From The Randolph Register, Vol. 39, No.49 Randolph, N. Y. April 17, 1903
One Great Industry That has Been Instrumental in Building Up a Village.
The Commercial Life Blood Of Little Valley Drawn from the Cutlery Works How Knives are Made by Ingenious Men and Machines.
Little Valley, April 16 - The recent death of John B. F. Champlin has served to direct public attention to the cutlery industry in Little Valley, and more particularly to the plants of the Cattaraugus Cutlery Company, of which Mr. Champlin unquestionably was the parent and founder.
Few people outside of the factories have a comprehensive idea of the extent of this industry which is to Little Valley's commercial life and business prosperity what the locomotive works is to Dunkirk the great, throbbing industrial heart that distributes the blood of commerce through the busy community.
From a small beginning inaugurated by Mr. Champlin and his son in 1887, the cutlery business in Little Valley has steadily increased until at present there are three companies operating four factories and giving employment to about 300 skilled hands, while the output amounts to thousands of dollars each week and the knives of various kinds are numbered by the hundreds of dozens.
For the purpose of picking up a few facts on the subject a representative of the Register called upon A. E. Darrow, treasurer of the Cattaraugus Cutlery Company, at his office on Erie street. With his customary courtesy Mr. Darrow laid aside the details of business to give such information as was desired and to show your correspondent through the offices and storage rooms.
As introductory to the subject Mr. Darrow stated that, the Cattaraugus Cutlery Company, was first organized by Mr. Champlin in 1887 when he bought the tools and machinery of the Beaver Falls Cutlery Company with which the manufacture of knives in Little Valley was begun. The company was organized in 1893 with the following officers: President. J.B.F. Champlin; secretary, Tint Champlin; treasurer, A.E. Darrow; directors, the above officers and E.E. Kelley and C.L. Wilson.
Since the death of Mr. Champlin the latter's son, Tint Champlin, has been chosen president, E.E. Kelley secretary, and AE. Darrow treasurer, but as yet no director has been named in place of the deceased founder of the institution. The offices of the company, which are in the opera house block, are commodious and a force of sixteen men and women are required to keep the business machinery in working order. A portion of the first floor of the building is also used for storage purposes and shipping and a large quantity of the most valuable cutlery upon which no insurance is carried is hidden away on tiers of shelves in a large fire proof vault which is protected against the elements by massive four-foot walls of solid masonry.
The principal factory buildings of the company are located on Mill Street.
The main building is about 30 by 120 feet on the ground and three stories high and this with the forge shop and other auxiliary structures gives a total length of more than 200 feet. Roomy as these buildings appear every inch of available space is utilized to an extent that gives an uncomfortable impression of crowding and the near future will doubtless see large additions or an entire new factory put in operation to keep pace with the increased demand for Little Valley cutlery the fame of which is already worldwide. This factory is devoted exclusively to the manufacture of pocketknives of all grades and sizes.
The story of a knife from the timer its blades are pressed from sheets from imported steel, forged, ground, tempered, polished, drilled, enclosed with other parts in handles, inspected, wrapped, packed and shipped is a long, curious and fascinating tale of skill and ingenuity that cannot be told in one short article although a brief outline may not be without interest.
Under the obliging guidance of Superintendent W.C. Bushnell your correspondent saw this story played out to perfection on the stage of activity at the factory. The blade steel used in making knives is of English manufacture and is received at the factor in large sheets, which are cut into proper sized strips with a shear that cuts steel as easily as the hand instruments carve calico. A steampress furnished with dies and pattern punches blade shapes from these strips with an apparent ease and rapidity suggestive of a railway conductor, perforating tickets. This rough blade outline is then passed to a man in charge of a forge and trip hammer where after a moderate heating the blades are further wrought into shape by a few skillful blows of the trip hammer.
After going through a hardening and tempering process the blades are passed on to the grinders who, sitting over large and rapidly revolving stones, send showers of sparks scurrying into the water troughs as they bring the steel to an edge and perfect its shape. From the first grinding, through the process of polishing on wheels of various degrees of fineness, the drilling, filing, riveting in and inspecting, to the final edging on an oil stone and a last wiping and wrapping, the work is rapid and almost confusing in the number and variety of processes through which it is put and which take the steel from top to bottom of the factory two or three times in the course of development.
The brass scales or, linings of the knives are stamped from sheets in any desired shape the same as the blades as are also the shields and other ornaments used upon the handles. The bolsters or metal end pieces upon the handles are made of cold metal battered into a mould by a powerful blow from the steam hammer which at the same time fashions an attached rivet with which the bolster is fastened to the scale, insuring a rigidity that is not found in knives of German manufacture where the bolster is a hollow shell attached to the scale with solder.
The springs used are stamped from American steel and go through much the same course of treatment as the blades except as to grinding, and each part before being finally put together in the form of a knife is brought to exact measurements by means that insure accuracy and a perfect whole when the instrument is ready to place upon the market.
The wood used in the making of handles is mostly ebony and cocoaboia, the latter from the south sea islands, which is received in large billets about the size of the average fence post; this is reduced to proper sizes on small saws and by subsequent mechanical processes brought to proper shape and finish. For the more expensive grades, bone, mother of pearl, tortoise shell, horn and other materials are used for handles.
Before the final finish is given to the knives they are turned over to the inspectors, who with almost incredible rapidity go over them for imperfections, taking in every detail of manufacture and such as are faulty in any particular are returned to the proper department where the imperfection is remedied.
After the last finishing process the cutlery again goes through the hand of the inspectors and if passed as perfect is turned over for honing, wrapping and packing.
While everything pertaining to the manufacture of knives, from the introduction of the metals and wood to the last touch of the packers, is full of interest perhaps the most fascinating of the many ingenious contrivances employed is a little instrument used for cutting out irregular shapes in handles in which to sink shields or other metal ornaments. With a pattern this little instrument will cut holes of any shape required with rapidity and its very simplicity is the chiefest charm of the process.
More than one hundred operatives are employed in the main factory building and the output of knives averages about 800 dozen per week. With its lower factory and offices the Cattaraugus Cutlery Company has about 200 people on its pay roll, nearly all of whom are skilled laborers, and the output of the concern is valued at bout $3,500 per week.
The company's lower factory as it is called is located near the Erie depot and is largely devoted to the manufacture of butcher knives, although some grades of pocket cutlery are also made there. About forty or fifty people are employed. The manner of making butcher knives is in the main about the same as in the other lines, although the processes are fewer and less exacting.
The Korn Razor Manufacturing Company is another of the enterprising and interesting concerns of the village, and while it is under a separate name and management its interests are so closely blended with those of the Cattaraugus Cutlery Company as to make them practically identical. The stockholders of the tatter are among the principal shareowners in the former company and the Cutlery concern handles the larger part of the output of the razor factory.
The making of razors is one of the most delicate and interesting lines of manufacture in the cutlery business and by a new and exclusive process of grinding that insures absolute uniformity the Korn Razor Company is enabled to put an article upon the market that has already blazed a pathway through the ambush of trade that reaches into the remotest countries of the world. About forty skilled operatives are employed here and the weekly output of the factory is valued at $1,500.