February 9, 2007

Stanley

And the man behind the brand is...
Fred Stanley

Frederick Trent Stanley always had a bit of the promoter in him. When he he was making suspenders during Andrew Jackson’s presidency he sent Old Hickory a pair to show him fine Connecticut craftsmanship. Jackson penned Stanley a testimonial to his fine suspenders. which he was able to use to impress future customers.

But Stanley’s flair for selling seldom seemed to carry his manufacturing efforts very far. Born in 1803 Stanley clerked for a time as a boy on a Connecticut River steamboat and migrated to North Carolina for three years to try his hand at country peddling. He crafted his suspenders for a bit and in 1831 he teamed with his brother William to produce some of the earliest house trimmings and locks in America. This business sputtered along for a time until the Panic of 1837 mercifully crippled it fatally.

Frederick Stanley went to Mississippi at that point and out of the reach of his chroniclers. He next surfaced in 1843 back in New Britain, Connecticut in a nondescript one-story wooden structure that had once stood as an armory during the War of 1812. Here Stanley would lay the foundations for the most famous toolworks in America.

The Stanley Bolt Manufactory was one of hundreds of little manufactories struggling to make a go of it, the majority of which were one-man shops.
The only thing setting Stanley apart was a single-cylinder, high pressure steam engine shipped up from New York and carted by ox to the little wooden shop. Stanley’s was the only automated shop int he region.

Stanley peddled his bolts by horseback and wagon across the back country.
His tiny business must have impressed his neighbors because in 1852 five friends pooled the staggering sum of $30,000 to form The Stanley Works, with Frederick Stanley as president. Losses the first year totalled $361.72 but sales of wrought iron strap and hinges slowly elevated profits through the decade.

Clearly the outstanding achievement of Stanley’s presidency was his recruiting of William Hart, a 19-year old “jack-of-all-trades” when first hired in 1852.
By 1865 Stanley was making hand tools and hardware for the expanding West but faced four strongly entrenched competitors - all bigger and closer to cheap iron and easy water transportation.

But The Stanley Works alone survived. Hart expanded production, increased efficiency and cut labor costs by 25%. He packaged screws together with hinges for the first time. When retailers were hesitant to accept the pre-packaged hinges he went to stores and bought traditional hinges. Then he asked a clerk for matching screws, all the while timing the transaction with a stop-watch.
When he pointed out the magnitude of the time savings his hinge-and-screw package was an easy sell.

With Hart at the controls Stanley veered towards civic service and politics.
He served as the first mayor of New Britain. But the Depression years of the early 1870s left The Stanley Works in its worst shape since its first year two decades earlier. Just before his death Frederick Stanley underwrote employee notes for money borrowed from banks and, along with new cold-rolled steel hinges pioneered by Hart, who succeeded him as president, insured the company’s success for the next generation.

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