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Manufacturers Index - Lee & Leavitt; Lee & Norton

Lee & Leavitt; Lee & Norton
St. Louis, MO; Cincinnati, OH; Hamilton, OH, U.S.A.
Manufacturer Class: Wood Working Machinery & Steam and Gas Engines

Last Modified: Dec 14 2013 3:53PM by Jeff_Joslin
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This maker of sawmills and steam engines began in 1849 in St. Louis as Lee & Leavitt. The business moved to Cincinnati in 1853. The principals were Rufus S. Lee and William D. Leavitt.

Advertisement from Umberhine & Gustin's Lake Shore Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1861.

The later history of the company is quite confusing, compounded by the upheavals of the Civil War as well as various financial difficulties. Supposedly the important woodworking machinery maker Bentel & Margedant traces its roots to before the Civil War, when Charles E. McBeth was working for Lee & Leavitt. Shortly before the war began, Lee & Leavitt ceased operations, selling much of the business to McBeth, who sold woodworking machinery under the name McBeth & McClung, which through some intermediate steps became Bentel & Margedant.

Another version of the historyof Lee & Leavitt—partially supported by court documents—is that they became insolvent in 1867. In 1869, Lee partnered with D. K. Norton to form Lee & Norton, which billed itself as successors to Lee & Leavitt. That partnership survived into the 1880s.

William D. Leavitt had come from Fisherville, NH, where he had been a partner in sawblade maker Leavitt & McDaniel. Their New York agent was one Rufus R. Lee, who may nor may not have been related to Rufus S. Lee. Leavitt & McDaniel is known to have been in business 1848-1849, and was likely not in business much after that time.

After his stint in Cincinnati as part of Lee & Leavitt, Mr. Leavitt moved to New Orleans, where he worked for several years, receiving patents for a grist mill and a cotton press. By 1877 he was back in Cincinnati where he continued to develop improve presses and grist mills.

Lee's history is unknown.

Information Sources

  • Ad in 1848-12-30 Scientific American:
    LEAVITT & McDANIEL, Fisherville, N H., Manufacturers of Mill, Circular, Tennon, Cross-cut, and Pit Saws. Also, Felloe, Turning and Veneering Saws Billet or Wood Cutter’s saws ; Iron or Brass Web Saws, Pruning and Butcher’s Bow Saws, Chest, Hand, Pannel and Ripping Saws. Also, Plastering Trowels. J. McDaniel, Concord, Wm. D. Leavitt, Fisherville.
    Manufacturers Agent, No. 11 Kilby st. (up stairs)
    Boston, Mass.
    The same ad ran until at least 1849-05-19, with a title of "SAW MANUFACTORY" added at some point. We could not find patents or other information for J. McDaniel of Concord, NH.
  • 1857 catalog:
    Lee & Leavitt, Propietors and Manufacturers of the Norcross Patent Circular Saw Mill, E.H. Stearns' Patent Eccentric Headblocks, W.D. Leavitt's Patent Splitting Mill, and Mill Machinery Generally
  • John L. Mitchell's Tennessee State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1860-61, in the section on "Cincinnati advertisers and subscribers, lists "Lee & Leavitt, Young America saw mills, manufactory at Hamilton, Ohio, office 15 Walnut."
  • Report of the General Committee of the Cincinnati Industrial Exposition... held September 21st to October 22d, 1870, lists Lee & Norton as exhibiting a set of sawmill head blocks, which were awarded a diploma.
    We consider the head blocks exhibed my Messrs. Lane & Bodley as possessing the best general merit, but those of Messrs. Lee & Norton as the most reliable and easily operated of any on exhibition for competition. The other sets exhibited are more complicated in action, and, in our judgment, not worthy so high recommendation.
  • According to the 1882 book, A History and Biographical Cyclopaedia of Butler County Ohio, Charles E. McBeth joined the firm of Lee & Leavitt in 1860. "He built circular saws and steam engines for them by contract for some years, until they discontinued business. He purchased the greater portion of it, and during the war conducted it under the firm name of McBeth & McClung, manufacturing wood-working machinery. They sold out to Bentel, Margedant & Co. in 1874." It is difficult to reconcile this history with the fact that 1872 and 1873 Manufacturer & Builder articles mention the firm of "McBeth, Bentel & Margedant".
  • The book The Industries of Cincinnati: The Advantages, Resources, Facilities and Commercial Relations of Cincinnati, edited by Albert N. Marquis, and available online through Google Books, has the following item.

    Lee & Norton

    Saw Mills, Machinery, etc., etc., 145 and 147 West Second Street.

    This is an old, well established, and substantial house. It was founded in 1849, in St. Louis, by Lee & Leavitt. In 1853, the concern was moved to this city, and located on Water street, and after several unimportant removals, was finally established in its present location. The present firm, consisting of R. S. Lee and D. K. Norton, succeeded to the business in 1869.

    The range of manufactures embraces several styles of circular saw-mills, including the celebrated Granger saw-mill, Nos. 2 and 3 medium saw-mills, double and single standard saw-mills, and mammoth saw-mills. Also Stearns’ patent eccentric head blocks, Norton’s patent automatic dogs, shafting, pulleys, hangers, small saw mandrels, and general machine work. The house has a large jobbing and repairing trade, for which it has special facilities and skillful and experienced workmen.

  • According to the law book Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Superior Court of Cincinnati from 1858 to 1873, published in 1902, reports on two related cases involving Thomas C. Butler and Lee & Leavitt. The second of these, titled James Bradford et al. v. John B. Mooney et al., gives the following relevant history.
    On this attachment Butler's property was seized, and his business interrupted and stopped. On September 21, 1867, the order of attachment was discharged. Lee & Leavitt, being desirous that the attachment should be continued, and the order discharging the same should be reviewed in error in the general term of this court, filed a petition in error therein. Plaintiffs being unwilling to become sureties on a supersedeas bond, refused so to do, and the defendants, without any solicitation or request, on the part of the plaintiffs, on September 28, 1867, became sureties on the supersedeas bond, and the order of attachment was thereby continued, and the property remained in the custody of the sheriff. This bond was made to Butler in double the amount of the appraised value of the property attached, conditioned to pay all damages to Butler sustained by him in consequence of the petition in error, "in the event the order of attachment shall be discharged by the court in which said petition in error shall be filed, as having been wrongfully obtained." S. & S. 593. [See Sec. 5563b, Rev. Stat.] On February 9, 1868, the general term affirmed the judgment discharging the attachment. Lee & Leavitt, in the meantime, had become insolvent; and on July 24, 1869, Butler brought suit...
  • The January 1966 (Volume 5, Number 1) issue of the Ohio Historical Society's publication Echoes has an small article about Sawmills. In it they mention "the firm of Lee and Leavitt of Hamilton." They go on to say "The company's 1857 catalog extolled the merits of the patented Norcross mill which utilized the circular saw invented earlier. The mill's manufacturers claimed the unit was so simple in design, 'anyone of ordinary mechanical ability, by following lucid directions ..., can put it up and set it in active operation.'" Thanks to correspondent Roger Miller for bringing this Echoes article to our attention.