Alloy Artifacts  

Lowell Wrench Company

Table of Contents

Introduction

The Lowell Wrench Company was founded in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1869 as the maker of a "triple-action" ratchet handle. The company continues today as the Lowell Corporation, making it one of the oldest American tool companies in continuous operation.


Company History

The Lowell Wrench Company was founded in 1869 as the maker of a "triple-action" ratchet handle based on the 1864 D.M. Moore patent 45,334. The company initially operated in Lowell, Massachusetts.

[1869 Notice for Lowell Wrench Company]
Fig. 1. 1869 Notice for Lowell Wrench Company. [External Link]

Fig. 1 shows a notice for the Lowell Wrench Company, as published on page 15 of an 1869 report on the 11th exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association, which took place in Boston during September and October of 1869.

[Illustration for D.M. Moore Patent 45,334]
Fig. 1B. Illustration for D.M. Moore Patent 45,334.

This is currently our earliest published notice for the company and notes the company's location in Lowell.

The scan in Fig. 1B shows shows the patent illustration for the 1864 D.M. Moore Patent 45,334.

A key feature of the ratchet mechanism was that with the selector lever in the center position, both pawls engaged the gear wheel and locked it in place. This provided a third operating mode with the ratchet acting as a fixed wrench.


The Move to Worcester

Soon after its founding the company moved to nearby Worcester.

[1883 Ad for Lowell Wrench Company]
Fig. 2. 1883 Ad for Lowell Wrench Company. [External Link]

Fig. 2 shows an ad for the Lowell Wrench Company, as published on page 650 of the January 15, 1883 edition of the Worcester Directory.

The company address is given as 19 Church Street in Worcester.

The ad notes "Ratchet Drills" in large text, as drilling rigs were probably the primary application for ratchets at the time. (In the decades before the invention of high-speed steel, drilling metal was an arduous task requiring high pressure and lots of coolant.)

A Safety Feature

In 1886 the company started making ratchets based on patent 349,007, which described a reversing mechanism actuated by a thumbscrew at the end of the handle. This feature was reportedly requested by a large manufacturer so that a workman could safely reverse a ratchet attached to machinery, without having to reach in close proximity to moving cutters or gears.

Bridge Ratchet Wrenches

By 1888 the company was offering heavy-duty bridge or construction wrenches built on the same ratchet principles.

[1888 Notice for Lowell Wrench Company Bridge Ratchet Wrench]
Fig. 2B. 1888 Notice for Lowell Wrench Company Bridge Ratchet Wrench.

The composite scan in Fig. 2B shows a notice for bridge ratchet wrenches made by Lowell Wrench, as published on page 687 of the November 1, 1888 issue of The Iron Age. (The text has been re-flowed to make a compact block.)

The illustration shows the ratchet handle with hexagonal and square sockets, and the text notes that sockets were available for sizes from 1-3/8 up to 4-1/2 inches.

Large ratchets of this type were relatively new at that time, and the writer of the article felt the need to explain that a nut could be turned by "simple oscillation of the handle", without having to remove the socket from the nut.

Lowell Wrench is believed to have been the originator of this type of large ratchet wrench for construction work. By the early 1890s Green, Tweed & Company was offering a comparable product, the Favorite "No. A" Ratchet Socket Wrench.


The "Multo" Socket Wrench

[1908 Notice for Lowell Multo Socket Wrench Set]
Fig. 3. 1908 Notice for Lowell "Multo" Socket Wrench Set.

By 1908 the company was offering a "Multo" socket wrench set with 14 sockets and a reversible ratchet.

The composite scan in Fig. 3 shows a notice for the Lowell "Multo" ratchet wrench set, as published on page 58 [External Link] of the May 25, 1908 issue of Hardware. (The text has been re-flowed into a compact block.)

This notice doesn't provide the sizes of the sockets, but a slightly later publication noted the sizes as 1/4 to 5/8, probably meaning U.S.S. bolt sizes for across-flats sizes 1/2 to 1-1/16 inch. Also noted was a long socket for spark plugs.

The sockets appear to be made of malleable iron.

Socket sets for automotive use were still a novelty in 1908, and the only comparable sets would have been the Mossberg Auto-Clé No. 1 Set or the Syracuse Wrench Champion No. 2 Set.

Of these two, the "Multo" set was more similar to the Syracuse Wrench set in having sockets made of malleable iron, and with equal numbers of square and hexagon sockets.


The "1916 Pattern" Ratchet

[1917 Catalog Listing for Lowell 1916 Pattern Wrench]
Fig. 4. 1917 Catalog Listing for Lowell 1916 Pattern Wrench.

In 1916 J.H. Dodge received patent 1,177,764 for a reversible ratchet handle that became one of Lowell's most popular products.

This was actually the third patent in a series beginning with 349,007 that described a reversing mechanism at the end of the handle.

The scan in Fig. 4 shows an early catalog listing for the "1916 Pattern" ratchet handle, as published on page 97 of the 1917 Sweet's Catalog.

The listing shows that the handles were available in seven sizes from No. 0 (7 inches) up to No. 4½ (24 inches).

The handles could be fitted with gears having square or hexagonal openings in various sizes, and the ratchet gears were sold separately.

[1928 Ad for Lowell 1916 Pattern Ratchet]
Fig. 5. 1928 Ad for Lowell "1916 Pattern" Ratchet. [External Link]

Fig. 5 shows an ad for the Lowell "1916 Pattern" ratchet handles, as published on page 78 of the January 15, 1928 edition of Mill and Factory Illustrated. The text notes that the handles were available in seven sizes.

