Museum of The Adjustable Spanner

The Stillson Wrench

The following tale is from the Stillson family homepage to whom I am endebted for this excerpt.

Col. Levi R. Greene, who served his apprenticeship in the Corliss Engine Works before the Civil War, and who was an engineer on a naval vessel during the Rebellion, had, as a fireman of the craft, a young man named Daniel Stillson, who appeared to possess unusual mechanical ability. In 1865, Colonel Greene entered the employ of the Walworth concern, and much to his surprise, Stillson appeared one day seeking a job, and was hired as a mechanic at the Cambridgeport plant.

In 1869, he came to the office with the pattern of a new type of pipe wrench, which he had whittled out of wood. Greene was interested and authorized Stillson to have a wrench made of steel, after his model. When next he appeared Colonel Green and C.C. Walworth examined the wrench and finally Stillson was directed to the pipe room, in the Devonshire Street shop, and was told to try the device on a section of 1 1/4 inch pipe. "I want you to put strength enough on that wrench," said Colonel Greene, "to twist off the pipe or break the wrench. I don't care which." Colonel Greene in telling the story years afterwards, said: "Dan looked at me with some strong language in his eyes. He was competent in use language, chiefly profane, and he exercised this accomplishment on frequent occasions." C.C. Walworth chucked as Dan turned on his heel and walked out of the office. Half an hour later, he came back with a piece of the pipe which had been twisted off. His wrench was intact.

C.C. then became really interested and told Dan "to go back to the factory and have the forman make up two dozen wrenches." continued Colonel Green. "He and I agreed upon suggestions as to the length of the handles for different sizes and Dan went away. He came back with the finished wrenches a few days later and was advised to go to the Patent Office and get a patent for his invention. "It is as much as I can do to get my dinner, to say nothing about going to the Patent Office," said Dan. C.C. Walworth, however, thought so well of the wrench that he authorized Stillson to draw upon the office for the necessary expense money and directed him to a patent lawyer, who had served the company. In the course of time, Stillson came back with his letters patent and asked Colonel Greene's advice as to how he should proceed. Stillson's first thought was to sell the patents to J.J. Walworth & co. his need of money was so great that he believed $2,500 was worth more to him at that time than possible royalties in the future. Both Colonel Green and C.C. Walworth advised Stillson against selling his patent and even when the inventor fixed $1,500 as his price for the patent right, they urged him to adopt another course. Stillson finally took their advice and agreed to grant the exclusive manufacturing rights to J.J. Walworth & Co. In return he asked for a royalty percentage which, according to Colonel Green, made the sale of the wrench absolutely prohibitive in price. However, he was adamant and the company accepted his proposition and entered into an agreement to manufacture and sell the wrench at the figure named.

The trade was thoroughly informed of the possibilities of the new invention, but the wrench did not sell because the price was too high. After months of waiting, Daniel Stillson was persuaded to accept a royalty which permitted the manufacture and sale of the wrench at a more reasonable figure, and thereafter the Stillson Wrench was a marketable product, and became one of the worlds best known inventions.

Royalties began to flow in until, in the later years of life, Stillson was enabled to retire and live on the earnings of his invention. Years later, Colonel Greene met Stillson leaving the office of the Walworth Company. In his hand the inventor carried some papers and a check, and he told Greene that the draft was for the last money he would receive for his wrench, as the patent had expired. "How much has that little wooden model you brought into the office paid you?" Asked Colonel Greene. Stillson went through some rapid mental calculations and replied: "Counting this check, I have received a little more than $67,000 from the Walworth Manufacturing Company in royalties." From other sources it is learned that he actually collect altogether, between $80,000 and $100,000, for this child of his brain. The wrench was copied by many other companies after Stillson's patent expired, and is now being made by a many concerns in the USA and other countries. The Walworth Company, however, retains the original patent form and it is universally recognized that Stillson's idea has never been improved upon to this day.

The Story of the Stillson Pipe Wrench on the Stillson family homepage