Alloy Artifacts  

Miller Combination Tool Company


Table of Contents


Introduction

Although virtually unknown today, Miller Combination Tool was significant as the first American company to develop interchangeable socket tools for automotive use. The Miller Combination "Giant" socket set was offered early in 1906, around the same time that the first Auto Clé sets came to the U.S. from France.


Company History

The Miller Combination Tool Company was founded in 1906 in Syracuse, New York as a maker of tools and automotive equipment.

[1906 Notice of Incorporation]
Fig. 1. 1906 Notice of Incorporation. [External Link]

The company's incorporation is reported in the brief notice in Fig. 1, published on page 46 of the March 25, 1906 issue of Hardware. The founders are listed as Levi Elsohn, L.L. Silverman, William Joel, and David Grody.

We have also found basically identical notices on page 384 of the January 4, 1906 edition of American Manufacturer, on page xx of the May, 1906 issue of Engineering Review, and in other publications as well.

The incorporation date was listed as March 16 (of 1906) in a year-end summary of corporation filings, published on page 10 of the January 1, 1907 edition of The Post-Standard of Syracuse. The same summary listed the capital as $10,000, in agreement with the notice above.

The "Miller" in the company name refers to Charles Miller, an inventor whose patents formed the basis of the company's tools. The company used two of the Miller patents, the first of which was #845,716, filed by C. Miller in 1905 and issued in 1907. This patent describes a ratchet of simple construction, consisting of two plates bolted to a hollow square handle, with a drive gear secured between the plates. A spring-loaded pawl inside the handle shaft then controls the ratcheting action.

The second Miller patent is #845,717, filed in 1905 and issued in 1907. This patent describes a Tee-shaped connection operating with two square-shaft extensions to make various combinations of Tee-handles or offset handles.

Incidentally, the patent documents list the inventor Charles Miller as residing in Syracuse, suggesting the possibility that he may have participated in the company's operations.

[1906 Notice for Giant Silver Metal Ratchet Wrench]
Fig. 2. February, 1906 Notice for Giant Silver Metal Ratchet Wrench Set. [External Link]

The earliest known illustration of the company's products is shown in Fig. 2, part of a notice published on page 298 of the February, 1906 issue of Hardware Dealers' Magazine.

The notice is actually for Patterson, Gottfried, and Hunter, a distributor of hardware and tools in New York City. The text describes the "Giant Silver Metal Ratchet Wrench" set in detail, and mentions that it is available in either a wooden box or a canvas roll. Although the Miller Combination Tool Company is not mentioned as the maker, the set is easily identified. (The company was not yet incorporated at the time!) Note the "Pat App For" notation on the illustration of the ratchet.

The text notes that the tools are made of "silver metal", probably a reference to an alloy known as "German Silver", typically consisting of 55% copper, 25% zinc, and 20% nickel. (It's basically a higher-performance type of brass.) Miller Combination Tool is the first company known to make use of German Silver for sockets.

A slightly earlier notice of the Giant set offered by Patterson et al was found on page 218 of the January 25, 1906 issue of The Automobile. These notices are significant in demonstrating that Miller Combination Tool was able to get its products into distribution channels from the very beginning.

[1906 Notice for Miller Combination Wrench and Drill Set]
Fig. 3. 1906 Notice for Miller Combination Wrench and Drill Set. [External Link]

The large notice in Fig. 3, found on page 172 of the September 1, 1906 issue of the Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal, shows a similar set of tools, but is referred to as the "Miller Combination Wrench and Drill Outfit".

The illustration shows the set to include (from the top down) a sparkplug socket and universal, eight square sockets, eight hex sockets, a ratchet, a Tee adapter and extension, a screwdriver bit and extension, and a drilling attachment. The price is listed as $10 polished or $9.50 unpolished.

A smaller but similar notice was published on page 80 of the December, 1906 issue of Motor.

[1907 Advertisement for Miller Combination Tool]
Fig. 4. 1907 Advertisement for Miller Combination Tool. [External Link]

The advertisement in Fig. 4 for the "Auto Universal Silver Metal Ratchet Wrench" appeared on page 119 of the January, 1907 edition of the Automobile Trade Directory. This is the first advertisement found for the company, and a similar ad appeared on page 45 of the April, 1907 edition of the same publication.

