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Manufacturers Index - Powermatic Machine Co.

Powermatic Machine Co.
McMinnville, TN; La Vergne, TN, U.S.A.
Company Website: http://www.powermatic.com/
Manufacturer Class: Wood Working Machinery

Last Modified: Dec 20 2019 10:40AM by Jeff_Joslin
If you have information to add to this entry, please contact the Site Historian.

Brief History

Leonard F. Smith was a McMinnville lumber dealer who made and sold five planers in 1921. Eventually—reportedly in 1928—the company was organized as the Powermatic Machine Co. (We have not been able to confirm this date, which is taken from the Powermatic website.) The company continued in a quiet way for years, serving their local market; we have found no ads or articles about the company before 1950. By that year, their product line had expanded to include 12", 16" and 20" planers, single-end tenoners, hollow-chisel and chain mortisers, and table saws (and likely other products as well), and they began to expand their markets beyond Tennessee and surrounding states. In 1962 the company underwent a substantial factory expansion; by this time they were also making metalworking machinery, including surface grinders as well as belt and disc grinders.

By 1966 Powermatic was being run by Smith's sons, and that year they sold the business to conglomerate Houdaille Industries; machines were subsequently labeled "Powermatic Houdaille." Houdaille's inept management is well documented in the excellent book by Max Holland, From Industry to Alchemy: Burgmaster, A Machine Tool Company. Burgmaster Corp. was another Houdaille acquisition, and Houdaille tried to merge the very different operations of Burgmaster and Powermatic, with disastrous results. Despite the upheaval, Powermatic largely managed to maintain their reputation for quality during this period, which is more than can be said for Burgmaster, whose reputation for high-quality precision products was badly damaged.

In April 1986, Houdaille sold Powermatic to Stanwich Industries, which changed name to Devlieg-Bullard in 1989 or '90. During the Devlieg-Bullard era Powermatic was facing increasing competition from offshore manufacturers, especially from Taiwan. In response, Powermatic introduced their "Artisan" line of Taiwan-made machines. These machines were largely based on machines already being manufactured in Taiwan, with some cosmetic and quality improvements. Note that these Taiwan-made products are outside the scope of this website which is restricted to machines made in North America or the United Kingdom.

With the ever-growing price gap between their American-made machines and their Taiwan-made machines, Powermatic was gradually transitioning from manufacturing to importing. In 1999 Devlieg-Bullard re-sold Powermatic to machinery importer Jet Equipment & Tools. In 2002 Jet became part of the WMH Tool Group, which now includes Powermatic, Jet, Performax and Wilton.

Powermatic Resources

  • 1942 Modern Machine Shop, Vol. 15, #12, p. 274. "Powermatic Drive with Governor Speed Control—Designated as the Powermatic, an improved variable speed drive with governor speed control has been introduced by the Powermatic Machine Co., 659 S. Anderson St., Los Angeles, Cal...." This appears to be an unrelated company of the same name, which strongly suggests that in 1942, the McMinnville company had only a regional presence, which also helps explain the lack of ads or articles in major trade magazines.
  • July 1950 American Builder, vol. 71 p. 235
    Announcing the introduction of a new family of Woodworking Machines revolutionary in the field / industrial planers in three handy sizes:
    POWERMATIC HEAVY DUTY PLANER CE-16": Designed to met 65% of all planer operations by cabinet shops, pattern makers, schools and industrial plants. Capacity 16" x 6"; two feed speeds, 16 & 30 F.P.M.; maximum cut ½". Power feed control. Fully adjustable. Price: $189.50*
    (* Note: "Less Motor");
    No. 12—12" PLANER: Cast-iron frame construction. Cutterhead mounted in over-sized sealed ballbearings. Capacity 12¼" x 4"; feed speed 18 F.P.M.; maximum cut 4". Fully adjustable feed rollers, idler rolls, chip breaker and pressure bar. Price: $321.00
    POWERMATIC THICKNESS PLANER 2A-20": An extra heavy duty industrial planer with sectional feed roller and chip breaker. Capacity 20" x 8", two feed speeds, 20 & 40 F.P.M. Price: $1,179.50*
    Designed for complete flexibility on any special or regular
    ...45° for angle mortises. Price $578.50
    ...Price: $321.00
    POWERMATIC THICKNESS PLANER 2A-2O": An extra heavy duty industrial planer with sectional feed...
    POWERMATIC 2A CHAIN MORTISER With compound table and adjustable back rest. Can be used on wood, plastic, leather, cork, etc. Tilts to 45° for angle mortises. Price: $578.50
  • September 1958 Hitchcock's Wood Working Digest has an ad for the New 225-D 24-inch planer. "Lathes - planers - tenoners - jointers - arbor & band saws - chain & hollow-chisel mortisers".
  • 1954 La Hacienda, vol. 49 pages 67-73 has ads for Powermatic Machine Company, McMinnville, Tennessee. The ads are in Spanish and were aimed at the South American market. Machines advertised include 12, 15, 20, 24 and 28 inch planers.
  • 1962 report, Industrial Development in the TVA Area During 1961 lists Powermatic Machine Co., McMinnville, as a manufacturer of wood and metal working machinery that was undergoing an expansion with planned completion of August 1962. They expected the expansion to increase their employment by 25, their power consumption by 100 kW, and the expansion cost $100,000.
  • A 1962 issue of Industrial Arts and Vocational Education describes a Powermatic belt & disc sander and the Model 1150 15" drill press.
  • A 1967 issue of American Machinist describes a new surface grinder. "The spindle drive comes from a 34-hp, 3600 rpm motor, and complete accessories are offered including: magnetic chuck, coolant system, and diamond and radius wheel dressers. Circle 103 on reader Service card Inc, or write Powermatic Inc, McMinnville, Tenn."
  • This company's history is mentioned in From Industry to Alchemy: Burgmaster, A Machine Tool Company by Max Holland. This book was named by Business Week as one of the ten best business books of 1989. We highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the decline of the American manufacturing industry. The book's focus is Burgmaster Corp., which was also acquired by Houdaille; because of the Houdaille connection there is some information on Powermatic as well.
  • Powermatic information in the VintageMachinery wiki, including information on Powermatic serial numbers. The wiki also has some Powermatic decal artwork.
  • As of November 2010, only manuals for current products are available for download from Powermatic. For older manuals you should first try our collection (click on the "Publication Reprints" tab near the top of this page) or else call Powermatic Consumer Relations at 800-274-6848, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST, Monday–Friday.
  • Information on the timing of the Stanwich purchase came from an owwm.org discussion. Thanks to OWWMer pkgibbs for doing the research.