Thursday, January 09, 2014

James Woolworth, Manufacturer

James Woolworth was born on May 4, 1824 in Westfield, Massachusetts to Chester and Chloe (Lewis) Woolworth. He came to Sandusky in 1852, and in 1854 he founded the Woolworth Handle Works, manufacturing handles for axes and other tools. An article from volume 11 of Wood Craft said about James Woolworth: “His business was well managed and he was very successful. In a few years the name of James Woolworth was known in all the handle markets of the world. He managed his business with great ability and he undoubtedly was the most active and progressive and largest manufacturer during his active connection with the business.”  For several years, James Woolworth’s brother Chester Woolworth was also associated with the Woolworth handle factory.

During the Civil War, the demand for handles increased and prices increased as well. James and Chester Woolworth paid careful attention to business, and the profits for the company were great. After the war, however, on October 18, 1872, the Woolworth Handle Works was destroyed by fire. A lengthy article in the June 26, 1873 issue of the Sandusky Register described the new factory, which had been rebuilt.  The article reported that the new Woolworth Handle Works factory was “an imposing substantial three story stone structure, with a slate roof and iron cornice and as far as possible proof against the fiery element.” The main part of the factory was 175 by 41 feet, and 35 feet in height. The machine shop was in a separate building. Twenty-five saws were constantly in use, manufacturing wooden implements. A three foot gauge railway connected the machine shop to the south side of the building, and to  the dock fronts on the north. Wood scraps from the factory were deposited in a wood yard, and delivered to various locations in Sandusky for use as fuel. Between the local Woolworth factory and the branch operation in Mound City, Illinois, the company employed 110 men in 1873. The Register article concluded by saying that, “the enterprise manifested by Mr. Woolworth under the recent difficulties is commendable and establishes the reputation he has always sustained as thorough business man and worthy citizen.”

In 1884 the Woolworth Handle Works was consolidated with the Turner & Day Company of Louisville, Kentucky, but James Woolworth continued to operate the plant at Sandusky as a branch.By 1886, however, the Woolworth Handle Works was no longer in operation in Sandusky. This Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows the location of the former  factory along Sandusky’s waterfront.

There is a connection with the James Woolworth family and the Sandusky Library. In 1898, Mr. and Mrs. James Woolworth sold their home on Adams Street to the Library Association of Sandusky, as the future site of the Carnegie Library. Mrs. Woolworth presented a large bookcase to the library, and it is still in use in the Quiet Reading Room of the Sandusky Library. Mrs. Woolworth’s donation of the ornately carved bookcase represents the beginning of the Sandusky Library’s local history collection. Mrs. Woolworth was a member of the early board of the Library Association of Sandusky.

Stop by the quiet reading room at the Sandusky Library to see the ornately carved bookcase donated by Mrs. Woolworth.

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