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Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Co. - Lehman Brothers Collection

Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Co.

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Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company was incorporated in Rhode Island in 1868.

The predecessor to the business, however, began in 1833. The mutual interests of David Brown and his son Joseph R. Brown created a partnership located in Providence, R.I., under the firm name of David Brown and Son to make and repair clocks and watches and do other light, precision mechanical work. The partnership dissolved after 8-10 years and in 1850 David Brown started a new line. His pioneer work was directed towards raising the standard of accuracy in machine shop operations. He developed the Vernier Caliper in 1851, which was the first practical tool for exact measurement that could be sold at a price within the reach of the ordinary machinist. Lucien Sharpe was hired as an apprentice and in 1853 he was made a full partner under the new business name of J. R. Brown & Sharpe. The partnership proved an effective combination: Mr. Brown as the mechanical expert and Mr. Sharpe as the business executive. In 1866 Samuel Darling, a rival and keen competitor to the firm, finally joined forces with Brown, which resulted in a partnership under the name of Darling, Brown & Sharpe. Upon Mr. Darling's death in 1896 the name was discontinued, and in1868 the business was incorporated under the name of Brown & Sharpe Mfg. Co., the original stockholders being Mssrs. Brown and Sharpe, Frederick W. Howe, and Thomas McFarlane. Thereafter the entire business was conducted under the name of Brown & Sharpe Mfg. Co.

From its incorporation, the principal product of the company has been machine tools. The company is a major manufacturer of such machinery and also manufactures machinists' precision measuring instruments, cutting tools, hydraulic valves, and pumps. The company's line of machine tools is entirely manufactured by it with the exception of certain components that are electrical or electronic, which are purchased elsewhere.

Historically, machines tools are essentially production equipment, and sales are influenced by the general level of the economy, and in particular by the level of capital spending by business. As a result, sales and earnings of the industry, and of the company, tend to be cyclical. The industry has been required to develop machinery of increasing accuracy over time to accommodate new materials and new technologies. The company has been subject to intense competition from both domestic and foreign companies.

In 1957 the company laid off 365 employees in its big machine tool division and reduced operations in the division to a 35-hour week. This was the result of the decline in orders for machine tools, as figures for the industry hit their lowest point since early 1950. Altogether, Brown and Sharpe cut employment by close to 1,500 during the year, the majority from the machine tool division. By the end of 1957, the employee base was expected to total 2,500, down from 3,900 at the first of the year.

Since 1958, sales of machine tools accounted for 55 percent to 60 percent of the company's annual sales. Machine tools are used to construct other machinery and parts, and are the building tools of the industrial process. They are basic equipment in the factories of industries that produce metal products, ranging from automobile and earth-moving equipment manufacturing, cameras, watches, and data-processing equipment.

The company moved its executive offices and main manufacturing facilities from its original worksite in Providence to North Kingstown, R.I. in 1964. The plant was expected to cost approximately $10,500,000.

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