[1907 Advertisement for Miller Combination Tool]
Fig. 5. 1907 Advertisement for Miller Combination Tool. [External Link]

The slightly later advertisement in Fig. 5 was published on page LVI of the January 16, 1907 issue of The Horseless Age. It mentions two products, the "Auto Universal" and "Giant" sets, and provides the list prices as $10 and $8 respectively. Near the bottom the ad notes "Apply to Automobile Supply Companies", suggesting that the company was furnishing their products to distributors.

A review of these notices and advertisements indicates that the "Auto Universal" set was furnished in a canvas roll and included a universal joint and spark plug socket. The "Giant" set omitted the universal and spark plug socket, and could be furnished either in a wooden box or a canvas roll.

A search for public records relating to Miller Combination Tool has thus far turned up little information. Apart from the notices and advertisements noted here, no other notices (such as mentions of trade show attendance) have been found. Statements from the Journal of the Onandaga County (NY) Board of Supervisors show the payment of a corporate tax for 1906 and 1907, but no later years have been found.

The lack of published information for the company suggests that it may have failed fairly quickly, possibly later in 1907, but no definitive confirmation has been found. [But see the section below!]

In addition to his connection with Miller Combination Tool, Charles Miller was active in at least two other tool-related businesses. Charles Miller was a founder of the slightly later C.M.B. Wrench Company (the "M" was for "Miller"), and later sold socket sets and other tools under his own "Charles Miller" brand. In addition, the Syracuse Wrench Company is known to have produced socket sets very similar to the Charles Miller designs, suggesting that there may be some connection.

A Royalty Lawsuit Solves the Puzzle

Years after our first exploration of Miller Combination Tool, in 2019 we finally found information regarding the fate of the company, and at the same time clarified the connection with the Syracuse Wrench Company. In 1910 Levi Silverman and Levi Elsohn, two founders of Miller Combination Tool, filed a lawsuit against Syracuse Wrench for non-payment of royalties on licensed patents. We found this in a notice published on page 7 of the February 17, 1910 edition of The Post-Standard, a Syracuse newpaper.

According to the complaint, Syracuse Wrench was obligated to pay royalties of $0.25 for each set (plus a percentage of sales of parts) for the licensed patents. The payments had been made up until July of 1909, but stopped after that. In their defense, Syracuse Wrench claimed that due to a breach of contract, no royalties were due.

The decision on the case was found in a later legal notice, published on page 5 of the August 5, 1910 edition of the same newpaper. This notice provided further valuable information, in particular that the patents in question had been turned over to Syracuse Wrench on July 1, 1907, and that the claimed breach of trust involved the use of the same patents by the C.M.B. Wrench Company. The judge decided in favor of the plaintiff and ordered an accounting of the royalties due.

We can make sense of this case with the obvious assumption that the patents in question were those originally issued to Charles Miller, and that the patents had been contractually granted to Levi Silverman as part of the formation of Miller Combination Tool. In making the decision, the judge stated that Silverman, having turned over the patents to Syracuse Wrench, was not obligated to take action against C.M.B. Wrench.

This legal case provides us with a sense of closure for our history of Miller Combination Tool, as the transfer of the patents on July 1, 1907 is a reasonable proxy for the dissolution of the company. In addition, the information on the use of the Miller patents provides the long hypothesized connection with Syracuse Wrench, and gives an indication of the tangled connections between the various early socket makers in Syracuse.

The Socket Revolution Begins Here

Although Miller Combination Tool was an obscure company and operated only for a brief period, it holds a significant place in the history of American tool makers, as Miller Combination Tool was the first American company to develop interchangeable socket sets for automotive applications. The introduction of the Miller Combination "Giant" set in early 1906 came only a few months after the US introduction of the Auto Clé Socket Set, which had been developed in France by a French engineer. The striking differences in design and construction between the two sets suggest a largely independent origin, although of course the idea of ratchet wrenches with insertable sockets was already well known.

We hope that our brief history of Miller Combination Tool has piqued an interest in further exploration, and the interested reader can find more information in the articles on the C.M.B. Wrench Company, the Charles Miller Company, and the Syracuse Wrench Company.


Patents

Miller Combination Tool: Issued and Licensed Patents
Patent No.InventorFiledIssuedNotes and Examples
845,716 C. Miller10/13/190502/26/1907 Ratchet Wrench
845,717 C. Miller12/07/190502/26/1907 Socket Wrench

Trademarks

Miller Combination Tool is not known to have registered any trademarks.


References and Resources

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


Catalog Coverage

Currently we have no catalogs for Miller Combination Tool.


