Boice-Crane made woodworking machinery intended primarily for homeowners. Some Boice-Crane designs, such as the 12"x44" lathe and the 12" planer, were heavier-duty machines which were aimed at the light-industrial and educational markets.
Boice-Crane reportedly traces its roots to a home-based business established in 1910 by Harold G. Crane in the Boston area. Crane may have been simultaneously working for a larger Boston machinery maker at the time. In 1920, following the death of his mother, he returned to his boyhood home in Adrian, Michigan and began making a bench-top tablesaw. The earliest hard evidence of his making woodworking machinery—that tablesaw—is from 1921: an EMF Electrical Yearbook lists, "Crane, Harold, G.—322 Frost St., Adrian, Mich. Manufacturer of oscillographs, motor-driven saws and carbon rheostats."
The earliest known Crane ad, from July 1921.
In July of 1921, Crane became partners with his wife Emily's brothers, William B. and John E. Boice, of Toledo, Ohio. The Boice brothers established a factory of their own, and for many years the company operated factories in both Adrian and Toledo.
All three men were engineers: Harold and William had degrees in electrical engineering, and John had a degree in mechanical engineering. Although Harold was the one with the most design experience, the patent record suggests that William and John took over most of the product design responsibilities. Over the ensuing years, the two men were granted over twenty patents related to woodworking machinery.
Although Harold G. Crane started out selling machines under his own name, this was short-lived. Starting in late 1921 or early 1922, his saws were sold under the W. B. & J. E. Boice banner.
These two ads appeared in the December 1922 Popular Mechanics. One ad says, "Boice Bros.", the other, "W.B. & J.E. Boice".
The above two ads show that two different tablesaw designs were being sold at the same time. The "Crane's Handisaw" clearly matches the Crane ad from 1921; the other saw is really a combination machine and is a substantially different design. Since it is the "Boice Pony Bench Machine", it seems most likely that it was designed and built by the Boice brothers.
In 1924 the products began to use the Boice-Crane name, although the company continued to operate as "W. B. & J. E. Boice". Over the years, the latter name was progressively less emphasized. In August of 1936, the company name was formally changed to Boice-Crane Co.
During the 1950s and '60s, they sold a gear-head drill press made by Arboga of Sweden. This was later replaced by a similar Swedish-made drill made by Strand. At some point, Boice-Crane acquired the rights to the Comet line of radial arm saws. The history of Comet is exceptionally confusing, and we are uncertain when Boice-Crane acquired the line. It appears that Boice-Crane then re-sold the rights to the Comet line.
By 1963, Boice-Crane Co. had been acquired by Wilton Corp., operating as "Boice-Crane, a Division of Wilton Corporation". Over the next few years, Wilton stopped making some of Boice-Crane's less competitive products. In 1970, Wilton sold the remnants of Boice-Crane to Dan Brestel, doing business first as WR Manufacturing Co. and then as Boice-Crane Industries, Inc., of Gothenburg, Nebraska. It seems that Boice-Crane Industries re-acquired the rights to the Comet line and then re-re-sold them in the early- or mid-1980s. Manufacturing of a few machines (notably the stroke sander and spindle sander) continued until at least 1986. (We are told that later machines were assembled from parts cast in Mexico.) Gothenburg continued to supply parts until the business was shut down around (very roughly) 2004.
Parts and service
Until recently, Gothenburg, Wilton, and Comet Engineering, Inc., still provided parts and service for some Boice-Crane products. Gothenburg and Comet Engineering are no longer in business, and so far as we know Wilton know longer provides any Boice-Crane product support. In short, parts and service are no longer available.
- Dana M. Batory's Vintage Woodworking Machinery, Volume Two has nineteen pages of history on this company and their products, plus another thirty pages of catalog cuts. Batory's history differs in minor details from ours, especially with respect to the early history of Harold Crane. Since Batory does not provide detailed references, it is difficult to compare the reliability of our two versions. However, Batory is an experienced researcher of woodworking machinery makers and his version should not be lightly discounted.
- The January 1922 issue of Popular Mechanics contains the earliest ads we have found for Boice or Boice-Crane: "Ball-bearing motors. Highest quality. Brand new. 1/4 horse, $21.50 1/3 horse, $24.50. Circulars. William Boice, 23rst St. Toledo, Ohio." In the same issue was an ad for a "Six Machines in One - bench grinder, polisher, buffer, sander, drill and saw, for working in wood and soft metals...W. & J. Boice, 114 23rd St., Toledo, Ohio."
- The first occurrence of "Boice-Crane" was as a model name in a September 1924 ad in Popular Science. The ad was from W. B. & J. E. Boice. Over the next decade the Boice-Crane name became increasingly prominent in their ads, and the "W. B. & J. E. Boice" became progressively less emphasized. The September 1936 issue of Popular Science had a small display ad showing their 12" DMD planer; the ad was from "Boice-Crane Tools", the only time we have seen that name. We have not found any ads from October. The November 1936 issues of Popular Mechanics and Popular Science have ads from "Boice-Crane Co.", the earliest appearance of that name. Given the lead time for preparing the ads, plus the fact that the cover date appeared in advance of the calendar date, the name change must have been roughly August 1936.
- Trademark registration indicates that the Boice-Crane name dates to 1926. The last owner of the name was Wilton Tool Manufacturing Co., Inc. Note that the first-use information is contradicted by the September 1924 ad mentioned above.
- The 1936 Boice-Crane catalog was issued by W. B. & J. E. Boice. Our copy of the 1937 copy simply says, "Boice-Crane" and "Distributed by C. W. Marwedel... San Francisco"; there is no mention of W. B. & J. E. Boice or of Boice-Crane Co. The 1938 catalog is from "Boice-Crane Company". All of these data points support the above conclusion that the Boice-Crane name was introduced in 1924, but the company name did not change until about August 1936.
