The following history of the Newman Company was published in the September 1957 issue of "The Wood-Worker".
The Newman Story
Part IX in The Wood-Worker series: “The story of modern wood-working machines.”
Over half a century ago, George F. Newman, the co-founder and first president of Newman Machine Company, got a far-sighted vision of the importance of machines in the lumber, millwork, and furniture industries. This vision led him to organize the company which today stands as a leader among manufacturers of woodworking machinery.
The 12 major expansions of the firm since it began operating in 1906 have brought the company to a point at which it can be described as nothing less than a fulfillment of the dream of Mr. Newman, when he started operations with seven employees in a 50 x 100 foot building on Jackson Street in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1906.
Mr. Newman, whose sound judgment has been shown by 51 years of progress by the company in gaining its place of leadership in the industry, doubtless was influenced by the position he held at the time he made his decision to embark on such a venture in the South - which was then dependent primarily on an agricultural economy.
In his work as the first Secretary of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce, he was in a position to see, with his usual ability of looking into the future, some of the growth which has taken place in the woodworking industry as a part of the general diversification experienced by the area in which the plant is located.
Inspired by the drive and personality of its leader, the company got off to a good start and continued a period of growth until today. In contrast to its small beginning, it has more than 200 skilled employees and more than 120,000 square feet of manufacturing floor space.
Mr. Newman believed from the start that the woodworking industry was one of the great potentials of the South. This belief gave him the determination to make the name Newman a trademark of quality on woodworking machines throughout the United States and in many foreign countries.
The first machine developed by the company was a lath mill and bolter, which served the need for volume production of wood laths used extensively at that time, and the demand for this machine launched the small company on the road to leadership among woodworking machinery manufacturers.
Shortly thereafter, a four-sided planer and matcher, the Newman No. 8, was designed for the small lumber plants. This machine and improved models of it have been installed in 978 small planing mills since 1910.
In 1912 the company designed and built the first of its larger planers and matchers, the Newman No. 97. Acceptance of this machine was so great that additional facilities were needed for the manufacture of Newman machines. To meet this need, the company built a new machine room - the first of its large expansions.
During World War I the demand for metalworking machinery was greater than the need for woodworking machines, and the company used its facilities to manufacture machine tools - heavy engine lathes on a sub-contract basis.
The manufacture of woodworking machinery was resumed at the end of World War I, and shortly thereafter the company designed and built what is thought to be the industry’s first planer and matcher with ball bearings. It was sold to Cox Lumber Company of Wadesboro, N.C., for its Society Hill, S.C., plant.
In addition to the design of the ball bearing planer and matcher in the post World War I period, Newman also designed and manufactured other woodworking machines, including single and double surface planers, jointers, self-feed ripsaws, edgers, circular resaws, grinders, tenoners, and cut-off saws, which filled a definite need in lumber plants.
During this post World War I period Newman’s growth and desire to serve the woodworking industry led the company into an expansion program which resulted in the addition of a new assembly room, engineering department, and office building.
Along with the growth and development of the woodworking industry in the South, Mr. Newman became known as much more than just a machinery manufacturer. Many lumber men looked to him for advice and counsel in their problems, and more than one benefited from his wisdom and generous nature.
When he believed in a man’s honesty and skill, Mr. Newman was only too willing to lend a helping hand in the form of advice and credit terms which was responsible for putting several woodworking leaders in business, and others on a sound footing.
It was this trait of helpfulness which led, in the 1920’s, to his being elected president of the Woodworking Machinery Manufacturers Association for two terms. He also was a liberal contributor to the civic, social and religious life of his city.
Newman’s production of its ball bearing planers and matchers was a forerunner of one of the most important changes in the woodworking industry - the transition from plain or babbitt bearings to ball bearings. Continuing in this leadership, the company in the early 1920’s designed its complete line of machines with ball bearings, giving its customers faster, trouble-free machines adaptable to quicker adjustments and providing a better finish to raise the quality of their products. All of this resulted in increased quality and in cost savings to the woodworking industry.
