidated Mr. Danner was chosen First Vice President of the new company. Interesting now is Mr. Egan's story of the consolidation of the Fay and Egan Companies.

"Across the street from the Egan Company was the J. A. Fay Company, their rivals. From the first the Fay Company, Established for years in a profitable business tried to squeeze out the young ambitious rival. Lawsuits sprang up almost from the start over certain patents, to such an extent that the two firms' representatives were scarcely on speaking terms and would not think of doing business with each other. Suit after suit had been brought and each firm spent in the neighborhood of $20,000 trying to break the other up.

"The Egan Company carried a case successfully through all the Courts of Ohio and finally won in the United States Supreme Court in 1889. This demonstrated to the firm that they were amply able to take care of themselves, and they became more and more aggressive. Mr. Egan and others of the firm had 175 patents, but still the Fay Company held 200, and while the two firms separately controlled nearly all the woodworking patents in the country, they were fighting each other.

"Finally, in February, 1893 David Jones and H. B. Morehead held their plan to capture both belligerents. They secured an option on the majority of the stock of both companies and especially that of the Fay Company, and then informed both managements that if a consolidation took place the business could be run on a more economical scale than formerly, and all litigation could be stopped. The arguments prevailed and articles of incorporation were taken out, with a capital Stock of $2,500,000. The officers of the company were Thomas P. Egan, President; Frederick Danner, First Vice President; A.N. Spencer, Second Vice President; Edwin Ruthven, Secretary; L. W. Anderson, Treasurer; George W. Bugbee, Master Mechanic; S.P. Egan, General Superintendent; L. G. Robinson and George W. Passell, Assistant Superintendents.

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