In 1918, Fred Wappat established Wappat Gear Works, marketing his line of precision-cut gears to makers of machinery and automobiles. Besides gears, he made washing machines, and then in 1927 he introduced the Alta line of "power handsaws", a very early line of handheld circular saws. They were big saws, with 8" to 10" blades and with a then-innovative automatically-retracting blade guard. The saws were powerful and rugged but light for their size. The early models were intended for stone and concrete, and were popular for cutting roadways for resurfacing. They were used during a renovation of the Washington monument. Later models were woodworking tools aimed at carpenters. Added to the product line were door-lock mortisers and power planers.
In 1928 the company announced that they were focusing solely on their line of circular saws. (At that time the business was located on Meade Street at Braddock Avenue.) The following year Wappat Gear Works was acquired by the large and well-known maker of un-powered handsaws, Simonds Saw & Steel Co.; they continued to operate as Wappat, Inc. within the Simonds Saw and Steel Division. The "Alta" name had been dropped by then.
In 1941, Simonds was preparing itself for the American entry into the war and they divested themselves of non-core businesses. Fred Wappat bought back Simonds' share of his business. By early 1943 he had relocated the business to Mayville, NY. The business operated under the name Fred W. Wappat.
By 1948 the business was operating as Fred W. Wappat, Inc. In 1950 the assets of that business were acquired by the Cummins Portable Tools Division of the American Security Corporation, which operated it as the Fred W. Wappat Division of Cummins.
In 1949 Wappat introduced the Maxaw, a lightweight 6" saw with 2" depth of cut, suitable for stick-framing work. In 1951 they introduced a 7" Maxaw, which could make bevel cuts in two-by stock. In 1954, The Cummins Portable Tools Division was acquired by the John Oster Manufacturing Co., and the Wappat line was part of that deal. We have a few reports of saws bearing both the Wappat and Oster names, but it appears that Oster did not waste much time before discontinuing the Wappat line.
Handheld power tools are outside the scope of this web site. Please do not upload pictures of handhelds!
- One correspondent reports a Wappat A-8" saw manufactured in Pittsburgh, and labeled, "Portable Electric Tools / Fred W. Wappat".
- The Pennsylvania government List of Charters of Corporations Enrolled in the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth during the two years beginning June 1, 1917 and ending May 31, 1919 has the following entry:
WAPPAT GEAR WORKS—Pittsburgh, Pa., July 2, 1918. Capital $20,000. Treasurer, Frederick W. Wappat, Pittsburgh, Pa. Designing, manufacturing, buying, selling and dealing in machinery, machinery parts and supplies.
- The 1922 Industrial Directory of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, issued by Pennsylvania. Dept. of Internal Affairs. Bureau of Statistics, lists Wappat Gear Works at "Meade St. & Braddock Ave."
- A 1929 issue of Hardware Age mentions "Wappat Gear Works, 7522 Meade Street, Pittsburgh, Pa."
- An exploded parts diagram is labeled "Fred W. Wappat / Mayville, New York / December 1, 1944". A price list in the same 1944 manual includes cutters for "Wappat and Alta door look mortisers" and for "Wappat and Alta [door] planes". The saw blades offered included metal-cutting, wood-cutting, and abrasive blades. Dado sets were also offered, which is not something seen in these more litigious times. Wappat also introduced a 6" saw at some point, probably after 1944.
- Mentions of "Fred W. Wappat" saws in various trade magazines dating between about 1945 and 1948 (the dates are fuzzy because we found them in Google Books, which has scanned many magazines in bound library volumes and because of copyright restrictions we can only view snippets of pages which makes it difficult to know which issue is being viewed).
- Various mentions of Fred W. Wappat, Inc., of Mayville, NY, beginning in 1948.
- A Machinery magazine issue, somewhere between September 1950 and August 1951, has this snippet:
CUMMINS PORTABLE TOOLS DIVISION OF THE AMERICAN SECURITY CORPORATION, Chicago, Ill., has purchased the assets of Fred W. Wappat, Inc., Mayville, N. Y., manufactured of portable electric hand saws. The business will be operated in the future as the...
- A 1950 issue of Hardware Age had the following snippet:
Paul Jones, president of American Security (A.S.C. Corp.), Marion, Ind., and president of Cummins Portable Tools Division, Chicago, has announced the purchase of the assets of Fred W. Wappat, Inc., of Mayville, N. Y., for 25 years manufactures of portable electric hand-saws for the industrial and heavy construction fields.
The newly acquired property will be operated by Cummins as the Fred W. Wappat Division. The entire Wappat personnel and identity of the Wappat line will be retained.
- A 1954 issue of Machinery has this snippet:
John Oster Mfg. Co., Racine and Milwaukee, Wis., has announced the purchase of the Cummins Portable Tool Division from the Commins-Chicago Corporation.
- We have a report of a saw labeled, "MAXAW 7800" from John Oster Manufacturing Co. of Milwaukee. The same correspondent pointed us to an eBay auction of a 6" MAXAW from Cummins of Chicago.
- Various undated Wappat sales brochures.
- A couple of members of the Wappat family have filled in some of the details for us.