Yates-American was created by the 1925 merger of P. B. Yates Machine Co. and American Wood Working Machine Co. At that time, they had factories in Beloit, WI; Hamilton, ON; and Rochester, NY. As is traditional for the largest American company in any field, Yates-American proclaimed itself the largest woodworking machinery maker in the world (Batory mentions Thomas Robinson & Sons of England and the Guilliet Co. of France as other possible contenders for the throne.)
It would be an interesting and challenging exercise to trace the heritage of various Yates-American products back to their roots in P. B. Yates or one of the eleven-plus companies making up American. Because Yates and American had been direct competitors with full lines of equipment, the merging of product lines must have been a contentious affair.
The depression era was very hard on this company, as it was on other woodworking machinery companies. Yates-American sales decreased 90% from 1929 to 1933.
In 1933 they introduced the A20 planer-matcher, which proved to be one of the most successful such machines ever. Planers, Matchers and Molders in America notes that it can produce as much as 100,000 board feet of dimensional lumber per shift. Yates-American also dominated the hardwood planer-matcher market, where flooring is produced with boards as short as 12 inches, and special provisions are required to avoid chewing up the shortest pieces.
Yates-American J-180 planer, restored by Roger Van Maren.
In the early 1930s Yates-American introduced the J-Line ("Junior-Line") of machines aimed at the vocational education market, where shrinking school budgets had triggered a move to smaller machines. Over 1936 and 1937, Yates-American introduced the W-Line. In the words of a 1936 ad,
"Now the 'J' line is supplemented by this 'W' line, as a further contribution to education, in order that those 'Laboratories of Industries' whose needs are not as extensive as the large vocational schools and those Industrial Art Departments who are courageously carrying on their work in the face of restricted funds, might also enjoy the quality and built-in safety features of Yates-American machines... All non-essentials have been eliminated."
The W-Line survived only until about 1941. In 1961, their J-180 18" planer was sold to Rockwell Manufacturing Co..
Over the ensuing decades the J-Line marketing was shifted to focus on hobbyists. During the 1960s, Yates-American ran live infomercials on Sunday afternoons on WGN in Chicago. The company president happened to be watching one Sunday as the demonstrator cut off his thumb on live television. Shortly afterwards, the company sold its the J-Line to Brodhead-Garrett Co.
In 1961 they purchased the S. A. Woods Machine Co., and moved just across the state border to Roscoe, IL. In 1981 they moved back to Beloit. By this time they were specializing in large planer-matchers. In 1989 they announced that, due to safety and liability considerations, they would no longer support many of their older machines; Batory gives a partial list of these machines.
By 1994 the company was reduced to 6 workers in their plant. In 2002 they had 50 workers, about half of whom are in the plant.
- An excellent history of this company can be found in Batory's first book. Most of the historical information here comes from that book.
- The information on the J-Line and W-Line introductions is courtesy of Joe Potter.