The text of the ad claims that this ratchet handle had become standard equipment for machinery from various manufacturers.

[1938 Directory Listing for Lowell Wrench Company]
Fig. 6. 1938 Directory Listing for Lowell Wrench Company.

The scan in Fig. 6 shows a directory listing of products for Lowell Wrench, as published on page 74 of the July 28, 1938 directory edition of Hardware Age.

Note that at this time the "1916 Pattern" ratchets were still offered in seven sizes from No. 0 (7 inches) up to No. 4½ (24 inches), and with a wide range of square and hexagon drive gears.


The No. 2x Series Ratchets

By the 1950s the "1916 Pattern" ratchets were being offered in a number series including Nos. 21, 23, and 25, with lengths of approximately 8, 13, and 20 inches respectively. We observed an example of the No. 23 ratchet supplied for a military contract with a 1951 date, and the cover plate was marked for patents 1,798,194 and 2,003,346. The cover plate was secured with slotted screws.


Continuing Operations

Lowell Wrench continues in operation today as the Lowell Corporation and offers a wide range of specialized ratchets and other tools for utilities, pipelines, and other industries. Additional information can be found on the Lowell Corporation [External Link] website.


Patents

Lowell Wrench Company: Issued and Licensed Patents
Patent No.InventorFiledIssuedNotes and Examples
45,334 D.M. Moore12/06/186412/06/1864 Ratchet Wrench
349,007 J.E. Sinclair04/10/188609/14/1886 Ratchet Wrench with Dual Pawls
(Actuating mechanism situated at end of handle.)
743,942 J.E. Sinclair05/02/190311/10/1903 Ratchet Wrench
1,177,764 J.H. Dodge03/17/191504/04/1916 Ratchet Wrench
Used for "1916 Pattern" ratchet handles.
1,798,194 J.H. Dodge07/27/192903/31/1931 Reversible Ratchet Wrench
2,003,346 J.S. Dodge03/30/193406/04/1935 Reversible Ratchet Wrench
2,570,779 J.S. Dodge et al10/26/194910/09/1951 Reversible Ratchet Wrench
3,299,750 D. Campanile et al03/22/196501/24/1967 Socket Wrench

Trademarks

Lowell Wrench Co.: Registered Trademarks
Text Mark or Logo Reg. No. First Use Date Filed Date Issued Notes
Lowell Red Ratchet Wrenches [design] 700,919 05/01/195812/10/1959 07/12/1960 For ratchet wrenches
Serial 87,066. Published April 26, 1960.
Lowell Ratchet Devices [design] 811,655 03/07/196411/03/1964 07/26/1966 Text "Lowell Ratchet Devices" in design.
For interchangeable socket and ratchet kit
Serial 205,434. Published May 5, 1966.
LOWELL 875,989 01/01/187006/04/1968 09/02/1969 Block text.
For wrenches.
Serial 299,685. Published June 17, 1969.

References and Resources

Photographs and observations of particular tools are based on items in the Alloy Artifacts Collection.

Catalog Resources

Currently we do not have any catalogs for Lowell Wrench.

If any of our readers have a catalog for Lowell Wrench, please consider scanning it and sending the scans to the ITCL [External Link]!


Industrial Distributors

Lowell Wrench tools were available from some industrial distributors. We'll add references as time permits.


Selected Tools

We have examples of several tools from Lowell Wrench, including model Nos. 21, 50, and 51.


Lowell Wrench No. 21 1/2-Drive Reversible Ratchet

[Lowell Wrench No. 21 1/2-Drive Ratchet]
Fig. 7. Lowell Wrench No. 21 1/2-Drive Ratchet, with Insets for Back Side and Side View.

Fig. 7 shows a Lowell Wrench No. 21 1/2-drive ratchet, stamped with "Lowell Wrench Co." and "Worcester, Mass. U.S.A." on the cover plate.

The top inset shows a side view of the ratchet, illustrating the cast body and tightly fitting cover plate.

The overall length is 8.1 inches, and the finish is plain steel.

The ratchet direction can be changed by using the thumbscrew at the end of the handle.


[Lowell Wrench] No. 50 Reversible Ratchet Socket Wrench

[Lowell Wrench No. 50 Ratchet Wrench]
Fig. 8. [Lowell Wrench] No. 50 Ratchet Wrench, with Insets for Back Side and Side View.

Fig. 8 shows a [Lowell Wrench] No. 50 ratchet wrench, marked with "No. 50 - 10" forged into the front, with "Pat. Pend." forged into the back.

The front is also stamped with a small "L" in a diamond outline at the right.

The top inset shows a side view of the ratchet, with its socket secured by a spring circlip.

The middle inset shows the 1-5/16 hexagonal socket installed in the ratchet handle.

The overall length is 10.7 inches, and the finish is plain steel with traces of orange paint.


Lowell Wrench No. 51 Reversible Ratchet Socket Wrench

[Lowell Wrench No. 51 Ratchet Wrench]
Fig. 9. Lowell Wrench No. 51 Ratchet Wrench, with Insets for Back Side and Side View.

Fig. 9 shows a Lowell Wrench No. 51 ratchet wrench, marked with "Lowell No. 51" and "Pat. Pend." forged into the front, with "Lowell Wrench Co." and "Worcester Mass. U.S.A." forged into the back.

The top inset shows a side view of the ratchet, with its socket secured by a spring circlip.

The middle inset shows the 1-1/4 hexagonal socket installed in the ratchet handle.

The overall length is 13.3 inches, and the finish is plain steel and yellow paint.

The ratchet direction can be changed by using the switch lever, and the middle position locks the ratchet gear.


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