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Manufacturers Index - Witherby, Rugg & Richardson
Last Modified: Jan 12 2016 10:53PM by Jeff_Joslin
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This important maker of woodworking machinery was founded in 1864 by Luke Bucklin Witherby, Gilbert Jones Rugg, and Seneca Merrill Richardson. All three men had worked at Ball & Williams.

The company made some wood-framed machines, but soon produced a complete let of iron-framed machines, including bandsaws, mortisers, tenoners, ripsaws, and planers. They must have been fairly successful as a number of their machines have survived the intervening century. Although they made a range of sizes, their biggest machines were popular with railways and shipyards.

In 1875 this company purchased the assets of R. Ball & Co., successor to Ball & Williams and an historically important maker of woodworking machinery in their own right.

Advertisement from April 1884 Carpentry and Building

In March of 1903 the business of Witherby, Rugg & Richardson was purchased by Hobbs Manufacturing Co. or Worcester. That firm eventually was part of a merger that created National Woodworking Machinery Co., a firm that eventually got out of the woodworking machinery business.

Luke Witherby was elected to the State House of Representatives in 1852. He was head of Witherby, Rugg & Richardson from its founding in 1864 and remained in that position until his death in 1892 at age 82.

Seneca M. Richardson spent much of his early career as a machinist at Worcester manufacturers of woolen machinery before serving a relatively short stint at Ball & Williams. He remained at Witherby, Rugg & Richardson as superintendent from its founding in 1864 until his death in August of 1899.

Gilbert Rugg died in 1907 at the age of 70. Besides his career as a manufacturer of woodworking machinery, he had been an alderman and representative, and at the time of his death he was vice-president of a Worcester bank.

Information Sources

  • The initials, L. B., for the titular Witherby were provided by the Rugg obituary given below. A Witherby genealogy page lists a Luke Bucklin Witherby, born 1809-12-17 in Shrewsbury, MA. There is no indication beyond the name and era to suggest that this is our L. B. Witherby.
  • 1899-08-31 American Machinist.
    Seneca M. Richardson died at Worcester, Mass., August 15, sixty-nine years old. He was born in Corinth, Vt.; learned the machinist's trade, and located in Worcester in i860. In 1864 the widely-known firm of Witherby, Rugg & Richardson, manufacturers of wood-working machinery, was established, Mr. Richardson superintending the shops and the mechanical details. He was active in business up to the time of his death.
  • From Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Worcester County Massachusetts, by Ellery Bicknell Crane, 1907.

    Seneca Merrill Richardson, son of Wyman Richardson (7), was born in Corinth, Vermont, December 5, 1830. For the ancestry of Mr. Richardson see sketch of his brother, William A. Richardson. He was educated in the schools at Smithville, where his parents were living during his boyhood. He learned the machinist's trade as his brother and ancestors had done. Both father and grandfather on the Richardson side were expert blacksmiths and machinists. His father worked in various places. He was at Athol, Barre, Petersham and Boston, filling positions where his skill and experience as a mechanic and superintendent were needed.

    Seneca Richardson came to Worcester to work for Willard, Williams & Company, manufacturers of wood-working machinery [VM.org historian note: this is incorrect, as Willard, Williams & Co. made woolen machinery and not woodworking machinery], in their machine shop. He went to Fitchburg and worked there in the manufacture of cane goods for five years. Then he took the position of superintendent of the E. C. Cleveland Machine Co., manufacturers of woolen machinery, in the so-called Junction shop. This firm was composed of J. M. Bassett, one of the veteran manufacturers of Worcester, and J. C. Mason, also a well known name in Worcester industrial history. In 1864 he went into business for himself in the firm of Witherby, Rugg & Richardson, to manufacture wood-working machinery. His partners were Luke B. Witherby and Gilbert J. Rugg, both men who had worked in the shops, manufacturing wood-working machinery such as the new firm began to make. They began in a shop in the Armsby building, at the corner of Central and Union streets with twenty men. Later they moved to the building on Salisbury street which was built by the older firm of wood-working machine makers, Ball & Williams, in 1865. The firm of Ball & Williams formerly employed all three of the partners in the firm of Witherby, Rugg & Richardson. It was founded in 1830 by Thomas E. Daniels in the Court Mills, sold to Deacon Richard Ball and Thomas Rice, who were succeeded by the firm of Ball & Ballard. This firm became later Ball & Williams, the partners being Richard Ball and Warren Williams, his son-in-law. Mr. Williams retired from business in 1865. The business of Witherby, Rugg & Richardson prospered for nearly thirty years, when the death of Mr. Witherby and Mr. Richardson left the business in the hands of Mr. Rugg. It was incorporated in 1901, and Mr. Rugg was elected president of the company—the Witherby, Rugg & Richardson Company—and managed the business until March 1, 1903, when the entire capital stock of the corporation was sold to the Hobbs Manufacturing Company of Worcester. Mr. Rugg, then retired from the business, which has since been conducted by the Hobbs Manufacturing Company as part of their business. Mr. Richardson was highly esteemed as a citizen. He ranked high as a business man, and was acknowledged to be one of the best mechanical experts in his line of business. He died August 15, 1899. He was a well known Mason, being a member of the...

