by Jeff McVey, Copyright 2000
Oliver Machinery Co. history has always related that the firm
started putting serial numbers on their equipment in February
of 1907. Early that year, the company was incorporated and moved
into their new factory on Clancy Street in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The organization had been founded, supposedly in 1890, as the
American Machinery Co. (AMC). In 1903, probably to avoid confusion
with the American Wood-Working Machinery Co., the company's name
was changed to the Oliver Machinery Co.
Recent discoveries have shown that, although no detailed records
exist, an earlier series of serial numbers was, in fact, utilized.
These extend back to the very first machines sold by the firm.
In 1999, I purchased an AMC "No. 2 Universal Trimmer."
While cleaning the table during the restoration process, I discovered
the number "309" stamped in the center, about an inch
forward of the knives. This machine was also marked "Patent
Applied For." I contacted Oliver, where this serial number
was checked. However, their (post-1907) records indicated that
"309" was a cutterhead. They had no records of any
trimmer patents, either.
I did some research, and discovered that Joseph W. Oliver
had been granted three patents for the trimmers he marketed.
The patent for my No. 2 machine was applied for on November 23,
1891, and granted May 1, 1894. I now had some evidence that my
machine must have been made between those dates. This patent
also covered the later No. 3, 5, and 7 trimmers. Oliver applied
for his second trimmer patent on January 11, 1896, and received
it on February 23, 1897. This one was for the No. 1 and early-type
No. 4 trimmers. He made the application for his third trimmer
patent on June 26, 1899. This one, for the No. 0 and 6 trimmers,
was granted on June 19, 1900.
Further research revealed that AMC, which sold only trimmers
until around 1902, initially had the machines manufactured by
other firms. The first production trimmers were built by the
Leland, Faulconer, and Norton Co. (LF&N) of Detroit in 1892.
They started with a batch of 500 units, including my No. 2, early
in that year. By the end of 1895, LF&N had produced a total
of 2000 AMC No. 2 trimmers. At this point Leland & Faulconer
(Norton had left in 1894), stopped making trimmers for Joe Oliver,
and introduced their own.
Oliver was forced to look elsewhere for someone to build his
trimmers. Around this time, he also introduced the No. 3 (a larger
version of the No. 2), and the smaller, less-expensive No. 1.
I next purchased an AMC No. 1 trimmer, also with an "unlisted"
serial number. This one had number 2234 stamped in the table.
Also stamped in the table, rather than cast into the right-hand
knife guard, was the patent date. It must have been made very
shortly after the second patent was granted on February 23, 1897.
The manufacturer of this machine is unknown, but C.O. Porter
and Baldwin, Tuthill, and Bolton (BTB), both of Grand Rapids,
are rumored to have been two of Oliver's manufacturing contractors.
I also discovered a No. 3 of this vintage bearing a brass
tag reading "Manufactured for American Machinery Co. by
Bardons & Oliver (no relation) Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A.."
This machine had been badly rusted when found and the table had
been reground. Unfortunately, the serial number was gone.
In addition to the machines shown above, I've encountered five
more trimmers whose serial numbers don't match Oliver's records.
A listing of all these pre-1907 trimmers is shown below:
made about 500 per year,
1892-96. Next, they made their
own trimmers, transmissions
and engines for Olds, became
the Cadillac Motor Car Co.
number ground off table.
after Feb. 23, 1897
of two different type No. 4's
a big No. 0
"Oliver Machinery Co"
"American Machinery Co"
"Oliver Machinery Co"
Other than the Leland & Faulconer-built machines above,
these numbers are certainly not set in concrete. Future discoveries
may well alter the timeline. However, they're believed to be
pretty darn close!
After about 1902, the numbers increased dramatically, probably
due to the fact that the machinery line was expanded beyond trimmers.
However, all the machines with the early numbers found thus far
have been trimmers. Who out there has what appears to be a very
early Oliver or American Machinery Co. trimmer or other machine?
Please let us know as the information will help verify the dates
above. If you have an old trimmer of any brand, we'd like to
hear about that for an upcoming book.
Oliver's first catalog is said to have been catalog "A"
of 1904. To the best of my knowledge, none of these have survived.
However, I do have a copy of catalog "B" of 1906, which
features the No. 0 through No. 7 trimmers. It's 300 pages long
and features many other machines, too. If anyone would like a
photocopy of this rare document, I can furnish them for $25.00,
plus $3.20 shipping.
Jeff McVey, 1810 W. State St. Suite #427 , Boise, ID 83702-3955,