This month I am recalling one of the most familiar, respected, and important names in Jamestown history, certainly one of the greatest from the 20th century. Crescent, as in Crescent Tool Company and the beloved Crescent wrench.
The Crescent wrench is an improvement of the 19th century monkey wrench which developed from the 18th century coach wrench. The overall story of adjustable wrenches in Jamestown is illustrated by exhibits on the stair walls going to the mansion basement.
We have been given, among a few other mementos from Crescent’s 50th anniversary observation, an eight inch Crestaloy wrench. Crestaloy was a steel alloy developed in the early 20th century, stronger than other steel alloys used at the time. Lighter wrenches, first intended for the aviation industry but also very popular in the general market, were made from the new alloy. They had been available for decades by the time the 1957 anniversary celebration was planned.
This particular example differs from the rest in one conspicuous feature. It is gold plated. How gold became associated with 50th anniversaries, I do not know. I suspect it may have been the work of some marketing genius in the Victorian era. In any event, this little wrench is actually one of the larger objects I have ever seen either made of or plated with that beautiful and valuable element. Gold is the oldest metal in terms of discovery. It was discovered independently in different regions and on several continents long before any possible record in writing or memory. Placer gold, gold in creek gravels, was the form usually found. I wouldn’t be surprised if the original discoveries were sometimes made by children.
Fittingly the Crescent Tool Company successfully aspired to be the gold standard among tools and especially wrenches. The company was formed in 1907 when Carl Peterson left a partnership with J. P. Danielson in a disagreement over the degree of emphasis to put on branding and quality.
At the 50th anniversary the company itself published a 30 page pictorial history of the firm. This we have on our library shelves. On the last page, company president Marvin Peterson, son and successor to the founder, stated, “I have great and abiding faith in America and in the American Way and look forward, with greatest confidence, to the next 50 years…We shall continue to make the best tools possible to meet the requirement of the day and its technology. We intend to maintain and enhance the Crescent reputation for quality of workmanship and design.”
The company history is extended on pages 401 to 406 of Saga From the Hills. Just three years after the golden anniversary, December 19, 1960, Marvin Peterson announced the sale of Crescent Tool to Crescent Niagara Corporation in Buffalo. For a few years the company continued to thrive with local management and leadership. By 1973, with Alaric Bailey as head for most of that period, the Jamestown plant was employing between 850 and 900 workers. Bailey had retired in 1968 and the company was acquired by Cooper Industries and most operations were shifted to Sumter, South Carolina. By 1977 employment in the Jamestown facility was down to 130. In April, 1984 production ceased and the following month, the Harrison Street plant was closed.
Today Crescent wrenches are still made and sold. “The brand is currently owned by Apex Brands, Inc. the intellectual property entity of Apex Tool Group. Crescent brand adjustable wrenches are manufactured in both Sumter, South Carolina and in China.,” to quote Wikipedia.