- The 1931 catalog gives brief biographies of the principals. Harold G. Crane began making woodworking machinery in 1910. The Boices established their Toledo operations in 1921.
- The 1936 catalog lists the four principals of the company: Harold G. Crane, John E. Boice, William B. Boice, and James R. Rettie. It also says, "This experience dates back to 1910—back to a time wen Boice-Crane was the very first to pioneer in bench machinery." Harold G. Crane was owner of the Adrian plant; James R. Rettie was superintendent of the Adrian plant; William B. Boice was co-owner of Toledo plant, in charge of design and production; and John E. Boice was co-owner of the Toledo plant, in charge of sales and finance.
- A document on the history of the Eugene W. Crane house (PDF) (Eugene being Harold's father). This paragraph provides some important clues to Harold Crane's work history:
After Eugene Crane's death in 1912, the Crane house continued to be occupied by his widow, Agnes O. Gilliland Crane, until her death in 1921. Ownership of the house then passed to the only child, Harold G. Crane, and his wife Emily Boice Crane. Harold G. Crane was born in Hudson, Michigan in 1878 and moved to Adrian with his parents in 1881. He graduated from high school in 1898 and then went East to attend college. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston in 1906, subsequently accepting a position as a professor of Electrical Engineering at M.I.T. and Harvard for several years. He entered into a machinery manufacturing company in Boston, and after a few years decided to establish such a factory in his home city of Adrian, which he did in 1920. Following his mother's death in 1921 he occupied the family house as 322 Front Street in Adrian. Mr. Crane operated a small factory which manufactured machinery and tools, at 251 W. Church Streets in Adrian, until shortly before his death in 1937. His widow Emily Boice Crane, remained in the house until 1950, at which time she sold the property. Mrs. Crane died in 1961, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Adrian, with the rest of the Cranes and Gilliland’s.The key element is that Crane "entered into a machinery manufacturing company in Boston", which was from 1910 to 1920, when he established his own business in Adrian.
- Address (1949 Popular Mechanics): 930 W. Central St, Toledo 6, Ohio.
- An ad in the May 1956 issue of The Wood Worker features Boice-Crane Co.'s "Master Monotrol" 10-inch tilting-arbor tablesaw. The company address is given as 928 Central Avenue, Toledo. Note that the "Monotrol" name later showed up on Moak tablesaws. Boice-Crane also used the name "Monomaster" for the same mechanism.
- An owwm.org forum discussion provided information on a Monomaster tablesaw label believed to date from the 1959-61 era: "Boice Crane Co. / A Division of / Wilton Tool Manufacturing Co., Inc. / Schiller Park, Ill., U.S.A.". Another label on the same saw reads, "Boice-Crane / Power Tools / Schiller Pk., Illinois / A Division of Wilton Corporation".
- A document in Google Books, Illinois Vocational Progress for 1962, has this snippet: "Oliver C. Rische, District Sales Manager, Boice-Crane Co. A Division of Wilton Tool..." This is not a smoking gun that the Wilton acquisition had happened by 1962 because the publication dates on Google Books documents are somewhat unreliable.
- A 1963 issue of Steel has a news item that we can only see part of through Google Books: "Wilton Tool Mfg. Co.: Buys Boice-Crane".
- A 1963 issue of Hardware Retailer has a news item that we can only see part of through Google Books: "Boice-Crane Co Div Wilton Tool Mfg Co Inc 9525 Irving..."
- A 1963 Hitchcock's Wood Workers Digest Directory lists "BOICE CRANE COMPANY—A Division of Wilton Tool Mfg. Co. Inc, Schiller Park, Illinois".
- Information on the Swedish gear-head drill presses came from a discussion in an owwm.org forum.
- Joe Potter reports a price list dated 1964-01-01 and labeled, "Boice Crane, a division of Wilton Corporation."
- Obituary for Dan Brestel (1923-08-24—2008-10-29): (Brestel) "decided to return to Nebraska and purchased Weld Rite Machine Shop in Gothenburg. In 1970, the business expanded into Boice Crane Industries, Inc."
- A 1970 issue of Wood and Wood Products had this item: "Wilton Corp., Schiller Park, Ill., announced the sale of its Boice Crane line of woodworking machinery to WR Mfg. Co., Gothenburg, Nebraska..." This is, presumably, the purchase by Dan Brestel, where "WR" was short for "Weld Rite".
- A post by Keith Bohn reports a business letter from Boice-Crane of Gothenburg to a customer inquiring about a spindle shaper. The writer says that the machine was "discontinued prior to our acquisition of the product line in July 1970".
- Joe Potter also reports a price list dated 1973-09-01 and labeled, "Boice Crane Industries, Gothenburg".
- We have a couple of reports of a Boice-Crane 2300 bandsaw labeled as "Kysor-Johnson / Johnson Manufacturing Div / Kysor Industrial Corporation / Albion, Michigan". See this Photo Index entry, for example, which provides some evidence that the saw dates from 1973 to 1985. It is not known whether Kysor-Johnson owned the rights to the saw or whether they were putting their name on a saw manufactured by someone else—most likely Boice-Crane Industries of Gothenburg.
- Price list "Effective November 1, 1980", from Boice-Crane Industries, Inc. of Gothenburg.
- A 1998 issue of Fine Woodworking mentions the "current owners of Boice-Crane, the Gothenburg Manufacturing Co. (PO Box 182, Gothenburg, NE 69138".
- An owwm.org forum post by Bob Vaughan contains an interesting perspective on the design quality of Boice-Crane machines.
- The information on Mexican-cast parts comes from an owwm.org posting by Keith Bohn.