The New York Knife Company — Industrial Archaeology in the Village of Walden, NY
The historical documentation and archaeological testing identified four periods of production that correlate with changes in the New York Knife Company factory size, spatial organization, and methods of production. The first period of production, from 1856 to 1880, represents the initial establishment of the factory in the village of Walden in a single building and the hand production of knives by craftsmen. During this period, the workers literally owned the means of production, since the owners of the factory were also required to be workers. The second period, from 1880 to 1887, is characterized by the expansion of the knife factory from one to ten buildings, an increase in the number of employees from 54 to 230, and the reorganization of the knife manufacturing process.
During the first expansion, separate buildings were constructed for the storage of raw materials and finished products; forging, tempering, and hardening of the blades and end springs; grinding; and handle production and finishing. The first expansion represents the start of work segmentation replacing craftsmen with machinery and laborers. The period, from 1900 to 1905, is characterized by the expansion of the factory from 10 to 26 buildings, and increase in the labor force from 230 to 400 workers, and the further reorganization and modernization of the knife manufacturing process.
Further segmentation of the work process occurred as each step of the knife manufacturing process was carried out either in separate buildings or on different floors within the same building. This is related to the mass production of jackknives and table cutlery and the continuing replacement of craftsmen by machines and laborers. Finally, the forth period of production, from 1905 to 1931, is characterized by the total segmentation of the knife manufacturing process, the mass production of knives, and the economic decline of the New York Knife Company. Increased competition with a number of knife factories that continued to modernize their machinery and manufacturing process after World War I and the Great Depression resulted in the closing of the New York Knife Company.
The New York State Museum excavation at the New York Knife Company factory site in the village of Walden, Orange County, New York was conducted for a New York State Department of Transportation highway improvement project of the replacement on the bridge on NY 52 over the Wallkill River.
In 1852 a group of 16 workers who were upset over the cost-cutting policies of the management of the Waterville Knife Company, especially the new policy of having the cutlers provide their own files and tools, left to establish the New York Knife Company. The site that the workers chose for their new factory was located on the east side of the Hudson River in Mattewan, near Beacon, in Dutchess County, New York. This location had available waterpower, while the majority of sites in the Connecticut River Valley were already developed and occupied by the existing factories, including over 100 knife manufacturing companies.
The New York Knife Company was one of the first knife manufacturing companies established in New York State. In 1856 the village of Walden in Orange County enticed the New York Knife Company to move to the village on the west side of the Hudson River to utilize a recently closed cotton mill adjacent to the high falls on the Wallkill River. The New York Knife Company prospered under the management of Tom Bradley Sr. from 1856 to 1870 and Tom Bradley Jr. from 1870 to 1903.
In 1860, just four years after it established in the village of Walden, the factory consisted of a single building, with 25 male and 2 female employees. The company used $4,630 of raw materials to produce $24,750 worth of knives. By 1880 the factory consisted of 13 buildings, where 144 adult males, 16 adult females, and 70 children used $50,000 worth of raw materials to produce $152,000 worth of jackknives and table cutlery which based on the 1865 production figures was 108,000 knives. The factory size, number of employees, and the production of knives continued to increase from 1880 to 1905.
By 1905 the New York Knife Company factory consisted of 28 buildings ranging in size from 1 to 6 stories that were arranged into a lower and upper factory complex separated by an open courtyard, with the original factory building on the south side. The number of workers employed in the factory increased from 350 in 1894 to 400 in 1900. During this period the factory was producing over one and a half million knives a year, with a single-day production record of 4,000. The increase in production was necessary to maintain the company's profits while paying the cost for the expansions and modernization of the factory. Jackknives in the 1902 Sears and Roebuck Catalog sold from 23 to 94 cents apiece, and a set of 6 table knives and forks ranged in price from $.50 to $2.03.