  • The following obituary of Gilbert J. Rugg is from the 13 February 1907 "Worcester Daily Telegram", courtesy of genealogy web site. Based on the information in the obituary, Rugg was born 1836-04-02 and died 1907-02-12.



    While seated in a chair in the sitting room of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Fraser on Olean Street, Tatnuck, yesterday afternoon shortly after 3 o'clock, Gilbert J. Rugg, vice-president of Worcester five cents savings bank, ex-alderman and ex-representative, was seized with heart failure and died almost instantly. He was 70 years old, 10 months and 10 days.

    Mr. Rugg went to the home of the Frasers to get a value on certain property for the bank. The house is a short distance from the trolley car line, and Mrs. Fraser says that when Mr. Rugg arrived there, he looked tired. When she remarked to him that it must have been hard for him to walk through the snow, she says he replied that he didn't mind it a great deal, because he had walked slowly.

    After a moment's further conversation, Mrs. Fraser said she stepped into another room, and when she returned less than two minutes later, she found Mr. Rugg with his head bowed, upon his breast. Upon trying to revive him, she discovered he was dead.

    She then hurried to the nearest telephone and wired the news to the Worcester five cents savings bank. Assistant treasurer Frederick B. Washburn and Accountant Myron F. Converse went to Fraser's house in a carriage, and upon their arrival the medical examiner, H. Baker, was summoned. He pronounced death to be due to heart disease.

    Last night the body was removed to Mr. Rugg's home, 809 Main Street.

    Up to the moment of the fatal shock, Mr. Rugg was apparently in good health. He hadn't complained of illness. Yesterday forenoon he accompanied his daughter, Mrs. Alice Howard, Harrisburg, Pa. to the union passenger station on her departure for home.

    In church among fire insurance men and with amateur sportsmen, as well among business and political leaders and representatives of the Masonic fraternity in Worcester, Mr. Rugg was prominent. For several years he was foremost among Worcester county trap shooters and won several championships.

    About 20 years ago he served two terms as alderman, and in 1905 and 1906 he represented old Ward 6 in the lower branch of the legislature. In the last republican caucuses he was defeated by Lucian B. Stone.

    After an active connection with the concern for 50 years, Mr. Rugg retired from the woodworking machinery business, [Witherby,] Rugg and Richardson Co. consolidated with Hobbs Manufacturing Company. After the merger Mr. Rugg retained a place on the directorate but took no further part in the management.

    Born in Lancaster, son of Abel and Hannah (Jones) Rugg, Mr. Rugg came to Worcester at the age of 17 years, and made the city his home continuously. He was an indefatigable worker and a firm believer in the policy of close application to every task, however hard it might seem to be. With the exception of a six weeks' trip to California in the spring of 1902, he took no long vacations until after his retirement from the woodworking business. Since that time he devoted himself largely to the interest of the Worcester five cents savings bank.

    Upon his arrival in Worcester he engaged with Willard Williams & Co., with whom he learned his trade. He remained there eight years, and later was given charge of the machine work when the firm became known as Ball & Williams.

    In 1861 he entered the employ of Ballard Rifle Co. and in 1864 formed a partnership with L. B. Witherby and S. M. Richardson, to make woodworking machinery, the firm taking the name of Witherby, Rugg & Richardson.

    In 1900, following the death of Mr. Richardson, a stock company was formed, and Mr. Rugg was elected president and George T. Witherby, son of L. B. Witherby, who died in 1891, was chosen secretary.

    Mr. Rugg was a former treasurer, a trustee and life member of Morning Star lodge, A F. and A. M., and Worcester commandery, Knights templar, trustee of the permanent fund of Worcester commandery, and a trustee of the Masonic fraternity.

    He was also chairman of the trustees of First Universalist church, trustee of Worcester Mutual Life Insurance Co., and a member of Worcester sportsmens club.

    He leaves, beside his wife, two daughters, Mrs. Florence Mason, wife of Robert A. Mason, Worcester, and Mrs. Alice Howard, Harrisburg, Pa., and one granddaughter, Miss Hazel Rogers, Worcester; also two sisters, Mrs. Aaron Whittaker, Westboro, and Mrs. Harriet Fitch, South Hadley Falls."

