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:

309 No. 2 Leland & Faulconer 1892 L&F made about 500 per year,
1892-96. Next, they made their
own trimmers,
and engines for Olds, became
the Cadillac Motor Car Co.
appx. 1000 No. 2 Leland & Faulconer 1893
appx. 1500 No. 2 Leland & Faulconer 1894
appx. 2000 No. 2 Leland & Faulconer 1895
???? No. 3 Bardons & Oliver 1896-7 Serial number ground off table.
2234 No. 1 ??? BTB ??? 1897 Shortly after Feb. 23, 1897
4297 No. 4 American Mchnry. Co. 1899? First of two different type No. 4's
6941 No. 6 American Mchnry. Co. 1901? Like a big No. 0
12,184 No. 2 Oliver Machinery Co. 1903? Marked "Oliver Machinery Co"
13,023 No. 3 Oliver Machinery Co. 1904? Marked "American Machinery Co"
21,788 No. 2 Oliver Machinery Co. 1906? Marked "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, (208)342-8447 evenings

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