Henry Disston & Sons was the largest producer of saws in the United States. Henry apprenticed under Philadelphia saw makers William and Charles Johnson. They paid him in unfinished saws and tools when their business failed. Henry began making saws on his own in 1840. He had to move several times, was burned out, and injured in a boiler explosion. He persevered and bought land for a factory in 1849. The Keystone Saw, Tool, Steel & File Works was established.
Henry began making his own steel in 1855 but not on a large enough scale to meet his needs. Production was limited to billets which he had to send out to be rolled into sheets. The first catalog was published at this time featuring saws, trowels, knives, squares, and bevels. He had the largest saw factory in the America by 1860. War production of bayonets and sabers provided a windfall for the company.
Tariffs gave the company a huge boost during the Civil War. The Panic of 1857 and the following succession of the Southern States hurt at first. The company doubled in size soon after. The first protection acts of 1846 set imported iron and steel at a low rate. Domestic production wasn’t yet significant and the country needed English steel. Tariffs were lowered during the Panic of 1857. The shortfall in revenue was being felt by 1859. Duties were raised regularly as the war got underway. The tariff on imported steel reached 47% by the end of the war. Domestic saw companies that relied on imported steel failed. Disston increased steel production beyond its own needs and built its own rolling mill. Sharpening saw blades required a huge number of files. The company began making their own in 1866 Creating Henry Disston & Son File Works. Henry’s son Hamilton joined the company at this time.
The company outgrew its factories in Philadelphia and began looking for a new site. Tacony became the new site in 1872. Tacony became a company town about 1876 overseen by Henry. It was a planned community with sports teams, comfortable homes, a school, a park, and a music hall with orchestras. There were absolutely no saloons or gambling. There would be 600 homes built for factory workers in time. The Tacony Trust Company was established to provide loans. Working at Disston was a life time commitment.
Catalogs were regularly published showing an ever- increasing product line. New styles were introduced and outdated styles were dropped. The highest quality was always maintained. The company was sold to H K Porter in 1955.
Some of the early saw makers acquired by Disston include Johnathon Paul est. 1840, Jay Bringhurst est. 1842, James Turner est. 1843, and Walter Cresson est. 1845.
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