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Manufacturers Index - Oliver Machinery Co.

Oliver Machinery Co.
Grand Rapids, MI, U.S.A.
Company Website: http://www.eaglemachinery-repair.com/
Manufacturer Class: Wood Working Machinery & Metal Working Machinery

Last Modified: Dec 14 2016 11:55AM by Jeff_Joslin
If you have information to add to this entry, please contact the Site Historian.

This company name first appeared in late 1903 or early '04 when the American Machinery Co. was renamed to avoid confusion with the much larger American Wood Working Machine Co. For more information, see our page on the early history of this company.

In 1908 Oliver bought the rights to a German invention: the round cutterhead for planers and jointers. It represented a major safety advance, especially for jointers, and these Oliver cutterheads are found on many older machines; they are now considered less safe than newer designs.

Although the company's sales were satisfactory, Joseph Oliver lacked business acumen, and by 1912 he and the business were both heavily indebted. His bank provided Oliver business advice, which he resisted. He relented when the bank suggested that he find outside investors who could help recapitalize the business and assist with running the business. Oliver came up with Frank A. Baldwin and Victor M. Tuthill of the firm Baldwin, Tuthill & Bolton, and in September of 1912 they purchased 2/3 of the company from Mr. Oliver. Baldwin and Tuthill, with the assistance of a couple of Baldwin's sons, assumed management of the business and over the next three years were successful in bringing the company to profitability. While the relationship between Oliver and his investors was initially a good one, as the business improved, Oliver became resentful of his loss of control and having to share the financial success of the company. At the time of the 1912 investment agreement, Oliver agreed to write off several thousand dollars in back pay that he was owed by the company. At a meeting in March 1916, Oliver demanded the restoration of that back salary. He also claimed that the company's shares in Oliver Machinery Co., Ltd., of Manchester, England, actually belonged to his wife. When his demands were denied by Baldwin and Tuthill, the working relationship became untenable and Oliver was forced out.

Joseph Oliver responded by suing Baldwin and Tuthill, demanding his back salary, plus a retroactive rollback of a pay cut, and reversal of the original purchase agreement. Oliver lost on appeal and was forced to pay costs. The Oliver Machinery Co., meanwhile, continued to prosper.

In 1923 Oliver introduced the Straitoplane, which is a planer with a special feed mechanism that did not flatten the board as it passed across the cutterhead. This allows the Straitoplane to be simultaneously a planer and jointer, a significant advance. (In 1999, Board Machining Co. of Raleigh, NC, trademarked the Straitoplane name; a web search on this company produced no hits of any kind.)

Ad from April 1926 "Industrial Education" magazine

In 1929 the company bought woodworking machinery maker Eaglesfield-Link.

Oliver became a favorite of vocation shops and pattern shops. They moved in and out of other product areas over the years, but always made woodworking machinery.

The late 1970s saw the start of hard times for many makers of woodworking machinery. Imported machinery undercut the prices of the domestic makers. To make matters worse, imported furniture was hurting some of the major machinery buyers. In 1986, Oliver Machinery filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Rich Fink, an original Oliver Machinery employee, has purchased the remaining parts, inventory and drawings of the original Oliver Machinery Co. His new company is called Eagle Machinery and operates out of the same building that Oliver formerly occupied.

The Oliver name has also resurfaced on a line of imported Pacific-Rim machinery that is unrelated to the original Oliver line.

Other Resources

Source for manuals, parts, etc.:

On December 21, 2001, Eagle Machinery & Repair made a partial purchase of assets of the former Oliver Machinery Co. That purchase included parts inventory, patterns, original drawings, sales records, and the rights to all, photos, manuals and sales literature. They are the source for manuals, accessories and parts for pre 1999 Oliver Woodworking Machines.


PHONE: 616-336-0034
FAX: 616-336-0045

Information Sources

  • 1904-05-26 American Machinist.
    Business Items.—The American Machinery Company, of Grand Rapids. Mich., has changed its name to the "Oliver" Machinery Company. No change In ownership or management has tnken place, and the same policy of making "Oliver" machines quality machines will be maintained.
  • June 1904 Dun's Review.

    The Oliver Machinery Company.

    "Oliver" Machinery Co., successors to American Machinery Co., of Grand Rapid*, Mlcb., manufacturers of high-grade woodworking machinery and makers of complete pattern-shop equipments, are running to their fullest capacity, although having recently added very considerably to the equipment of their plant.

    The growth of this company has been something phenomenal and their success has been achieved by constantly striving for "quality" in their products to the exclusion of any idea of "cheapness" until the "Oliver" machines are the recognized standard not only in the United States but in all the most progressive countries abroad. This standard of design and workmanship has been maintained in the face of many well meant warnings that buyers would never pay what it cost to produce woodworking machines of this character. The demonstration that so large a percentage of manufacturers desire and will pay for honest work rather than to buy cheap and flimsy machinery is gratifying and goes a long way toward assuring the continued supremacy of American machinery in the world's markets.

    Mr. A. N. Spencer, vice-president of the company, has just started for a trip to the Pacific coast and in addition to looking after the interests of the company in that section, will give his attention to their growing trade in the Orient.

  • June 1904 The National Builder.
    Change of Name.
    The American Machinery Company, of Grand Rapids, long known as builder of "quality machines," as distinguished from cheap machines, have changed their name to the Oliver Machinery Company. The management and policy of the concern will remain the same as in the past.
  • Besides the above-mentioned book by Batory, numerous people have contributed information, most notably Jeff McVey.
  • For more information on the British incarnation of Oliver, and the parting of ways between Joe Oliver and his company, see this Jeff McVey posting in the owwm discussion forum.
  • The history of the Baldwin and Tuthill investment in the company, ultimately leading to Oliver's ouster from the business, is recounted in Michigan Reports: Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of Michigan, Volume 201. The writeup is 26 pages long and is well worth reading for anyone interested in these events.
  • Joe Potter's notes from the time provided the information on Chapter 11.
  • The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History lists the following in its collection: Oliver Machinery Company; Grand Rapids, MI; 'Oliver' Junior Line Woodworking Machinery Catalog Number 24; soft; 1928
  • The Grand Rapids Public Library has a couple of Oliver catalogs in its archives: Nos. 18 and 21. Catalog 21 is described as "ca. 1920".
  • The OWWM forum archives contains an interesting posting on dating Oliver catalogs.
  • The current copyright holder of Oliver's catalogs and manuals has requested that we not post complete scans of these documents.