Excerpted from The Chronicle Vol. XI no. 4, December 1958
by Laurence A. Johnson
Recently I was browsing through several old copies of the Wolcott New York, Lakeshore News, and I ran across an advertisement in the October 22, 1874 issue for “The Great American Meat and Vegetable Cutter.” This is shown in figure 1. This incident reminded me of such an implement which I had in my Old Cross-Road General Store Museum which had an 8 inch cylinder. This can be seen in figure 2. I recall when it was possible to find these cutters m a number of antique shops in this area some years ago.
This aroused my curiosity and I checked the patent number of my cutter, number 47,875. This patent was issued on May 23, 1865 to Leroy S. Starrett, who resided in Newburyport, Massachusetts. In the original patent, this device was called an “Improved Meat Cutter”. I pursued this matter no farther until I recently visited Mr. Edison C. Simonds, a Syracuse industrialist, who informed me that he had been corresponding with Mr. Arthur Starrett, the President of the L. S. Starrett company in Athol, Massachusetts. Mr. Arthur Starrett is the grandson of the inventor of the “Improved Meat Cutter” that was pictured in the Wolcott, Lakeshore News. Mr. Arthur Starrett’s grandfather, Mr. Leroy S. Starrett, was the founder of the Starrett Company and they are now world famous toolmakers.
In this, I sensed a success story which resulted from a simple invention of an ingenious American who was not satisfied to do things as his forebears had done them. I phoned Mr. Arthur Starrett and received an invitation to visit him. He received me in a most gracious manner and revealed to me the entire story of his grandfather.
Leroy S. Starrett was born in J 836 and was one of t1nh·e children of a farm family of China, Maine. In order to help out with family financial problems, he started to work at seventeen and by the age of twenty-six was running a dairy farm at Newburyport, Massachusetts. From an early age he was interested in the use of tools and machines and applied his mind to the problems of farming. Farmers in his neighborhood who first scoffed at his “different” practices, later came to speak in admiration of his practical success in farming matters. Leroy S. Starrett is reported to have said that he had, “invention on the brain”. He outfitted a room over the stable where he developed his first invention – a food chopping machine. He told his grandson in later years that the principle of this invention was suggested to him by the action of the walking beam steam engine on the Mississippi steamboats. He whittled out a model whose ratcheting mechanism slowly turned the round container and rapidly raised and lowered the chopping blade on his meat and vegetable chopper.
Leroy S. Starrett had unlimited confidence in himself, his machine and the market for it and as a result he sold his farm interest in order to develop, manufacture, and sell his invention. He developed the necessary machinery to turn out his new food chopper and while he was manufacturing these machines, he would on occasion slip straps over his shoulder and carry as many machines as he could, peddling them about the countryside in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. He told his grandson that he “left tons of sausage meat in my wake.”
On one such trip he met a certain Mr. Hill, who persuaded him to bring the manufacture of his chopper to Athol, Massachusetts. M. Hill joined Mr. Starrett in financing this new company which was known as the Athol Machine and Foundry Company. In 1868 the chopper was successfully produced by this organization in Athol, Massachusetts. The food chopper rapidly endeared itself to housewives since it was not only useful in the chopping of meat and vegetables but was ideal for making mincemeat and the preparation and preservation of many foods. This chopper became popularly known as the “hasher”.
There were seven different numbered “choppers” manufactured at the factory. Number 401 and 402 were family sizes and were described in the company’s catalog as follows: “no family, no matter how small should be without one, while for hotels, restaurants, and public institutions, where large quantities of food are required, they are absolutely indispensible. The principle working parts are made of the best malable iron, rendering a breakage impossible by an ordinary or reasonable usage. Number 401, cuts three pounds in three minutes, 8 inch cylinder. Weight, 14 pounds. Price, $5.00″ and number 402 cuts five to six pounds in three minutes. 10 inch cylinder. weight, 21 pounds. price $7.00.”
Number 403 and 404 a re called “hotel sizes” and the catalog stated: “these sizes are made very strong and heavy and are special favorites with farmers for cutting sausage, as well as for large hotels and restaurants. Number 404 is the same size as number 403 but has an intermittent gear feed, like the butchers’ sizes, instead of a ratchet and pall like the family sizes.” – “number 403 cuts 8 to 10 pounds in three to four minutes. 12 inch cylinder. weight, 37 pounds. price $10.” … “number 404 cuts 8 to 10 pounds. in three or four minutes. 12 inch. cylinder. weight, 37 pounds. priced at $12.”
Number 405, 406, and 407 were advertised as “butcher’s sizes”. The catalog stated: “these choppers are too well known to need either an extended description or recommendation. They are pronounced by butchers who have had them in constant use for years – as the best sausage cutters in America.” Number 405 was especially adapted for use for small butchers and market men and could be used in public institutions, schools, and hospitals. Number 406 was in all respects, similar to number 407 with the exception that it had one crank and the cylinder was two inches smaller in diameter. Number 407 had two cranks and could be easily operated by two boys, or by putting a pulley in place of the main crank, it could be arranged to run by power. This could be accomplished with a small expense.
