from Virginia Hesse :: Just wanted to fill you in on the new owner and proposed development at RI Tool. The owner is Amaral Revite Corp., and the principal of that company is Everett Amaral. They are an engineering firm, and will have their office in one section of the mill. The remainder of the mill will be rented for various office uses. A doctor’s office is already occupying one space. The neat thing about this mill is that there are so many discrete buildings that are all interconnected, that it can accommodate a great variety of tenants, and each space has a unique character. Mr. Amarals’s aquisition of the mill did not include the fruit and produce section on the south end.
(The 20th century structures surrounding the mill, mostly clad with corrugated steel, came down in 2004 and the parking lot was resurfaced. Many of these buildings that were removed were not historically significant. Repointing of the brick has been completed and interior buildout is done)
This handsome example of mill architecture was built in 1861 as the home to the Providence (later RI) Tool Co. A two-story brick-pier structure with a four-story Italianate Tower was slightly altered with the removal of the gabled roof. A three-story brick structure on the west side (closest to the train tracks) was added later. Up until 2002, the building was home to Greystone Tool, a larger parent to RI Tool. The west-end structure is still home to an active fruit and produce packing and shipping company. The second and third floors of this building were used for artist studios and band practice spaces.
In their heyday during the Civil War, the Providence Tool Company manufactured rifles. Frederick Howe, a well known inventor and engineer, designed the Howe Miller, the prototype for the later Brown and Sharpe Universal Miller which won that company so much business. In 1865 the Providence Tool Co bought the patent for the Peabody Martini Breech loading rifle, and sold many of them to the Turkish government during the Turko-Russian War (more on this at www.militaryrifles.com). Providence Tool gave serious competition to Winchester and Remington. Providence Tool was committed to a total production of 600,000 rifles, at that time the largest single order ever received by an American arms manufacturer from a foreign power
In addition to military items, most of which were produced for overseas clients, Providence Tool contracted with the Singer Sewing Machine Company in the 1870’s to produce 300 sewing machines a day. This contract alone necessitated an outlay of over $1,000,000 in additional machinery. In a relatively short span of time, they became one of the largest armories in the world with over six acres of plant space, 1,700 machines, and 1,800 employees, eventually reaching a production capability of 6,000 rifles a week. However, the $3,000,000 expansion costs of the Singer and Turkish contracts had spread the company dangerously thin over the money market. Success depended almost entirely upon the Turkish payment schedules.
Snags developed early that year. Turkish ordnance was late in sending over the three pattern rifles and the specimen cartridges, so no work could be done on the manufacture of gauges and dies. And when the inspection teams arrived in Providence in the latter part of the year, there was nothing to inspect.
After traveling to and from Providence Tool as a group on a trolley car, the Turkish inspectors would gather in the bar of a Providence hotel for drinking, gaming, arguing, and, not infrequently, brawling. (One inspector had even shot a woman in a Providence boarding house) Their antics provided a continual source of embarrassment for the tool company and harrassment for the Providence Police Department. Were it not for the company’s influence and the importance of the Turkish arms contract to the economy of the city (the company was now the largest employer in Providence), many of the inspectors would probably have spent a number of sojourns in the city’s lockup.
Due to a variety of cicumstances, by mid-October, 1876, Providence Tool was producing about 2,700 rifles a week, less than half of their capacity, while being paid for only 1,100. On November 20, 1876, manufacturing stopped entirely. The Turks were in dire circumstances. The Russo-Turkish War was now underway, and the army of the Porte not only owed Providence Tool, but also Winchester and the United Metallic Cartridge Company. On April 19, 1882, CEO John Anthony issued a statement inviting all his creditors o a special meeting at the West River Street plant to hear statements from the company “upon the present condition of its affairs.” What the creditors heard was that Providence Tool could no longer meet its financial obligations.
A committee of creditors was quickly established to dispose of as much of the company’s assets as would be required to meet its obligations. On July 1, 1882, the tool company put up for sale its entire inventory of gunmaking machinery. On August 1, 1882, the Wickenden Street plant (now demolished), was sold and turned into the Household Sewing Machine Company. The West River Street plant had already been signed over to the new Rhode Island Tool Company. Providence Tool ceased to exist as a legal entity in 1885 when the company suspended payments and liquidated its liabilities at fifty cents on the dollar.