In 1926, Newman Machine Company started an expansion and design program resulting in two models of the most modern direct motor-driven electric molders then known in the industry. These molders were the Newman No. 44 and the Newman No. 412, which were built in the late 20’s and early 30’s. Many of them are still in use. The company discontinued the manufacture of molders, however, so as to increase its production of other woodworking machines for which there was a larger demand.
By 1934 the company had expanded to such a point that Mr. Newman considered it advisable to obtain an associate qualified to give him competent financial and legal advice. He invited William M. York, a prominent Greensboro corporation attorney and civic leader, to become associated with the company as Vice-President and Secretary.
Mr. York accepted, and the arrangement combined Mr. Newman’s thorough knowledge of the woodworking industry with sound business management practices, so that the company was able to serve further the woodworking industry in the United States, Canada and abroad.
George F. Newman, Jr., a graduate of the School of Commerce and Business Administration at the University of North Carolina, joined the firm in 1937 as a salesman. He soon became active with his father and Mr. York in management of the company, and took a major role in strengthening and expanding operations. He aggressively pushed the expansion projects which culminated in the building of a pattern shop, a modern pattern storage facility and a foundry. His efforts also resulted in the replacement of machine tools with new equipment. The building program has continued to the present time.
Immediately following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Newman Machine Company was advised that woodworking machinery was needed by the armed services to process lumber for the many military installations that would be needed throughout the world.
Mr. Newman, Jr., who had become a vice-president and sales manager of the company, went to Washington as a consultant for the woodworking industry in the Industrial Equipment Branch of the War Production Board. In that capacity, he helped set up the system of priorities whereby no woodworking machinery could be sold except that which was directly connected with the war effort.
Newman manufactured woodworking machinery almost entirely for the armed services throughout the World War II years, during which period machines for civilian use were held to a minimum by the priorities system.
When peace came in 1945, Newman Machine Company was again in a position to resume its normal activity of manufacturing for civilian use.
The end of World War II unleashed on all manufacturers, including Newman, a heavy demand for woodworking machinery, for during the war none had been sold except for war purposes, and in the years prior to the war only a small number of new machines was purchased by private business, as the nation was recovering from a major depression.
Seeing the big demand for its products, Newman Machine Company embarked on another large expansion program. The addition of floor space and purchase of machine tools doubled its prior production capacity. The company was extremely busy from 1945 until 1950 supplying the needs of the woodworking industry, and it was during this period that it became one of the leaders in its field. Over 5,000 heavy woodworking machines were built during this period.
In 1948, following the death of his father, George F. Newman, Jr. left the company’s top sales position to become president of the firm. He has since demonstrated the same ability which served his father so well, and he was elected to serve as secretary of the Woodworking Machinery Manufacturers Association from 1950 to 1953.
At the time George F. Newman, Jr. became president of the company, Mr. York became executive vice-president and treasurer, and Victor W. Stout was elected secretary.
During the Korean conflict, which started in 1950, materials used in the manufacture of machinery were again placed under government control. At this time the demand for machine tools was greater than the requirement of woodworking machinery, and Newman Machine Company used its plant and facilities for the manufacture of machine tools needed by the armed services in preparation for the emergency. The company began to build heavy duty power-feed hack saws and turret lathes. It also built precision surface grinders on a sub-contract basis for the Thompson Grinder Company, and radial drill components for the American Tool Works.
During the Korean War, Newman Machine Company was considered by the War Production Board to be an important part of the war effort and it was given priority by the board to build a large modern machine room 110 x 220 feet, completely covered by motorized overhead cranes, and to install therein the most modern machine tools needed.
This new machine room and equipment added enormously to the capacity of the company, and gave it the most modern facilities with which to build high precision machine tools and woodworking machinery.
