Clemson Bros., Inc. - Middletown, N. Y.


 

The Clemson Story by G. MacLaren Woodley, 1955

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A trade journal of some years ago states:

"The cutting of metal, previous to the birth of the Star saw largely fell to the lot of the blacksmith.  His wasteful methods resulted in a loss of metal during the manufacture of one saw that would more than outweigh the finished product.

At the time of the birth of the Star Saw, metal sawing was confined to saws with unset teeth and of a degree of hardness that permitted re-sharpening by filing the teeth.  (Such a saw was known as the Stubb's saw, which tapered from a thick tooth edge to a thin back, depending on the taper for its clearance.)  The cost of re-sharpening was twenty-five cents.  After cutting one piece of one inch iron re-sharpening was necessary."  One re-sharpening reportedly wore out a cast steel file.

The journal quotes George N. Clemson as follows:

"In 1884 we built a sawing machine for testing hack saws, in which we discovered that the blades we produced would cut twelve pieces of one-inch iron before re-sharpening was necessary.  During the year 1886 we experimented with fifty-two kinds of hack saws.

These tests involved changing dimensions, shapes of teeth, styles of set, and variable heat treatments.  When we got through with our experiments we found we had produced a blade that would cut 387 pieces of one-inch by one-inch iron.  And today (this was years before his death) Star Saws are even much more efficient.  We sell the public for five cents what formerly cost them about $100."

While he was making such progress with hack saws, his importance to Wheeler, Madden & Clemson also was increasing.

In 1885 Amelia Wright Clemson died at her Beattie avenue home.  Surviving besides her husband and three sons were two daughters, Maria A., wife of William W. Taylor of Middletown, and Lillian L., wife of Jesse W. Bird of Boston, and also three sisters and a brother.

In the same year, Edward M. Madden died.  "After the death of the Hon. E. M. Madden," the Argus noted in 1890, "his interest in the company was purchased by Mr. (William) Clemson, who in 1886 transferred it to his sons."  That transfer was a step in William Clemson's retirement from active operation of the saw kingdom he had founded.  On February 3, 1886, George N. Clemson and Elizabeth Dow, daughter of Isaiah C. and Almira Boucheau Dow, of Corning, N. Y., were married at nearby Elmira.

The Thompson & Breed directory of Middletown for 1888 lists: "Wheeler, Madden & Clemson Mfg. Co., saws, files and sheet steel.  George N. Clemson, Pres., C. I. Humphrey, Treas., R. W. Clemson, Secy., Railroad Ave., Cottage and Montgomery
streets."

George N. is listed separately as the president and also as "manufacturer - butcher, bracket, and hack saws, Ogden corner of School."   His home address is given as 94 East Main Street.  The shop at Ogden and School streets was just a few steps from the back of the Beattie avenue house.  Richard W. is listed as the secretary of Wheeler, Madden & Clemson and as living at 94 East Main Street.

William Clemson is listed merely as the householder at 11 Beattie Avenue.  Across the street from him at No. 12, lived Thomas H. Desmond, who was and had been, for years, the superintendent of Wheeler, Madden & Clemson's rolling mill, the Monhagen Steel Works at Montgomery Street and Railroad Avenue.  He was the father of Thomas C. Desmond, who has been the State Senator from this district for the last twenty five years.

The 1889 directory listings are about the same. The address of the hack saw business is still given as Ogden Street, corner of School Street.

William Clemson died January 12, 1890.  The directory for 1890 omits his name and reveals some of the other important happenings in the family and the industry.  The name "Clemson Bros." appears for the first time, as manufacturers of butcher, bracket, and hack saws at a new address, Cottage Street and Railroad Avenue. 

The Wheeler, Madden & Clemson Company listing names George N. Clemson as President and Richard W. Clemson as Secretary and Treasurer.  The former treasurer, Charles I. Humphrey, is listed only as a householder at 7 Orchard Street.

George had changed his home address to 147 East Main Street, according to the directory, which did not show, of course, that on June 30, 1890, a son, Richard Dow Clemson, was born to him and Mrs. Clemson.  In fact, the directories of those days did not show whether a man had a wife unless he died and left one.  Then she could get her name into the book and be designated as the widow of so-and-so, or just simply as a widow.

The name Wheeler, Madden & Clemson Manufacturing Company vanishes from the Breed Publishing Company's directories of Middletown for 1891.

In them appears a new advertisement: "National Saw Company, George N. Clemson, Pres., R. W. Clemson, Secy., manufacturers of saws, files and sheet metal.  Main office 96 Reade St., New York city.  Factory, Middletown, N. Y."  Clemson Bros. appears, of course, as doing business at Cottage Street and Railroad Avenue.  An advertisement of the First National Bank lists George N. Clemson as one of its directors.

In the 1892 directory the only notable new items for this history are that George N. Clemson is a vice-president of the newly organized Orange County Trust & Safe Deposit Company, and that he has changed his home address to 75 Highland Ave.  But more of the story of what has been occurring appears in the 1893 directory which is prefaced by a brief, interesting history of Middletown.


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