1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

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 Nicholson File Company Records

 File Company, Providence, Rhode Island

 Records, 1864-1972

 Size: 5 linear feet

 Catalog number: MSS 587

 Processed by: Lori Salotto, October 2000

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            The Nicholson File Company, a major manufacturing firm in Providence, Rhode Island, was founded by William Thomas Nicholson (1834-1893) in 1864. Nicholson went into the machinery trade at an early age and at one time worked for one of the founders of Brown & Sharpe. His first independent business enterprise was in the partnership of Nicholson & Brownell. This partnership dissolved quickly. However, Nicholson stayed in business as a sole proprietor.

            Nicholson had designed and patented various items and began thinking about industrial files as early as 1856, but those thoughts were put on hold as the Civil War interrupted his plans. During the war he formed a partnership (Nicholson & Company) with Henry A. Monroe, and supplied the Union with Springfield rifles. In 1864 he sold his interest in the company to Monroe and started the Nicholson File Company.

            In the early years, the company had to deal with British competition, and with prejudice against machine cut files by those who preferred hand cut files. However, the company managed to persevere and eventually Nicholson File was able expand by buying out other file companies. The company had to continually ward off infringements on their patent claims.

            Nicholson died unexpectedly in 1893 and his son, Col. Samuel Mowry Nicholson took over the company until 1904. Nicholson File continued to expand by leasing the Great Western File Company in Pennsylvania. The company now had three plants and had to work hard to keep itself solvent while dealing with shrinking domestic markets. It became necessary for the company to look to overseas markets, which they did by establishing a foreign sales department. This department was so successful that by 1902 Nicholson files were being sold in over forty countries worldwide. Also, at the turn of the century Nicholson File branched out to tools other than files, such as rasps.

            Nicholson File continued its prosperity as it further expanded and absorbed other companies, such as the McClellan File Company in Michigan; M. Buckley & Co. in Pawtucket, Rhode Island; the Eagle Screw Company of Middletown, New York; Kearney & Foot Co. in New Jersey and Ohio; the Arcade File Works in Indiana; the G.H. Barnett Company of Philadelphia, PA; and many others. However, not all of these plants were kept opened. Only the ones that the company felt were profitable were maintained.

            The early part of the 20th century saw continuous growth and prosperity under the leadership of Paul C. Nicholson, Jr. (grandson of Samuel). He remained as head of the company until 1969 when George C. Williams took over - the first non-family member to head the company.

            By the 1960s the Nicholson File Company was a major player in both the domestic and overseas markets. The company had various divisions (Barnes Saw, Danielson Manufacturing Company, Atkins Saw and Great Southern Tool Engineering, Inc.) and subsidiaries (Nicholson File Export Company, Nicholson File Company of Canada, Nicholson File Nederland N.V.) and at various times have had warehouses in New Jersey, Illinois, Georgia, Pennsylvania, California, and Oregon. Their factories were located in Anderson, Indiana (domestic markets); Port Hope, Ontario (British Commonwealth of Nations market); Hertogenbosch, Netherlands (European Common Market, Middle East, and other overseas customers); and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Central and South American markets).

            October 1972 saw the end of the company through a merger with Cooper Industries. Early in 1972 Nicholson File had to stave off a take over attempt by H.K. Porter Company Inc. who controlled 30.5% of the company's stock. Porter made a cash tender offer to stockholders. Nicholson File initially tried to block the offer by filing suit against Porter for securities infringement. This suit was unsuccessful and the offer went through. However, Porter did not get enough stock to take over Nicholson. Porter then filed an unsuccessful suit against the directors of Nicholson File for allegedly misrepresenting the offer to stockholders. In trying to fight the takeover Nicholson File made several merge overtures to other companies including Walco Industries and VLN Corp. However, they finally decided to go with Cooper Industries, who came to them with a better offer. Cooper also controlled 17% of Nicholson stock and had the backing of H.K. Porter. A long time New England company could no longer hold out in the economic market of the 1970s.


Elgarten, Henry. A Little Journey to an American Industry: Three Generations of the Nicholson Family - File Makers since 1864.

McManus, George J. "Unraveling the Porter-Disston-Nicholson Caper." Iron Age, April 13, 1972, p. 47.

"Nicholson File Company (1864-1904)". Talk given as part of a historical review of prominent local manufacturers, April 11, 1951. Found in the collection.

Nicholson File Company. Annual Reports, 1964-1968.

"Nicholson File, Cooper Decide to Consolidate." Wall Street Journal, June 14, 1972 and June 22, 1972.

"Ex-File Co. Holders Gain." Providence Journal, November 22, 1972.

"Nicholson Drops VLN Merger Plan." Providence Journal, June 14, 1972, p. 26.

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Scope and content:

            This collection, covering the years 1864 to 1972, is arranged into five series. Series one contains administrative records such as correspondence, employee time records, historical information, testimonials, and a visitor's book. Series two contains financial records such as accounts payable and receivable, contracts, and reports to shareholders. Series three contains a myriad of patent papers relating to Nicholson File, as well to any patent relating to files in general. Series four contains papers relating to the takeover attempt by H.K. Porter Company and series five contains papers related to the production of files.

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            These records were donated in three different accessions. Records from 1871-1971 were donated in 1974 by Mason F. Cocroft. Two scrapbooks of patents, 1846-1901, were donated in 1985 by the Nicholson File Company, and records from 1958-1973 were donated in 1983 by Helen Hodde (RIHS staff).

            On a related note, Paul C. Nicholson, Sr., donated other manuscript material, including an extensive collection of ships log books.