Concerning number 405, the catalog stated: “butchers and market men get from one to three cartons per pound more sausage cut from one of these choppers then when cut, or mashed, with the “grinders” so commonly used.” … “cuts from 50 to 60 pounds. an hour. weight, crated for shipment, 120 pounds. 15 inch block. price $25.” … “number 406, cuts 60 to 80 pounds an hour, weight crated, 7 5 pounds with an 18 inch block and priced at $50.00” … “number 407, cuts 80 to 100 pounds an hour, weight crated 300 pounds, 20 inch block and priced at $60. tight and loose pulley for power, cost $8.00 a ton.”
With his business well on the road to success, Leroy S. Starrett began work on other inventions dealing with perfecting certain tools used in ind us try. The number of his inventions eventually reached 100, but by his fortieth birthday, a period of great misfortune descended upon him. His wife died leaving him with four small children and in addition he lost the use of his hearing. Unfortunately, his association with the Athol Machine and Foundry Company had now developed to such a point that certain frictions forced him to retire and give up his entire interest in the company which was tied up principally in stock. Despite this, Mr. Starrett continued to have supreme confidence in his own ability and faith in God and he was determined to set his future course on the premise that he often stated: “I saw no other way but to try to create a business for myself by inventing something useful that people would want.”
He saw the need for improved tools of measurement and this is an excellent example of his remarkable ability to recognize a practical need and to devise a remedy. His grandson said of him “when my father, Frank Starrett was a little boy, my grandfather became increasingly impatient with the problem of threading the tips of shoe laces into the eyelet of my father’s high shoes.” As a result of this annoyance, patent number 73,847 was issued on January 28, l 886 to Leroy S. Starrett and this “improvement in shoe lacing”, came into being. However, Mr. Starrett sold this patent for $600 in order to span a difficult financial period in which he was engaged in the manufacture of a new invention, his combination square. This square was to replace the long used, clumsy, fixed square. The shoe lacing patent, that he sold, produced millions for those who purchased it from him.
Leroy S. Starrett worked many long hours at his kitchen table until the problems of practical design were solved. His next step was to overcome the obstacles of financial backing and to create a demand for the radically revised square. He also had to encourage retailers to stock it.
His great personal diligence and the faith of others in his inventive genius, led to the successful manufacture of this and other tools of his invention. Thus was established the L. S. Starrett Company and as early as 1882 they were exporting to foreign markets. He continued plant expansion during the depression year of 1904. In 1905 Mr. Starrett bought control of the Athol Machine and Foundry Company and thus fulfilled the promise he made to himself when he was ousted from it. The home of “The Hasher” was now the Athol Machine Company. Leroy S. Starrett died in 1922 at the age of 86.
Before leaving Athol, I visited this factory on South Street. Although it is 45 years since the last “hasher” was made, this factory is still affectionately called by the people of Athol, “The Hasher”. In Athol one still hears the expression “down by the hasher”, and “he works at the hasher”.
I was rather disappointed not to find at the factory one of the original labels that were put on the hashers before it left the factory. This label gave directions for the care and operation of this machine.
Sometime ago I copied such a label, or what was left of it, on a “hasher” that was in the Seaport Store of the Marine Historical Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. This is the only such label that I have ever seen. However, this label was torn and several words were missing. I showed my notes on the label to Mrs. Hill who is in charge of the office at the Athol Machine Company and he introduced me to Mr. Bernell Coffin, the plant superintendent, and to his assistant, Mr. Benjamin Davis. This partial label was of such interest to these two gentlemen that they immediately began to fill in the blank areas. It now reads as follows:
“Starrett’s pat. May 23, 1865
Athol Machine Company
Athol Depot, Mass.
These directions are as follows, “put any quantity of material to be chopped into the dish which will allow the knife to rise an inch above it. See that the connecting bolt in the end of the walking beam is made secure by inserting knife frame through it. Start the crank quick, stir the contents of cylinder towards the center once or twice while being chopped fine, empty the dish, take out connecting bolt, pin rod falls to the right, fold the knife over the side, it may be removed and contents emptied.” The words in italics were those missing on the label.
The L. S. Starrett Company plans to build additional space for its operation. In connection with the proposed expansion plan, its president, Mr. Arthur H. Starrett, hopes to establish a museum. This museum will not only pay tribute to some of his grandfather’s 100 inventions, but will also reflect the color and history of the four industries in Athol, Massachusetts. These four major industries were all started by Leroy S. Starrett and are the L. S. Starrett Company, Athol Machine Company, Athol Manufacturing Company, and the Union Twist Drill Company. Mr. Starrett is a member of the Early American Industries Association and I am sure his fellow members will wish him success and look forward to visiting his proposed museum, which will be a true testimony to the inventive genius of the designer and builder of the “hasher”. It is my hope that the readers of this article may direct to me an original “hasher” label, which has survived and will verify our insertions in the copy in this article.