When the Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company reached its 125th year as a going industrial concern during 1958 , it became an almost unique institution in the mechanical world .
With its history standing astride all but the very beginnings of the industrial revolution , Brown & Sharpe has become over the years a singular monument to the mechanical foresight of its founder , Joseph R. Brown , and a world-renowned synonym for precision and progress in metalworking technology .
Joseph R. Brown grew up in the bustle and enterprise of New England between 1810 and 1830 .
He was early exposed to the mechanical world , and in his youth often helped his father , David Brown , master clock and watchmaker , as he plied his trade .
At the age of 17 he became an apprentice machinist at the shop of Walcott & Harris in Valley Falls , Rhode Island , and following two or three other jobs in quick succession after graduation , he went into business for himself in 1831 , making lathes and small tools .
This enterprise led to a father-and-son combination beginning in 1833 , under the name D. Brown & Son , a business which eventually grew into the modern corporation we now call Brown & Sharpe .
The years of Joseph's partnership with his father were numbered .
In 1838 , a devastating fire gutted their small shop and soon thereafter David Brown moved west to Illinois , settling on a land grant in his declining years .
Joseph Brown continued in business by himself , quickly rebuilding the establishment which had been lost in the fire and beginning those first steps which were to establish him as a pioneer in raising the standards of accuracy of machine shop practice throughout the world .
Much of his genius , of course , sprang from his familiarity with clock movements .
During these early years the repair of watches and clocks and the building of special clocks for church steeples formed an important part of the young man's occupation .
He became particularly interested in graduating and precision measurement during the 1840's , and his thinking along these lines developed considerably during this period .
But his business also grew , and we are told that Mr. Brown found it increasingly difficult to devote as much time to his creative thinking as his inclinations led him to desire .
It must have been with some pleasure and relief that on September 12 , 1848 , Joseph Brown made the momentous entry in his job book , in his characteristically cryptic style , `` Lucian Sharpe came to work for me this day as an apprentice '' .
The young apprentice apparently did well by Mr. Brown , for in the third year of his apprenticeship Lucian was offered a full partnership in the firm ; ;
the company became `` J. R. Brown & Sharpe '' , and entered into a new and important period of its development .
Mr. Sharpe's arrival in the business did indeed provide what Mr. Brown had most coveted -- time for `` tinkering '' , and the opportunity of carrying out in the back room those developments in precision graduation which most interested him at that time .
By 1853 , the new partnership announced the precision vernier caliper as the first fruit of their joint efforts .
The basic significance of this invention helped them to follow it rapidly in 1855 by the development of a unique precision gear cutting and dividing engine .
That development , in turn , formed the foundation of still more significant expansions in later years -- in gear cutting , in circular graduating , in index drilling , and in many other fields where accuracy was a paramount requirement .
Throughout their careers , both Mr. Brown and Mr. Sharpe were interested in the problem of setting up standards of measurement for the mechanical trades .
Several efforts were made in this direction , and though not all of them survive to this day , the Brown & Sharpe wire gage system was eventually adopted as the American standard and is still in common use today .
As one development followed another , the company's reputation for precision in the graduating field brought it broader and broader opportunities for expansion in precision manufacture .
In 1858 , the partnership began manufacturing the Willcox & Gibbs sewing machine .
As the story goes , Mr. Gibbs , who originally came from the back counties of the Commonwealth of Virginia , saw an illustration in a magazine of the famous Howe sewing machine .
Curious as to what made it work , he built a crude model of it in wood , and filed a piece of steel until he succeeded in making a metal pickup for the thread , enabling the crude machine to take stitches .
When he showed this model as his `` solution '' as to how the Howe sewing machine operated , he was told he was `` wrong '' , and discovered to his amazement that the Howe Machine , which was unknown to him in detail , used two threads while the one that he had perfected used only one .
Thus was invented the single thread sewing machine , which Mr. Gibbs in partnership with Mr. Willcox decided to bring to Brown & Sharpe with the proposal that the small company undertake its manufacture .
The new work was a boon to the partnership , not only for its own value but particularly for the stimulation it provided to the imagination of J. R. Brown toward yet further developments for production equipment .
The turret screw machine , now known as the Brown & Sharpe hand screw machine , takes its ancestry directly from Mr. Brown's efforts to introduce equipment to simplify the manufacture of the sewing machine .
Mr. Brown made important additions to the arts in screw machine design by drastically improving the means for revolving the turret , by introducing automatic feeding devices for the stock , and reversible tap and die holders .
In 1861 , Mr. Brown's attention was called to yet another basic production problem -- the manufacture of twist drills .
At that time , during the Civil War , Union muskets were being manufactured in Providence and the drills to drill them were being hand-filed with rattail files .
This process neither satisfied the urgent production schedules nor Mr. Brown's imagination of the possibilities in the situation .
The child of this problem was Mr. Brown's famous Serial No. 1 Universal Milling Machine , the archtype from which is descended today's universal knee-type milling machine used throughout the world .