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Processing note:

            This collection was foldered into several series and reboxed. Additional information on Nicholson File Company can be found in Mss 9001-B and Mss 871. Mss 9001-B contains interviews with Mary C. Braga who worked at Nicholson File Company as a bilingual stenographer from 1940-1942. Mss 871, Wallace Pond Scrapbooks, commemorates Pond's fifty years of service as a salesman for Nicholson File, 1945.

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Series 1: Administration

Box 1, folder 1. Charter, by-laws, and history, 1864, 1898, 1929

Box 1, folder 2. Correspondence, 1899

Box 1, folder 3. Correspondence, 1958-1959

Box 1, folder 4. Employee time records, January 1887 - May 1900

Box 1, folder 5. Historical review, April 11, 1951

Box 1, folder 6. Testimonials, 1871-1872

Box 1, folder 7. Records retention schedule, 1968

Oversized vol. 17. Visitor's book, 1879-1927

Series 2: Financial records

Box 1, folder 8. Accounts payable and receivable, 1876-1908

Oversized vol. 1. Contracts, 1894-1899

Oversized vol. 2. Contracts, 1899

Box 1, folder 9. Financial papers, 1867-1907

Oversized vol. 12. President's reports to shareholders, 1871-1911

Oversized vol. 13. President's reports to shareholders, 1912-1929

Oversized vol. 14. President's reports to shareholders, 1930-1947

Oversized vol. 15. President's reports to shareholders, 1948-1959

Series 3: Merger

Box 1, folder 10. H.K. Porter tender offer: correspondence sent to plants, 1972

Box 1, folder 11. H.K. Porter tender offer: letters to stockholders, 1972

Box 1, folder 12. H.K. Porter tender offer: newspaper clippings, 1972

Box 1, folder 13. H.K. Porter vs. Nicholson File, 1972

Box 1, folder 14. United States vs. H.K. Porter, 1972

Series 4: Patents

Box 1, folder 15. American File Company: opposition to extension of Crum patent, 1864

Box 1, folder 16. American File Company patents, 1873-1875

Box 1, folder 17. Atlantic File Works patent, 1882

Box 1, folder 18. Etienne Bernot patent, 1872-1878

Box 1, folder 19. E.P. Barila and Nicholson & Waterman papers, 1887

Box 1, folder 20. Blake & Dodge: letters, memos, agreements, and contracts, 1865-1874

Box 1, folder 21. Bousfield: English patent, 1871

Box 1, folder 22. Card & Studley patent, 1872

Box 1, folder 23. James C. Cooke: foreign patents, 1860

Box 1, folder 24. Cooke patent to Pierce: assignment of, 1860

Box 1, folder 25. John Crum patent, 1851, 1878

Box 1, folder 26. Cutting files patents, 1852

Box 1, folder 27. File cutting machine patents, 1841-1860

Box 1, folder 28. File patents: copies of, 1865-1876

Box 2, folder 1. File patents: copies of, 1869-1878

Box 2, folder 2. File patents: copies of, 1869-1878

Box 2, folder 3. Jacob's patent, 1859-1864

Box 2, folder 4. Nicholson File: English patent, 1877

Box 2, folder 5. Nicholson File: foreign patents, 1835-1840

Box 2, folder 6. Nicholson File: general patent files, 1875-1877

Box 2, folder 7. Nicholson File: improved machine for cutting files, 1868

Box 2, folder 8. Nickerson & Allen patent, 1868-1875

Box 2, folder 9. Nickerson, Allen, and Moore: four patents, 1871

Box 2, folder 10. Original file machine papers, 1864

Box 2, folder 11. Patent papers, 1872, 1878

Box 2, folder 12. Sand Blast papers, 1878-1882

Box 3               Scrapbooks containing patent papers, 1846-1901

Box 2, folder 13. Specification booklets for various patents, 1802-1860

Box 2, folder 14. Thompson patent, 1864

Box 2, folder 15. Whipple File Company patents, 1860

Box 2, folder 16. Whipple File & Steel Manufacturing Company: asset papers, 1861-1865

Box 2, folder 17. Whipple File & Steel Manufacturing Company:conveyances of patents, 1860-1875

Box 2, folder 18. Whipple File & Steel Manufacturing Company patents: memorandum & letters, 1862-1863

Series 5: Production

Box 2, folder 19. Die and cut regulations, 1886

Box 2, folder 20. File specifications, 1887-1911

Box 2, folder 21. File specifications, 1920-1921

Box 2, folder 22. File specifications, 1924-1927

Box 2, folder 23. File tests, 1899-1921

Box 2, folder 24. File tests, 1925-1943

Box 2, folder 25. File tests, undated

Box 2, folder 26. Inventory book: stock in machine shop, 1869

Box 2, folder 27. Memorandum book: delivery of files, 1867

Box 2, folder 28. Price lists, 1914-1950

Box 2, folder 29. Price lists, 1954-1969

Box 2, folder 30. Production analysis, July/August 1922, 1954

Oversized vol. 3. Quotations book #1, 1870-1889

Oversized vol. 4. Quotations book #2, 1870-1889

Oversized vol. 5. Quotations book #3, 1871-1893

Oversized vol. 6. Quotations book #4, 1881-1891

Oversized vol. 7. Quotations book #5, 1884-1893

Oversized vol. 8. Quotations book #6, 1885-1893

Oversized vol. 9. Quotations book #7, 1889-1893

Oversized vol. 10. Quotations book #7a, 1892-1893

Oversized vol. 11. Quotations book #8, 1890-1894

Oversized vol. 16. Record book: revised tables, rules and notes relating to file teeth, 1887

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Cooper Industries

Files and rasps

Industry - R.I. - Providence

H.K. Porter & Company

Nicholson, Paul C. Jr. (b. 1910)

Nicholson, Samuel Mowry (1861-1939)

Nicholson, William Thomas (1834-1893)


Tools - R.I. - Providence

VLN Corporation

Walco Corporation

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