Our Purpose: The Early American Industries Association Preserves and Presents Historic Trades, Crafts, and Tools and Interprets Their Impact on Our Lives
The Early American Industries Association was founded in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression. The following is a summary of the early history of our organization. Loring McMillen who was Vice-President of EAIA in 1958 wrote an article entitled, “Early American Industries, The History of the E.A.I.A.” for a 25th Anniversary edition of The Chronicle, Volume XI, Number 3, dated October 1958, and William K. Ackroyd and Elaine B. Winn wrote an “Early American Industries Association Sixtieth Anniversary History 1958-1993,” which was published as a special supplement to The Chronicle, Volume 51, May, 1998. Much of the following information has been gleaned from those two articles.
On August 31, 1933, 16 men and women gathered at Wiggins Old Tavern at the Northampton Hotel in Northampton, Massachusetts to form an organization of members interested in collecting, preserving, and studying the early tools and crafts of America. The meeting was the result of a conversation begun by Lewis N. Wiggins, the owner of Wiggins Old Tavern, and Stephen C. Wolcott of Nutall, Virginia, who had stepped into the tavern as Mr. Wiggins was hanging some old tools on the wall. As a result of that conversation they decided to gather a few like-minded individuals for lunch at the tavern. In 1958, Mr. Wiggins wrote a letter to the then president of EAIA Fred C. Sabin recalling the events that lead to the first founding of EAIA. “My memory is clear of our early days – the very first day in fact. I was in the north room of my ‘Wiggins Old Tavern’ – the room that was later known as the ‘kitchen’. It was entered from the parking lot. The first room I had developed was known as the ‘Ordinary’, the next room was the ’Tap Room’. On this very hot summer afternoon, I was working on the development of the ’Kitchen’. I was hanging on the east, whitewashed wall, a number of treasured tools. In my hand was an exceptionally interesting hand wrought steel gouge with a wooden (butternut) handle.
Behind me a gentleman spoke, ‘I see Mr. Wiggins, that you are interested in preserving treasures. Do you know what that fine tool was made for?’ I replied, ‘It is a gouge for woodworking.’ Then he asked me if I knew for what special purpose it was made and when I told him I did not know, he said, ‘It was especially made for gouging out wooden bowls.’ I thanked him and asked his name. ‘I am S.C. Wolcott and I live in Nutall, Virginia.’ He was a charming, intelligent gentleman. We sat down in the kitchen chairs of the early 1700’s and discussed the various articles in that room; things that were for display and for use, as I was about ready to open that room to the public and service of food, as was in the Ordinary and the Tap Room. Mr. Wolcott said, ‘I spend several weeks each summer browsing around New England. I have met several interesting men who are collecting, preserving and studying the early tools and crafts of America. We should get together and form an association for mutual aid and pleasure. I have a very fine collection of carpenter’s tools that someday I shall give to the Williamsburg Restoration.’ I replied, ‘Please invite these gentlemen – as many as you like – to meet here at Wiggins’ Old Tavern as my guest for luncheon, then we can discuss plans for an organization. At any rate, we would like the opportunity of becoming acquainted.”
“To my joy, within a few days he telephoned that W.B. Sprague and S.E. Gage, then at their summer homes in Litchfield, Connecticut, and Albert Wells, of Southbridge, Massachusetts, would be at hand on a certain day for a ‘get-together’ luncheon. I telephoned a friend of mine, Earl T. Goodnow, of West Cummington, Massachusetts, an interesting intelligent collector of Early Americana, to meet with us for luncheon. It seems to me it was July 1930. (Mr. Wiggins is here incorrect, the date was August 31, 1933) After luncheon we held our first meeting.”
William Sprague after being contacted by Stephen Wolcott circulated notices and letters to various collectors and other interested people and proposed a meeting for August 31, 1933, at the Old Wiggins’ Tavern in the Hotel Northampton to form the organization. Sixteen collectors met on August 31st, 1933, and ratified the organization of The Early American Industries Association. The annual dues were set at $1 a year and it was elected to have two meetings a year. At that meeting, the 20 original members were admitted to EAIA, four of whom could not attend, but were voted on and admitted anyway. The original members of EAIA who met that day were:
At Mr. Sprague’s suggestion, J.M. Connor Jr. of Metuchen, NJ, M.L. Blumenthal of Elkins Park, PA, Stephen H. Pell of Fort Ticonderoga, NY and Charles Messer Stow of New York, NY, who could not attend the initial meeting were also admitted to the membership bringing the total to twenty members. It is of interest to note that two women, Emma Fitts Bradford and Florence Bradford were two of the original 16 members of the Early American Industries Association. In 2008, on the occasion of EAIA’s 75th anniversary, then EAIA President, Bill Curtis, his wife Judy, along with Bill and Judy McMillen traveled to the Old Wiggins’ Tavern and presented the management with a framed commemorative certificate identifying the Old Wiggins’ Tavern as the location of the very first Early American Industries Association meeting. The certificate was designed by then EAIA Executive Director Elton “Toby” Hall and was signed by President Bill Curtis and Executive Director Toby Hall on behalf of the EAIA membership.
