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Manufacturers Index - Willson Lathes Ltd.
Last Modified: Mar 7 2019 9:25AM by Jeff_Joslin
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In 1897 Smith, Barker & Willson was established by Fred Smith, Edwin Barker and George Willson. With very little money to spare and a lathe the only machine tool they owned, they built their own planer and a horizontal borer, and then designed and built their first product for manufacture: a metal lathe. Their first machine was relatively lightweight and conventional in design. In 1902 they moved into larger premises—their first was in a basement—and purchased some much-needed machines. By 1912 they were making 250 lathes per year; in that year, Smith died and Barker retired. By the end of the Great War, in 1918, they were making a still-modest 600 lathes per year. Until around this time their lathes were labeled either "Smith, Barker & Willson", or just "SBW". By 1920 their lathes were labeled "Willson".

In 1932 Willson retired and his son, George Wilson, Jr., took over control of the company with J. Richardson (works manager) and Albert Kitchen. At this time the company was reorganized as Willson Lathes Ltd. with Kitchen as chairman of the board, George Jr. as managing director, and Richardson in charge of the plant. When Willson Jr. died in 1943, Richardson became managing director.

In the 1950s Willson Lathes introduced their famous "Slant-Bed" models that were designed to appeal to schools and other more safety-conscious buyers. The slant-bed itself put the ways at the front of the lathe considerably higher than those at the back, which has several benefits: it puts smaller work-pieces closer to eye height while keeping larger ones at a reasonable height, it was claimed to do away with the need for a gap bed, and improved chip clearance "away from the operator". Other features intended to appeal to school buyers included covered shafts (for safety), partially covered ways (to reduce wear), and a safety interlock on the change-wheel cover. Some later models had an additional safety feature: the speed selection levers had to be pushed in before they could be adjusted, which helped eliminate accidental engagement.

Wilson Lathes, Ltd. went public in 1947, and in 1966 were absorbed the large Elliott Machine Tool Group in 1966. At least some models of Willson lathes survived as "Elliott" lathes.

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