Experience gained in building machine tools proved beneficial to Newman woodworking machine customers. Newman machines now have all bed plates and tables hardened and surface ground; all bearings are mounted in an air-conditioned dust-proof room; all parts are machined and drilled with jigs so that they are interchangeable on all machines of the same model; hardened steel gears have been substituted for cast iron gears; malleable and ductile iron parts are used where there is any element of weakness; ground jointer and shaper tables are now being used instead of planed and flaked tables; and all parts subject to strain are annealed in the modern annealing furnace which has been installed.
At the time of the Korean conflict the company was equipped and geared for a high volume of production. It continued to manufacture some machine tools, but the company’s line of woodworking machinery took first place in its production.
In 1955 the Newman name came to be closely associated with another familiar name in the woodworking industry, Baxter D. Whitney & Son, Inc. After the death of William Whitney, that company, a leader in the manufacture of machinery for the furniture industry, was purchased by a group composed of W. H. Morlock, K. O. Brown, Guy R. Prebble, Jr., George F. Newman, Jr., and William M. York. The Whitney line of machines includes single and double surfacers - 24” to 54” wide, hand shapers, automatic shapers, tilting arbor saws, facers and back knife lathes.
The Whitney Company decided to have its line of machinery manufactured in Newman Machine Company’s modern plant. As a result of this decision, key personnel of Whitney moved to Greensboro to supervise the manufacture of their machines. The equipment bearing the firm’s name is built by Newman with the same excellent workmanship for which it had been known for many years. A Whitney sales and engineering office was opened in Greensboro, N.C., but the home office of the company remained in Winchendon, Massachusetts. All of the Whitney engineering drawings, patterns, jigs, tools and fixtures, used in the manufacture of Whitney machines, were moved to Greensboro.
Elliott D. May, Whitney’s chief engineer, a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, moved to Greensboro to supervise the production and improvement of the Whitney machines. Mr. May was elected president of Baxter D. Whitney & Son, Inc., in January, 1957. He started with Whitney in 1919.
John Gillespie, vice-president and sales manager of Newman Machine Company, also was made vice-president and sales manager of Baxter D. Whitney & Son, Inc., at the time Mr. May was elected president of Whitney.
In 1953 Wallace D. Johnson left the position of president of one of the largest manufacturers of woodworking machinery and joined Newman Machine Company as a vice-president and director of engineering. This was a high point in the progress of Newman Machine Company in building up an engineering force competent to give the woodworking industry machinery designed for the manufacture of better products at higher volume and lower cost.
For the planing mill, Newman’s line of woodworking machinery now includes six models of planers and matchers, two of which are completely motorized, automatic pineapple feed tables, cutterhead grinders and automatic knife grinders.
For furniture factories, cabinet shops, pattern shops and schools, Newman now builds six models of single surfacers, hand jointers, tilting arbor saws, hollow chisel mortisers and single end tenoners.
Newman sells it machines through a wide dealer organization and through its own sales engineers. Its export office is in New York City.
At the time Mr. Johnson joined the Newman organization, L. E. Perdue, who had been with the Newman organization since 1940, and superintendent since 1944, was elected vice-president in charge of production. Mr. Perdue played an important part in all of the Newman expansions since 1944, and has worked closely with Mr. Newman in the upgrading of the company’s machine tools.
Thus today, Newman Machine Company, standing as a leader among manufacturers of woodworking machinery, is a living memorial to the vision of its co-founder and first president, George F. Newman.
Looking ahead . . . Newman Machine Company is continuing to expand its present markets, and to open new fields with machinery produced by the best engineering knowledge and mechanical skill.
Although the growth and success of Newman in the relatively brief period of 51 years has been a remarkable achievement, Newman looks forward to greater accomplishments in the years ahead.
Newman officers, Newman engineers, and Newman production men are constantly directing their efforts toward raising quality standards to the end that Newman machines will be known throughout the woodworking and metalworking fields as precision machines, machines for economical performance, machines for service.