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Manufacturers Index - J. R. Hoffman & Co.
Last Modified: Jun 4 2018 11:54AM by Jeff_Joslin
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In 1866 the firm of Hoffman Brothers, with partners Andrew E. "Ely" Hoffman and William H. Hoffman, was established to operate a sawmill. A third brother, Jacob R. Hoffman, took the lead in developing a new sawmill for their use; this sawmill used a band sawblade rather than the usual circular saw blade or multiple reciprocating saw blades—in later years they claimed that Jacob had developed a bandsaw machine as early as 1858, nearly a decade before the first commercially successful bandsaw appeared on the market. In any event, this novel band sawmill attracted considerable attention, and in 1869 a new business was established to manufacture this machine: J. R. Hoffman & Co., with the involvement of all three brothers.

Illustration from 1875 ad for J. R. Hoffman & Co.

Hoffman's new machine was the first band sawmill to achieve any commercial success. Nevertheless, the saw was not particularly successful at sawing lumber, the biggest problem being that it could not maintain a constant tension on the blade which led to wavy boards. The Hoffman brothers introduced some improvements over the years but it was left to others to complete the development of a fully realized band sawmill.

In 1904 the sawmill business of Hoffman Brothers reorganized as Hoffman Brothers & Co., and this seems to have marked the disappearance of J. R. Hoffman & Co. from the machinery market. The sawmill business survived until at least 1920, and perhaps for longer.

Information Sources

  • 1885-11-30 Western Manufacturer has a front-page article on J. R. Hoffman & Co.'s band sawmill.
  • 1904-09-15 The New York Lumber Trade Journal.
    WELL-KNOWN INDIANA HOUSE INCORPORATES.—The well-known firm of Hoffman Brothers, manufacturers, wholesalers and exporters of Hardwood lumber at Fort Wayne, Ind., has been incorporated under the style of the Hoffman Brothers Company, with A. E. Hoffman president, W. H. Hoffman vice-president, and F. E. Hoffman secretary and treasurer. The Hoffman interests have been prominently identifled with the Indiana Hardwood trade for many years, the original firm having been formed by A. E. and W. H. Hoffman in 1866 under the firm name of Hoffman Brothers, continuing without intermission until January of this year, when Mr. F. E. Hoffman, son of W. H. Hoffman, was admitted to partnership, followed during the past month by the incorporation of the business.
  • The Lilly Library at Indiana University has a 285-piece collection of Hoffman manuscripts, and their web site has the following information:
    The Hoffman mss., 1864-1949, consist of correspondence and records of the Hoffman Bros. Company (formerly J.R. Hoffman & co.), Fort Wayne, Indiana, manufacturers of the Hoffman patent band saw mill and of black walnut lumber and chairstuff. The company was established in 1867 and incorporated in 1904.

    Included in the collection are business letters, 1864- 1949, an account book, 1868-1869, containing journal and ledger entries, a recapitulating of data on the firm copied from an earlier book, 1866-1867, orders for lumber listed by firms, time records of employees, and a record of lumber shipped; a letterpress copybook, February 2, 1885-January 29, 1886, containing copies of letters and purchase agreements with information on the manufacture of band mills, prices, advantages over circular saws, adaptability to various woods, experience of the company with band mills since 1873, and directions for operation; an order book, 1885-1887, containing orders for band saw mills; pictures of the interior of the mill 1869, and of the Hoffman band saw mills as advertised in the Northwestern lumberman, May 9 and November 28, 1885; page proof of a circular regarding the company, presumably printed in 1919; printed circulars and articles about the company; drawings of machinery, and notes for a paper "Saving the Kerf: the Introduction of the Band Saw Mill" by Rodney C. Loehr read at the Forest products history foundation session at the Mississippi Valley Historical Association meeting on April 16, 1949, at Madison, Wisconsin, and published in Agricultural history, XXIII, p. 168-172, July 1949.
  • We have found several patents to the Hoffman brothers, with grant dates spanning 1869 through 1888. None of the patents were explicitly assigned. A patent search did not reveal any patents assigned to Hoffman Brothers; we can currently search only back as far as 1920.