Selected Tools


Miller Combination Tool "Giant" Socket Set

[Miller Combination Giant Set]
Fig. 6. Miller Combination Tool "Giant" Socket Set, ca. 1906-1908.

Fig. 6 shows a partial Miller Combination Tool "Giant" socket set in a wooden box, consisting of a ratchet, an extension, a universal, five of the original hex sockets, and five of the original eight square sockets.

The original set would also have included a Tee adapter and a drilling attachment.

The sockets and parts of the drive tools in the set are made of cast "German Silver", a copper-nickel alloy similar to brass and sometimes called just "silver metal".

The two pieces at the far left in the photograph are interpolations from a later Charles Miller set, a Tee adapter and socket made of malleable steel.


Miller Combination Tool "Giant" Ratchet

[Miller Combination Giant Ratchet]
Fig. 7. Miller Combination Tool "Giant" Ratchet, with Inset for Reverse, ca. 1906-1908.

Fig. 7 shows the Miller Combination ratchet from the "Giant" socket set, marked with "Giant" cast into one cover plate, with "Miller Com. Rench" cast into the other side.

The overall length is 10.5 inches, and the finish is plain steel for the handle.

One of the distinctive features of this tool is that the cover plates and drive gear are made of cast "German Silver", a copper-nickel alloy similar to brass and not commonly used for tool making. At some point we hope to do an X-ray fluorescence analysis of the tools to accurately determine the composition. The square handle is made of tubular steel.

Although not marked with a patent notice, this ratchet is covered by patent #845,716, filed by C. Miller in 1905 and issued in 1907. The ratchet closely resembles the patent illustration.

The ratchet and other tools in the set are based on a nominal 5/8 square drive, and the square handle shaft of the ratchet shares the same 5/8 size, allowing it to be used with other tools in the set.


Miller Combination Tool 5/8-Drive 6 Inch Extension from "Giant" Set

[Miller Combination 5/8-Drive 6 Inch Extension]
Fig. 8. Miller Combination Tool 5/8-Drive 6 Inch Extension from "Giant" Set, with Inset for End View, ca. 1906-1908.

Fig. 8 shows the unmarked 5/8-drive 6 inch extension from the Miller Combination Tool "Giant" socket set.

The overall length is 5.1 inches.

The extension is built with a female socket end (made of brass or some other non-ferrous metal) press-fit on a 5/8 square shaft of tubular steel. The inset shows an end view of the female drive end, illustrating the spring clip riveted to the side at the top.


Miller Combination Tool 5/8-Drive Universal from "Giant" Set

[Miller Combination 5/8-Drive Universal]
Fig. 9. Miller Combination Tool 5/8-Drive Universal from "Giant" Set, with Inset for End View, ca. 1906-1908.

Fig. 9 shows the unmarked 5/8-drive universal from the Miller Combination Tool "Giant" socket set.

The overall length is 5.1 inches.

The inset shows an end view of the female drive end. Note the spring clip on the right side, used for securing an inserted socket or other tool.

This tool appears to be made of brass or some other non-ferrous metal, as the parts are non-magnetic, except for the spider, the spring clip, and the two rivets in the male drive end.


Miller Combination Tool 5/8-Drive 1-1/4 Hex Socket from "Giant" Set

[Miller Combination 5/8-Drive 1-1/4 Hex Socket]
Fig. 10. Miller Combination Tool 5/8-Drive 1-1/4 Hex Socket from "Giant" Set, with Insets for Drive End and Service Opening, ca. 1906-1908.

Fig. 10 shows the 5/8-drive 1-1/4 hex socket from the Miller Combination Tool "Giant" socket set, unmarked except for the "3/4" size in the older U.S.S. convention.

This socket appears to be made of brass or some other non-ferrous metal. Note that the drive stud has been fitted with a spring clip riveted to the end, possibly to help secure the socket in the drive tool.


Miller Combination Tool 5/8-Drive 1-1/4 Square Socket from "Giant" Set

[Miller Combination 5/8-Drive 1-1/4 Square Socket]
Fig. 11. Miller Combination Tool 5/8-Drive 1-1/4 Square Socket from "Giant" Set, with Insets for Drive End and Service Opening, ca. 1906-1908.

Fig. 11 shows the 5/8-drive 1-1/4 square socket from the Miller Combination Tool "Giant" socket set, unmarked except for the "3/4" size in the older U.S.S. convention.

The socket appears to be made of brass or some other non-ferrous metal, and the surface has been polished to a high lustre.


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