In 1903 Tom Bradley Jr. sold the New York Knife Company to the Fuller brothers the owners of the Electric Cutlery Company. The factory continued to prosper under the new management. The New York Knife Company in 1911, in order to shore up its market share, began producing the only official Boy Scout knife, a monopoly the company held until 1922. By 1913 the number of people employed by the company dropped to 327 individuals, which is a decrease of 63 people from 1905. The workforce was composed of 275 adult males, 41 adult females, 8 children between the ages of 14 and 16, and 3 office employees.
After it lost the monopoly on the production of the Boy Scout knives, the New York Knife Company could no longer compete successfully with the more modern knife producing factories. A notation on the 1924 Sanborn Insurance Map states the factory was not in operation, and the only employees were two night watchmen, indicating the factory may have had to shut down for short periods of time and had to temporarily lay off its workers. The condition of the company continued to worsen, especially after the 1929 stock market crash. The New York Knife Company factory continued to operate for parts of two more years before it was finally forced to shut down its operation for good in 1931.
The size of the factory and its yearly production totals made the New York Knife Company one of the largest knife companies in New York State, if not the United States, during this time period. The company also had one of the largest workforces and one of the better wage scales in the manufacturing industry. The company's workforce throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries included women and children under the age of 16. Although there were different pay rates for adult males, adult females, and children, the wage scales for each category was above the wages paid in other industries.
The wage scale from 1860 to 1875 for adult males averaged $36 a month; adult females, $18 a month; males under 18, $15 a month; and females under 18, $12 a month. By 1880 the wages were $ 2.25 a day, or $60.75 a month, for skilled jobs, and $1.50 a day, or $40.50 per month, for ordinary work. The work week during this period consisted of 6 10-hour days, and unlike many factories during this period, the New York Knife Company operated year-round. To put these wages in perspective, the average wage for manufacturing skilled workers in 1900 was $435 a year, or $33.50 a month; and for unskilled labor was only $22 a month; and even as late as 1974, a minimum-wage job would only pay only $16 a day. Both of these figures indicate that the New York Knife Company workers were being paid well above the average manufacturing salary as early as 1860.
The historical documentation revealed that the factory was expanded at least five times between 1856 and 1931. The expansions of the factory occurred between 1875 and 1880, 1885 and 1887, 1887 and 1894, 1894 and 1900, and 1900 and 1905. The excavation of 14 units revealed soil levels and features that represent four different periods of production at the New York Knife Company factory. The four periods are 1856 to 1880, 1880 to 1887, 1900 to 1905, and 1905 to 1931. Seventy-two percent of the site assemblage or 1,028 of the artifacts recovered from the site are either knife parts or artifacts associated with the knife manufacturing process,
These artifacts were further subdivided into five categories: raw materials, production scrap, knife parts, assembled parts, and tools and machinery, which reflect the entire process of knife manufacturing. Twenty-one percent, or 295, of the artifacts are architectural items. The architectural artifacts include cut and wire nails, screws, bolts and washers, window glass, electrical parts, plumbing parts, brick, and concrete. Seventy-nine, or 7%, of the artifacts recovered from the excavations are domestic artifacts. They include faunal items, ceramics, tin cans, bottle glass, oil or kerosene lamp chimney glass, kaolin pipes, and buttons.
Twelve percent, or 128, of the artifacts associated with the knife manufacturing process represent the raw materials that were used in the manufacturing process. The raw materials are represented by three handles of pig iron and four steel bars that were used to make the steel plates for the manufacture of the blades and the square steel bars used to make the end springs and slide scales.
The production scraps consist of pieces of brass and steel sheeting from which the bolster linings were stamped or cut out, scraps of spring steel from the production of the end springs, and steel plates from which the knife blades were produced. Other production scraps include wood from the production of some of the handles and slag from the forging process. Seven percent, or 76, of the artifacts represent scrap from the production of knife parts. The majority of the production scrap recovered from the excavations are the steel scraps from the production of the knife blades, springs, or slides.