  • Christopher W. Kirk of the Shrewsbury Historical Commission relayed the following information in an email:

    Mr. Luke Witherby was born on 17 December 1809 in Shrewsbury, Mass. and he died on 24 April 1892 in Worcester, Mass. He was the son of Thomas Witherby Jr. (1774—1840) and Susanna Knowlton. His ancestors served as officers in the colonial militia and were elected to various offices in Shrewsbury. Luke was married twice. In 1837 he married his first wife: Susan Temple Witherbee (Luke's cousin), who was born on 25 August 1817 and who died on 15 July 1853. She was the daughter of Jonathan Witherbee and Virtue Hemenway. They had three children: Edwin J. Witherby (20 January 1838—12 November 1839), George Thomas Witherby (1840—1913), and Clara E. Witherby (1845—1911). (All of the children are buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Shrewsbury, Mass.) His second wife was Catherine Maria Ward Baldwin, the daughter of Nathan Baldwin and Eliza Denny of Shrewsbury, Mass.

    According to Mr. Witherby's obituary in the 25 April 1892 edition of the "Worcester Spy" newspaper of Worcester, Mass.: "For nearly thirty years he had been at the head of the firm of Witherby, Rugg & Richardson, which began the manufacture of wood working machinery in 1864 in Armby's building on Central Street [in Worcester, Mass.], and afterwards removed to Salibury Street [also in Worcester], to the shop previously occupied by Richard Ball & Co., where they greatly enlarged their business. He was a prominent member of the [Worcester's] Old South Church, and was deacon for eight years, from 1869 to 1877.... He also leaves a son, George T. Witherby, bookkeeper for the firm of Witherby, Rugg & Richardson, and an unmarried daughter [viz., Clara]."

    In 1852, Luke Witherby served as state representative in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

  • Christopher W. Kirk researched the employment history of Witherby:

    Luke Witherby's obituary of 25 April 1892 in the "Worcester Spy" newspaper of Worcester, Mass. mentions that "He early came to Worcester and learned the machinist's trade."

    This Web site mentions an "Oliver Witherby" (1793—?) who made iron plows in Worcester: (Scroll down almost half way down the page to the paragraph beginning "As cast iron plows were made better..." and the next two paragraphs). Oliver was Luke's cousin: Their grandfather was Thomas Witherby (1747-1827); Luke's father was Thomas Jr. (1774 - 1840); Oliver's father was Lewis (1795 - ?). Possibly Oliver gave Luke his first metal-working job.

  • Ads in 1867 Scientific American and 1870 and 1876 Manufacturer & Builder.
  • Worcester County Directory for 1878-79, published by Briggs & Co., has several listings for Witherby, Rugg & Richardson, with address given as 26 Salisbury. They are listed under "machinists and machinery manufacturers", planing machine manufacturers, and wood working machinery.
  • From History of Worcester County, Massachusetts by Abijah P. Marvin, 1879:
    The manufacture of wood-working machinery, established for the first time as a separate branch of industry, in 1836, by J. A. Fay and Edward Joslin, at Keene, N. H., was soon afterward introduced into Worcester. ... The firm of Witherby, Rugg & Richardson, on Salisbury Street, is the direct successor of the first establishment in Worcester for the production of wood-working machinery. The various 'Woodworth', 'Daniels' and 'Richardson' machines are among their products.
  • Drew, Allis & Co.'s The Worcester Almanac, Directory and Business Advertiser, 1883. lists "Witherby, Rugg & Richardson (L. B. Witherby, G. J. Rugg and S. M. Richardson), wood working machinery. 26 Salisbury. See p. 628." That page has an ad from this firm.
  • 1883 "The Worcester Directory" from Drew, Allis & Co.: has an image of this firm's factory; An identical ad appears in the 1884 edition.
  • Drew, Allis & Co.'s The Worcester Almanac, Directory and Business Advertiser", 1884. p. 337 WR&R 26 Salisbury. Ad p. 628 (same as '83)
  • Listed in Chandler W. Jones' Planers, Matchers and Molders in America as active in 1897.
  • The Massachusetts corporate registry database lists Witherby, Rugg & Richardson Co.'s first registration as 1901-04-29.
  • According to a 1904 catalog for the Hobbs Manufacturing Co., Witherby, Rugg & Richardson was "succeeded by" Hobbs in March of 1903. Hobbs had been in business since 1885, and so we assume that they had purchased the assets of Witherby, Rugg & Richardson.