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Manufacturer Spotlight: Greenlee Part 1 – History

April 30, 2012

Greenlee Brothers and Co was created and made successful by two auspicious Pennsylvanian twin brothers, Ralph and Robert Greenlee. Edmund Greenlee, who held several patents in his own name, raised the boys in an atmosphere of constant innovation and creativity. By 21 years of age opportunity struck, oil was found in Pennsylvania, and there were not enough barrels in all of northeast Pennsylvania to meet the demand. The brothers put to use their fathers patented tools to fill the demand for barrels.

In the company written biography, Round Bits Square Holes, the Greenlee Brothers talk about their childhood inventiveness and how their father’s life long creativity helped set the stage for their future success.

“No training could have been more timely”

-Ralph Greenlee 

In 1862 the Greenlee brothers, with encouragement from their father moved their barrel operation, to the then booming city of Chicago, which was also a major shipping point for the Union’s arsenal during the Civil War, helping make their barrel machine business become more lucrative than ever.

After partnering with William Brooks, Greenlee Brothers and Co was formed in 1866. Once founded, Ralph and Robert were excited to move beyond the initial barrel machine business into innovating new products.  They followed this with the famous lofty promise:

“If a machine we build is equaled by any another make, we will either improve it, or cease its manufacture”

-Greenlee Brothers and Co

The initial discovery of Oil in their home state of Pennsylvania, happened to mark the beginning of  the Greenlee brothers careers that were characterized by the combination of serendipitous timing and a time period brimming with opportunities. The Greenlee brothers capitalized on almost every major event in American history occurring during their personal life spans, including the Civil War, The Great Chicago Fire, and the United States western expansion. Later, Greenlee Brother & Company would be employed in the efforts of World War 1 and 2, as well as the auto industry boom in the early 1900’s.

In 1874 they engineered the revolutionary Hollow Chisel Mortiser. This chisel provided the wood product makers and the furniture makers of the time the ability to create a quicker, more precise, solid wood product. The tool possessed the cutting of a four-sided chisel with the action of a drill bit in the center. The chisel ensured a straight clean square shape, while at the same time the drill bit cleared out most of the material that needed removal.

The next key innovation was not far off and came when Greenlee Brothers and Co capitalized on the westward expansion of the U.S. What they created was the Greenlee Tie Machine Car, a modernization for the railroad and railcar, that traveled along on the track with the builders and helped them produce up to 6 ties a minute as the workers fed the car rough timber on one side.

Their next invention, The Self Feed Power Rip-Saw sped up production as well as helped prevent the loss of fingers. It was table sized and proved immensely popular being sold in areas as far reaching as South America, Australia, and Europe. Although the Hollow Chisel Mortiser paid for the first building expansion of Greenlee Brothers and Co., amazingly the Self Feed Power Rip-Saw outsold the Hollow Chisel Mortiser by over four times as much.

Greenlee has continued to innovate it’s way to success creating such things as metal hole knockout punches, hydraulic-powered pipe, conduit benders and many more.

Sites:

http://vintagemachinery.org

www.greenlee.com/

 

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