The original mission statement of the organization was developed shortly thereafter and stated: “The purpose of the Association is to encourage the study and better understanding of early American industry, in the home, in the shop, on the farm and on the sea, and especially to discover, identify, classify, preserve and exhibit obsolete tools, implements, utensils, instruments, vehicles, appliances and mechanical devices used by American craftsmen farmers, housewives, mariners, professional men and other workers”. This statement of purpose has been changed several times over the years and was most recently changed in 2008 to the Statement of Purpose noted at the beginning of this “history”.
William B. Sprague was elected as the first president of EAIA, with Stephen C. Wolcott elected secretary, and Earl T. Goodnow, treasurer. Mr. Sprague quickly developed many of the guiding principles of the association. He outlined those principles to include; forming an association of people interested in the early tools and implements of American, to arouse interest in these tools, to discover their purposes and uses, to encourage museums to take a greater interest in this field, to encourage dealers to search for material, to exchange information, and to find a final and permanent repository for collections. He stated that the tool and its use was the prime interest of the association, rather than the product. The only requisite for membership was an interest in the purposes of the Association.
Even though he was not able to attend the first EAIA meeting Charles Messer Stow is credited with having been one of the original members to whom the association owes much of its success. John Davis Hatch, secretary-treasurer of EAIA in 1940, EAIA’s 5th president, and one of the earliest editors of The Chronicle, wrote in 1958, “The many contributions made by Charles Stow that contributed to the founding of the Association were as follows: it was Stow who suggested that S.C. Wolcott stop at Wiggins Tavern in Northampton, MA, and who suggested that W.B. Sprague and S.E. Gage of Litchfield turn up at the earliest meeting in Northampton. Charles Messer Stow provided the good natured ‘push’ to his New York friend Bill Sprague to take leadership in forming EAIA. Mr. Stow provided the early list of collectors that was responsible for the wide-spread start of those invited to the initial meeting and because he was the writer of ‘The Quester’ column, (a nationally known Friday afternoon weekly hobby section on art and antique collecting) in the New York Sun, invited many to become members of the new organization.” It’s been said that Mr. Stow liked to refer to EAIA as the “Pick and Shovel Club” because the thrust of the association was to identify and preserve the common everyday tools of the home, hearth, and forge.
One of the first objectives of the association was to publish a magazine. Volume No. 1 of The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association dated October 1st, 1933, appeared on November 20, 1933, just three months after the initial meeting of the EAIA. The initial plan was to publish The Chronicle twelve times a year, and in 1934, seven issues were produced, however, by 1941 the current plan of producing four issues of The Chronicle each year was adopted. The Chronicle has been published in an unbroken run since that first issue and represents an important repository of information about early American tools, industries, and the men and women who produced those tools. An article by W.B. Sprague entitled “Early American Manufacture of Felt Hats”, was the first scholarly article published in The Chronicle and appeared in the November issue, Volume 1, No. 2. The Chronicle is the lifeblood of EAIA and is the single largest repository of information on early American industries. We owe the editors of The Chronicle a great debt for the continued production of this fine journal.
It was at the third Annual Meeting of EAIA held at Old Wiggins’ tavern in 1936 that the membership first started bringing unidentifiable tools to the meeting. It was at this meeting that the term “What-is-its”, soon contracted to “Whatsits” was first used, and the “Whatsits” session has been a part of every EAIA Annual Meeting since then. Membership at the time of the first issue of The Chronicle was 26, and by November of 1934 the membership had grown to 405. The November 1935 issue of The Chronicle announced that the membership had grown to 610. Only three Annual Meetings were held during the years of the Second World War. No further membership totals were published until after the war. In 1947 the membership was 502, with the war having taken a toll on membership. W.B. Sprague, at the direction of the EAIA Board of Directors, incorporated the Association in the state of New York on March 16, 1942. In 1944 because of the rising cost of publishing The Chronicle, dues were raised to $2.00 per year and the annual dues crept up gradually to $5.00 a year by 1952.
