Monday, July 23, 2012

Warren Axe and Tool Co; Guest Post by OPERATOR 1975

For those of you who do not know him, for a number of years now, OPERATOR1975 has been posting some great content on several different forums. I always find his posts to be well though out and solidly based on the information he has collected. Speaking of collections, he has one of the most spectacular axe collections I have ever seen.

Most recently, he started several threads on Blades and Bushcraft, outlining the history of some axe manufacturers. He has generously allowed me to re-post them here. I will be sure to post more of them as he makes them available.

Ok so here we go - try and provide what I can on our topic - the Warren Axe and Tool Company - Warren Pa - 1893 - 1950(55).

Basic background -

The WATCo was founded in 1893 by William Sager and others, William being the main player in the operation. Sager had played a role in various other axe and related companies in the years prior, in Pa and perhaps even Ohio.  Some references ask if he might have been involved with the Mann crew in Lewistown - though at this time, from what I have read, this cannot be proved, but they very well could of had some sort of business relationship.

The WATCo got going with William being able to gain a patent on a new "chemical process" for axes that no one else in the industry currently had.  This came about in 1895 with the Sager Chemical Process Axe - which many of you have at least seen or read about before.  So - what is it, and what did that mean at the time?

As stated in one of their catalogs promoting the new "process" - "An improved method of treating steel used for forging axes and other edged tools, which increases the wearing qualities of these tools at least 100 percent, has been adopted by the WATCo, Warren Pa."

This process was to combine two main aspects of axe heads needed in daily work - toughness and hardness.  This was to improve total life of the product, and it would have no superior.

These Chemical Axes came in multiple patterns - double bit being the most popular -



However, they did come in single bit as well - though as far as I can tell - no where near as popular - though this is just based off of my observations :


I got that single bit off of a Mr Greg Burkett - a local from the area of Warren Pa that also supplied the pictures of the working conditions in the factory as seen in Axe Makers of North America.  Hell of a guy, great stories too.

So the Chemical Process became one of the backbone lines of the company.  This particular line of course was in production from 1895 until around 1950 - 1950 being the last one I have seen, though that doesnt mean much.

Other early history would include -

1900- Fire destorys the plant - company almost decided not to rebuild - but did.
1907 - Acquire Drop Forge Co - Wayland Ny - (this leads to the manufacture of a complete logging tool line - to come)
1912 - Acquire - Ridgway Axe and Tool Co
1916 - Acquire Romer Axe Company - Dunkirk Ny

Hopefully someone has seen the timeline and noticed one key aspect in it, especially when it comes to axe companies and the turn of the century - WATCo had no involvement with the AmericanAx Tool Co - the huge grouping of axe companies aimed at market domination.  Not sure why they were not included/swallowed - but they made it.

Interesting side story here with the AATCo around this time is, that like other axe manufacturers, the WATCo fell on some hard times with the increased competition around 1899-1900.  Then the fire of 1900 hit.  A decision was made to hire only the best - that is what they did.  The company hired a Herbert Stone as general manager to run the operation.  He decided to rebuild.  Upon further review, he decided he needed the best of the best to run the actual operation, so he hired superintendent D Murphy to run the ground operations - stolen from the AATCo!

My favorite story or aspect of the WATCo is that they knew now with the Chemical Axe they had the best product, but it also came at the highest price as well - so it was a difficult sell to hardware stores, department stores, etc.  So they hit the ground running.  An aggressive campaign was instituted to have physical appearances at logging camps - proving why their product was best.  This is what turned the tide for the company.  It created such demand for the product, especially with the loggers, that it soon trickled down into the general public as well.  This is what made the company.

The WATCo decided that axes werent the only way to go, and developed also their BULLDOG line, - which was the manufacture of a huge expanse of logging tools.  From their 1937 catalog :



And then also a personal sample - hope you can see it :


They manufactured everything under the sun for the logging industry - which made sense - you were already targeting the industry with your axes - why not dominate it all together.  You can still find on your journeys many cant hooks, peavies, chain accessories, etc with their name on it.

As you can tell, they were pretty aggressive in marketing - the 1937 catalog I have shows it - some of you already saw some pics - and it is available in PDF on the net :




Back to Axes -

So the WATCo had a great run with their lines, obviously as stated the Chemical Process Axe being their most famous - but they had others :

Sager Line -



They also had an Old Faithful line -



The Old Faithful line usually had the year of manufacture on it - similar to the Chemical axes.  Not always though.


They also had many other lines, just like other manufactures.  Some included -

Warren line  (name in cursive - a factory line)
Forest King
Romer Axe
Hiawatha (third line, or slight defect, etc)
Lake City (same as above)
Matchless (same)
Unlce Sams (same)

A pic of one of the "Celebrated" lines -


The Canada Operation -

So, not only did WATCo operate in the US, they also operated in Canada.  The Canadian Warren Axe and Tool Co was founded in 1912 after WATCo purchased Standard Axe and Tool Works, then transported all that machinery N to St Catherines, Ontario.  Then, after 2 mergers later, it was settled in as Canadian Warren Pink.  They also has a distro center in Vancouver, BC.

An example of one of those -


These axes only said "SAGER" on one side - no other markings - that is one way to tell them apart from other offerings from the USA.  This was a way to get into the Canadian business side of things, especially the logging camps.  True Temper would be in the mix also (USA wise), though later on, as Welland Vale(TT bought out Welland Vale in 1930 - but they(Welland Vale) had been there in some capacity since 1869....)

The WATCo continued on until 1950 (or 1955 depending on what you read and talk to) until Collins bought them out.  Collins then of course was bought out by Mann Edge Tool in 1966.  There are reports of advertisements in catalogs that Mann ran that stated Warren, Collins, and Mann all on the same page, all out of Lewistown Pa.  I have no idea if this is indeed true, but it wouldnt be hard to believe.  Also this means that Collins was producing Warren labled products, then Mann was producing Collins and Warren products.  Again I have no idea for how long.  Damn interesting though.

An interesting piece I have posted before :




This is a Sager head with a Collins handle - from right after the merger - wonder how many of these are around?

The WATCo is one of my favorites for a couple reasons -

They could of folded up shop when it all burnt down - but continued on.
They went out and aggressively marketed their products as the best to the camps themselves.
They expanded the product line when they saw the opportunity
They expanded into other markets when they saw the opportunity

I have been to the old site - it is now mostly a refinery.  Greg told me that you can still find old grind stones on the property, and that many locals had them as driveway markers at the end of their driveway.  I thought now this guy is pulling my leg, but sure enough, drive around and I saw a couple.  Unreal.  I can only imagine what the spread looked like back in the day.

All in all a great tale.  It is a shame they couldnt of kept going, but like most axe makers, they met their maker sooner or later after the chainsaw.  It was meant to be though I guess.  I am surprised by the amount of Chemical Sagers on the west coast, though I guess I shouldnt be - that was prime time for the business.  Interesting, multiple occasions I have purchased them online, and they are coming from Oregon.  Though I see this as me bringing the axe back home, so to speak.

A great company with a great story overall.  Hope this helps.  It is not all inclusive, and I probably messed something up somewhere.  Thanks to Axe Makers of North America, YesteryearTools, conversations with Greg Burkett, emails with Larry Mcphail(writer of 2nd edition Axe Makers North America) and multiple catalogs and information I have found for all this information.


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