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Manufacturers Index - Greenlee Brothers & Co.

Greenlee Brothers & Co.
Chicago, IL and Rockford, IL, U.S.A.
Company Website: http://www.greenlee.textron.com/
Manufacturer Class: Wood Working Machinery & Metal Working Machinery

Last Modified: Dec 20 2012 7:29PM by joelr4
If you have information to add to this entry, please contact the Site Historian.

Founded 1862 by identical twins Robert Lemuel and Ralph Stebbins Greenlee. Their father, Edmund Greenlee, had patents for barrel-making machines, which he had developed in response to the discovery of oil in their part of Pennsylvania.

In 1862, Robert and Ralph took their barrel-machinery expertise from Summerhill, PA, to the larger market of Chicago, and quickly found success. Greenlee Brothers & Co. was established in 1866.

Beginning with barrel-making equipment, they quickly developed a product line that included planers, matchers, shapers, and saws. The Greenlee brothers prepared the way for Norm Abram by developing the first successful hollow-chisel mortiser in 1876; their circle-in-a-square logo was inspired by their innovation. They focused primarily on large, complex machines, such as a rail car outfitted to produce a finished railway tie every 10 seconds. In 1881 they introduced the first self-feed rip saw, which became a top seller. They relocated most of their operations to Rockford in 1904.

Ad from April 1885 "Carpentry and Building"

In 1927 they spun off the Greenlee Tool Company to handle their small tools, mainly for metalworking.

Greenlee Brothers was acquired by Ex-Cell-O in 1974. At that point, they were operating as Greenlee Tool and Greenlee Special Machines.

The Manufacturing Systems division was formed in 1982, combining units of Ex-Cell-O, including Greenlee Special Machines.This was liquidated in 1985 resulting in the closure of the Rockford plant, laying off 410 employees. They also closed their London Ontario plant later that year.

Textron acquired Ex-Cell-O in in 1986. This acquisition brought with it what remained of Greenlee.

Greenlee was acquired by German giant Textron in 1986, but the woodworking machinery division was not part of the deal. Some parts are available from EX-CELL-O, which bought the rights to the Greenlee woodworking machinery.

The Greenlee website has a Greenlee history available.

Popular Science 1950 lists Greenlee Tool Co at 2108 Columbia Ave, Rockford IL.

Determining the Age of a Machine

Greenlee assigned serial numbers based partially on the date that a machine was ordered (not when actually shipped). To determine when a machine was ordered (which will give you a good idea of when it was made as well), subtract 68 from the first three digits of the serial number - this will give you the number of months after 1900 that the machine was ordered. You can take the resulting number and divide by 12 and add 1900 to determine the year.

Example: Serial Number 37923. 379 -68 = 311. 311 divided by 12 = 25. No. 37923 would have been ordered in 1925.

If you have a Greenlee machine, please consider submitting your serial number to our Machine Registry by clicking on the Registry tab above.

Information sources

  • The 1874 edition of "Wiley's American iron trade manual of the leading iron industries of the United States" lists Greenlee Bros. & Co. of 229 West 12th Street as a maker of woodworking machinery, specialty machines, and blind clamps, and employing 25 hands.
  • Thanks to Ray Muno for supplying information about this company.