The knife parts recovered from the four periods of the factory's operation include blades, end springs, slide and center scales, bolster linings, escutcheons, and handles. Seven hundred and nine knife parts, or 69% of the total number of artifacts, were associated with the production of table cutlery and jackknives. Sixty-five percent, or 464, of the knife parts are blades, and six, or 1%, are forks. The knife blades include unfinished blades, table knives, jackknives, and blade fragments. The jackknife blades exhibit the greatest diversity in size and type. The jackknife blades include spey or spay, clip, pen spear, punches, nail files, can openers, screwdrivers, spatulas, a hunting or skinning blade, and a pipe tamp or reamer.
The next largest category of knife parts is composed of the end springs and slide and center scales, which were installed between the springs, bolsters, and multiple knife blades. Twenty-three percent, or 165, of the artifacts are either end springs or slide or center scales. Six double end springs, 16 single end springs, 7 slide or center scales, and 136 end spring or scale fragments were recovered.
Two percent of the knife parts are bolsters or bolster linings or escutcheons. Brass and steel bolster linings are where the handles are attached. Both of the escutcheons are 7.5 by 1.5 cm (3 by 5/8 in.) brass plates that have the New York Knife Company name inscribed on one side.
Nine percent, or 65, of the knife parts are handle fragments. There are five different types of handle materials that were recovered from the four periods of the factory's operation: wood, bone, horn/antler, shell or mother-of-pearl, and celluloid. The handle fragments represent blanks out of which the handles were manufactured, pieces of material that were trimmed to form the handle, and handles that were broken during manufacture or assembly.
Two percent, or 13, of the knife parts represent various parts that have been assembled together. Twelve of these partially assembled knifes were recovered from the 1905 to 1931 deposits, and one was recovered from the 1900 to 1905 level. The assembled parts include bolsters, bolster linings, handles, escutcheons, end springs, slide and center scales, and blades in various combinations.
Tools and Machinery Parts
Nine percent of the artifacts associated with the manufacturing of knives are either hand tools or are associated with the machinery that was used to produce the knives. The hand tools were only recovered from the 1905 to 1931 period of production. Twenty-six hand tools were recovered from these deposits. The hand tools include 18 steel files, a riveting hammer, a circular saw blade, a cold chisel, and five clamp-like or gauging devices. The files include 12 triangular, five flat, and one half-round files.
Sixty-nine of the artifacts are associated with the machinery that was used during the production of the various knife parts. These artifacts include 20 grindstone fragments, 13 sprockets or sharpeners, 26 leather drive belt fragments, two belt clips, three brackets, and one collar. The gears, or sprocket-like devises, are mounted on the grindstone frames, and were used to redress the stone when it was in use. The brackets and collar were used to attach the grindstones to their frames. The belt and two belt clips were used to transfer the power produced by the turbine to operate the grinding wheels.
The other three machine parts include a pulley, a large hook, and a V-shaped object that may be associated with a hoist or lift system employed in the factory. The majority of machine parts recovered from the excavations is associated with the power or drive system and the grinding wheels. There are also approximately 50 to 75 grindstones in the Wallkill River Different types of grindstones that were visible from the shore were collected and photographed. After the photo was taken, they were redeposited back into the Wallkill River . The recovered grindstones indicate that there are two basic stone sizes: 55 cm (22 in.) or 27.5 cm (11 in.) in diameter.
The distribution of the raw materials, production scraps, knife parts, tools, and machine parts recovered from the four periods of production varies. Fifteen percent of the artifacts associated with the production of jackknives and table cutlery were recovered from the deposits associated with the 1856 to 1880 and the 1880 to 1887 periods, while 85% of the artifacts associated with the knife manufacturing process were recovered from the 1900 to 1905 and the 1905 to 1931 periods of production. The difference in the temporal distribution of the artifacts between the mid to late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century periods of production are related to the modernization and reorganization of the knife manufacturing process.
During the 1856 to 1880 operation, all of the various stages of knife manufacturing, from the production of the different knife parts to the assembly and packaging of the final product, were carried out within a single structure. While machines were introduced in the earliest years of production, craft-oriented practices remained an integral part of the production process during this period. The knife parts were manufactured either by hand or by belt-driven machinery whose tempo was controlled by the individual skilled craftsman. The traditional slower method of manufacturing may have resulted in the production of knife parts that had fewer imperfections or flaws and therefore fewer of the parts had to be discarded.