Dame Fortune seems to have been somewhat fickle in her treatment of the principals involved in the rise and fall of Providence Tool. Though he had made sizeable profits from the Turkish munitions contracts, Oliver Winchester’s death in 1880 prevented him from seeing the full blossoming of his New Haven firm. John B. Anthony worked briefly for the Rhode Island Tool Company before becoming treasurer and later vice-president of the Household Sewing Company. He subsequently accepted the post as treasurer of the Cranston Print Works, a position he held until his death in Providence in 1904. During his job changes after Providence Tool’s bankruptcy, as he was forced to burn Peabody-Martini gunstocks to help heat his home.
John in PA Apr 15 2013 I have been a student and collector of Providence Tool arms for 30 years. I have 3 special order Peabody Sporting Rifles, an 1861 contract musket, two Peabody military rifles, one carbine, and an engraved presentation Turkish Peabody-Martini musket. Providence Tool can take a back seat to NO ONE as far as quality of manufactured goods is concerned. Read the article from Scientific American, 1863, documenting a tour of the factory for details as to their arms manufacture. A fine example of American entrepreneurship and pride of production!!
Roxann Fichtner Jul 10 2012 I’m Proud to Say I have purchased a Household Treadle Sewing Machine from an Auction Recently, It is a 5 Drawer Cabinet with Brass handles. The Middle Drawer came with lots of accessories. After Looking into the Company and finding pictures of the Sewing Machines I see This Machine is as Beautiful As it was when it was Made. Still in working condition and after taking years of dust and grime the Decals it will look like in the pictures. Thank you for all the Information on the Company . Roxann Lapeer, MI.
Gail Norstrom Aug 8 2009 My great grandfather worked for the Providence Tool Company beninning in 1861 for a period of about 20 years until he formed his own manufacturing company. I have a rifle made by the Providence Tool Company. I think it was made during the civil war, but am not sure. I am still trying to get further information.
Bob Feb 15 2009 I have a pair of leg Shackles of the Civil War period manufactured by the Providence Tool Co. I have a book on the Lincoln Assassination and the the exact pair are shown as the set I own which were used on the Lincoln Conspirators.
charleen connell July 15 2008 I have a sabre or rifle that I inherited from my father and on the left side it is stamped with Pearody’s Patent 7/22/1862 Providence Tool Co. Prov R I. The story I have heard though the years is that the gun was used in the Civil War. Does that seem possible?
Arthur Remington I worked for RI Tool for almost 30 years. There was no mention how RI Tool was a leader in the forging world for the better part of 20th Century as a Manufacture of First Class Forgings to such companys as L.S.Starrett, Brown & Sharp just to name a few.
Doss White Approximately 7,000 of the Turkish-contract Peabody Martinis were sold to Japan in the early 1880s. These are marked on the right side of the barrel, immediately forward of the receiver, “Meiji 13” or “Meiji 15” (1880 and 1882). What little is known about the purchase is that in 1880 the Japanese Navy purchased 12 Providence Tool Co. Peabodys for trial then in 1882 purchased an additional. 7,000 Many were brought back the States by G.I.s following the occupation, I know of five in various collections..
Robert B. Phillips I read your history of this fine company, but thought it lacked something. The company also made sabres for the Union Army. I have a very fine example which carries the stamp of Prov. Tool on the left side,and U.S. D.F.C. 1862 on the right side. I know that companies like Ames get most of the credit for production of sabres,but I’m willing to bet that those made by Providence Tool Co. could stand beside any other sabre in quality or craftsmanship. I would like to know what your feelings are on this subject.
Jeff Peterson I’m glad there is some interest in this building. I worked there (H&H Products) for about 5 years beginning around 1991. I always loved structure itself, but it was in serious need of some help. I’d like to go there and see if I could get a little tour of the place, just to see what they’ve done. I hope they keep the still working bell! It rang quite nicely!
john lindgram hi i’m sitn here in baytown tx lookn at a rifle that was made in ur plant for the civil war. it belongs to my brother-n-law. it was carried thru that war by one of his ancesters. its pretty rough but i think with a smiths touch it would prolly fire again. its traveled a long way and wouldnt it be great to here its story. im afraid not much is known about the man that carried it. i just thought that u guys might be interested in hereing about the rifle as there may not be many of em around . i hate to here that the factory has fallen to the niglect of time but i guess we all do sooner or later. its a handsome ol building and i hope that the people of R.I. get behind u on this project . im a little bit of a history buff (slept thru most of my Lit. classes tho ) and i hate for peeps to forget were we come from and what it took to get to were we r now. imo history is or most valuable asset. we can learn much by lookn at what was done before we got here. we im rattlen now haha. anywhoo if i ever get up thata way ill sure stop by and have a look at the ol place that had a part in keepn this nation in one piece
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