With the completion of the first quarter century of The Early American Industries Association in 1958, the membership and Board took up the matter of, “…recording for posterity the tools and trades of vanishing American industries.” A Publications Committee was formed, and a book on the Conestoga wagon was chosen as the first subject for publication. Due to delays, rewrites by more than one author, and difficulty finding a publisher, the book entitled, Conestoga Wagon, 1750-1850, by George Shumway, Edward Durell, and Howard C. Frey was not sent to the publisher until 1964. Despite the delay, the initial order of 1500 books sold quickly, and by 1967, a second edition of the book was in the works. This was the first in a continuing line of books regarding early American industries published under the imprimatur of the EAIA.
In 1960, EAIA was approached by the Smithsonian Institution regarding their new museum building, the National Museum of American History. The Association was asked if members would be willing to donate American woodworking and carpentry tools made prior to 1850 for an exhibit in the National Museum of American History. The membership enthusiastically responded to this request and by 1961 the Smithsonian had accepted 62 tools from EAIA members for this exhibit.
Membership in EAIA was growing during the 1960’s. Because historic sites such as Williamsburg, Shelburne, Old Sturbridge Village and others could accommodate only a limited number of EAIA members attending an Annual Meeting, a decision was made by the Board of Directors in 1967 to create three classes of membership: active membership which entitled the member to a subscription to The Chronicle and the privilege of attending meetings; associate membership entitled the member a subscription to The Chronicle and an opportunity to become an active member when an opening occurred; and subscription membership which entitled the member to a subscription to The Chronicle. Membership was limited to 700 individuals from 1967-1969. The Board of Directors did not want to turn away active members who wanted to attend Annual Meetings because of attendance limitations placed on EAIA by the historic sites chosen for Annual Meetings. While this difficult decision disappointed many early American industry enthusiasts from across the country, it did help stimulate the formation of the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association and several other regional tool groups (P.A.S.T., N.E.T.C.A, and others) throughout the country. In the 1970’s, as historic sites and the nearby communities constructed new meeting facilities and hotels, it was possible for EAIA to allow all members to attend the Annual Meetings. In 1981, the decision about classes of membership was reversed, the By-Laws were amended, and anyone who paid membership dues was allowed to attend the EAIA Annual Meeting.
In 1971, all EAIA business information was removed from The Chronicle and instead put in a newsletter entitled Shavings. Initially published bi-monthly is was soon determined that the business news of EAIA could be handled with a quarterly newsletter and since then, Shavings has been published four times a year.
The first “Tool Exchange” took place at the 1977 Annual Meeting and along with Wednesday afternoon “tailgating” has been a much-loved part of our Annual Meetings ever since. 1977 also saw the production of the first membership directory. In 1977, the EAIA Board set up a committee to develop a research grant program to “…support to individuals engage in research or publication projects relating to the purposes of EAIA. It was titled the EAIA Grants-In-Aid Program (Now called the Research Grants Committee) and the committee chair was Charles Hummel. The committee moved ahead with the project, and EAIA’s first research grants were awarded in May of 1978. Four grants were awarded that year and since then EAIA had awarded over 120 research grants to individuals to assist them in research consistent with the mission of The Early American Industries Association.
In 1988 the EAIA Board of Directors voted to develop the position of Executive Director for the Association. A job description was developed, candidates were interviewed, and on July 1st, 1989, Alan Bates became the first Executive Director of EAIA. On July 1, 1992, Richard Kappeler became the second EAIA Executive Director. Elton “Toby” Hall became the third Executive Director in 1994 and served in that position until his retirement in 2010. Our current Executive Director John Verrill assumed the position in 2010. In 2009, Judy McMillen became the first female President of the Early American Industries Association and served in that position until 2011.
The Early American Industries Association Board of Directors adopted a resolution on October 24, 2004 that established the EAIA Endowment Fund. Its purpose is to provide EAIA members and friends the opportunity to make charitable gifts to the Early American Industries Association. These charitable gifts will become a permanent endowment of financial support for the Early American Industries Association. This fund has already assisted in furthering the publications and programs of our Association, particularly in the area of the Research Grants Program.
As we approach our 85th anniversary in 2018, the Early American Industries Association continues to “preserve and present historic trades, crafts, and tools and interprets their impact on our lives”. We invite you to come and join this vibrant group!
Submitted by Paul Van Pernis
 The editors of The Chronicle have been:
 Early American Industries Association List of Published Books