This rate of production is best represented by the 1865 production of 108,000 knifes by the 66 employees of the New York Knife Company, which averages out to a production rate of approximately 5 knives a day per worker. Even this rate of production was profitable, based on the 1875 expenditures and profits. In 1875 the factory produced $90,000 worth of jackknives and table knifes, expended $30,000 for raw materials and $19,000 for labor, leaving $41,000 for the stockholders or owners, the manager's salary, advertisement, and upkeep and maintenance of the factory structure and machinery.
During the period from 1880 to 1905, the New York Knife Company factory underwent four major expansions. The architectural artifacts represent the four factory expansions, and forms 21% of the artifacts that were recovered from the site. Each of the factory expansions appears to be related to the modernization and the reorganization of the knife making process. Separate buildings were constructed for each step of the manufacturing process and for the storage of raw materials and finished products.
The processes that were established in separate buildings during this 25-year period include forging, tempering, hardening, and grinding of the blades, handle production, and finishing. Also, the production of table cutlery was located in areas that were separate from the area where the jackknives were produced. Separate buildings were constructed for these processes to either reorganize the production sequence or to incorporate new machinery that was at first water-powered then steam powered, and later powered by electricity. The recovery of plumbing parts, especially the cast iron pipe fragments, represents the installation of steam power during the expansion that occurred between 1885 and 1894, while the recovery of electrical parts from only the 1905 to 1931 level indicates that the factory was electrified after 1905 and prior to 1913.
The new machinery, such as steam-driven hydraulic presses and steam-powered drop forges, served to mass produce the various knife parts at a much more rapid rate than the older hand-machined methods. The increase in the production rate can be seen in the number of knives that were produced during the period from 1900 to 1905. The 400 workers employed at the factory during this period produced 1,500,000 jackknives a year, which works out to a production rate of 12 knives a day per worker. This production rate is almost two and half times greater than the 1875 production rate of five knives a day per worker.
The separation of the various production sequences, finishing, and assembly allowed these activities to continue uninterrupted by other phases of the manufacturing process throughout the 10-ten-hour workday. The tempo and production rate of the machinery now controlled the process rather than the individual craftsman. The workers were no longer in charge of a process but just a part of the assembly line, producing or assembling a single part. The segmentation of the labor process reduced the level of skill needed to perform a task and served to constrain the workers' autonomy while it increased efficiency and reduced the cost of production.
The transfer of the skills from the worker to the machinery gave the factory owners increasing control over the work process and the workers. The segmentation of the labor process and increased production speed may be represented by the increase in the number of knife parts that were manufactured with imperfections or flaws and discarded during the 1900 to 1905 and the 1905 and to 1931 periods of production. This was observed archaeologically in the increase in the number of artifacts associated with the knife manufacturing process recovered from the early twentieth century deposits.
The stratified deposits at the New York Knife Company factory document the changes that occurred in the size and spatial organization of the factory, the changes in production technology and methods, and the workers' behavior over time. The continuing changes in size and spatial organization of the New York Knife Company factory and methods of production document the rise of the industrial era, characterized by the shift from hand to mass production and the rise of the working class. The shift from an agricultural to an industrial economy had a tremendous impact on everyday life. The daily and seasonal rhythms of agricultural life, which governed the majority of the population during the nineteenth century, were replaced by the clock and calendar in the industrial economy.
The factory operated throughout the year, 6 days a week, 10 hours a day. The workers' world was more specialized, disciplined, and mechanized than the farmers' or craftsmen's. The factory's management controlled the industrial workers' time; they had to be at work at a certain hour and spend a predetermined amount of time doing a specific task. Work was reduced to a series of repetitive tasks that limited the workers' control of production, unlike the farmers or craftsmen, who controlled their own time and production. The historical research and the archaeological investigations conducted at the New York Knife Company site not only documented the growth of a specific industry, but also revealed information on the impact of industrialization on the factory's production methods and workers.