The original machine , bearing its famous serial number , is still on exhibition at the Brown & Sharpe Precision Center in Providence .
During the Civil War period Mr. Brown also invented the Brown & Sharpe formed tooth gear cutter , a basic invention which ultimately revolutionized the world's gear manufacturing industry by changing its basic economics .
Up until that time it had been possible to make cutters for making gear teeth , but they were good for only one sharpening .
As soon as the time came for re-sharpening , the precise form of the gear tooth was lost and a new cutter had to be made .
This process made the economical manufacture of gears questionable until some way could be found to permit the repeated re-sharpening of gear tooth cutters without the loss of the precision form .
Mr. Brown's invention achieved this and , as a byproduct , formed the cornerstone of Brown & Sharpe's position of leadership in the gear making equipment field which lasted until the 1920's when superceded by other methods .
The micrometer caliper , as a common workshop tool , also owes much to J. R. Brown .
Although Mr. Brown was not himself its inventor ( it was a French idea ) , it is typical that his intuition first conceived the importance of mass producing this basic tool for general use .
So it was that when Mr. Brown and Mr. Sharpe first saw the French tool on exhibition in Paris in 1868 , they brought a sample with them to the United States and started Brown & Sharpe in yet another field where it retains its leadership to this day .
The final achievement of Mr. Brown's long and interesting mechanical career runs a close second in importance to his development of the universal milling machine .
That achievement was his creation of the universal grinding machine , which made its appearance in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition .
This machine , like its milling counterpart , was the antecedent of a machine-family used to this very day in precision metalworking shops throughout the world .
Along with J. R. Brown's other major developments , the universal grinding machine was profoundly influential in setting the course of Brown & Sharpe for many years to come .
Following Mr. Brown's death , there came forward in the Brown & Sharpe organization many other men who contributed greatly to the development of the company .
One such man was Samuel Darling .
As head of the firm Darling & Swartz , Mr. Darling began by challenging Brown & Sharpe to its keenest competition during the 1850's and early 60's .
In 1868 , however , a truce was called between the companies , and the partnership of Darling , Brown & Sharpe was formed .
Between that year and the buying out of Mr. Darling's interest in 1892 , a large portion of the company's precision tool business was carried out under the name of Darling , Brown & Sharpe , and to this day many old precision tools are in use still bearing that famous trademark .
Perhaps the outstanding standard bearer of Mr. Brown's tradition for accuracy was Mr. Oscar J. Beale , whose mechanical genius closely paralleled that of Mr. Brown , and whose particular forte was the development of the exceedingly accurate measuring machinery that enabled Brown & Sharpe to manufacture gages , and therefore its products , with an accuracy exceeding anything then available elsewhere in the world .
Also important on the Brown & Sharpe scene , at the turn of the century , was Mr. Richmond Viall , Works Superintendent of the company from 1876 to 1910 .
Mr. Viall possessed remarkable talents for the leadership and development of men .
He was an ardent champion of the Brown & Sharpe Apprentice Program and personal counselor to countless able men who first developed their industrial talents with the company .
In one sense it can be said that one of the most important Brown & Sharpe products over the years has been the men who began work with the company and subsequently came to places of industrial eminence throughout the nation and even abroad .
Commencing with the death of Lucian Sharpe in 1899 , the name of Henry D. Sharpe was for more than 50 years closely interwoven with the destiny of the company .
During his presidency , the company's physical plant was enormously expanded , and the length and breadth of the Brown & Sharpe machine tool line became the greatest in the world .
During the early part of this century , the Brown & Sharpe works in Providence were unchallenged as the largest single manufacturing facility devoted exclusively to precision machinery and tool manufacture anywhere in the world .
During these years the company's product line followed the basic tenets laid down by Mr. Brown .
It expanded from hand screw machines to automatic screw machines , from simple formed-tooth gear cutting machines to gear hobbing machines and a large contract gear manufacturing business , from rudimentary belt-driven universal milling machines to a broad line of elaborately controlled knee-type and manufacturing type milling machines .
In the grinding machine field , expansion went far from universal grinders alone and took in cylindrical grinders , surface grinders , and a wide variety of special and semi-special models .
In 1951 , Henry D. Sharpe , Jr. succeeded his father and continued the company's development as a major factor in the metal-working equipment business .
The company is still broadening its line and is now active on four major fronts .
The Machine Tool Division is currently producing Brown & Sharpe single spindle automatic screw machines , grinding machines of many types , and knee and bed-type milling machines .
Recently added is the Brown & Sharpe turret drilling machine which introduces the company to an entirely new field of tool development .
In the Industrial Products Division , the company manufactures and markets a wide line of precision gaging and inspection equipment , machinists' tools -- including micrometers , Vernier calipers , and accessories .
In the Cutting Tool Division , the principal products include a wide variety of high speed steel milling cutters , end mills and saws .