Nicholson File Company

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Nicholson File Company


Image of the Nicholson File Company located in Providence, Rhode Island.

The Nicholson File Company, a major manufacturing firm in Providence, Rhode Island, was founded by William Thomas Nicholson (1834-1893) in 1864. Nicholson went into the machinery trade at an early age and at one time worked for one of the founders of Brown & Sharpe. His first independent business enterprise was in the partnership of Nicholson & Brownell. This partnership dissolved quickly. However, Nicholson stayed in business as a sole proprietor.

Nicholson had designed and patented various items and began thinking about industrial files as early as 1856, but those thoughts were put on hold as the Civil War interrupted his plans. During the war he formed a partnership (Nicholson & Company) with Henry A. Monroe, and supplied the Union with Springfield rifles. In 1864 he sold his interest in the company to Monroe and started the Nicholson File Company.

In the early years, the company had to deal with British competition, and with prejudice against machine cut files by those who preferred hand cut files. However, the company managed to persevere and eventually Nicholson File was able expand by buying out other file companies. The company had to continually ward off infringements on their patent claims.

Nicholson died unexpectedly in 1893 and his son, Col. Samuel Mowry Nicholson took over the company until 1904. Nicholson File continued to expand by leasing the Great Western File Company in Pennsylvania. The company now had three plants and had to work hard to keep itself solvent while dealing with shrinking domestic markets. It became necessary for the company to look to overseas markets, which they did by establishing a foreign sales department. This department was so successful that by 1902 Nicholson files were being sold in over forty countries worldwide. Also, at the turn of the century Nicholson File branched out to tools other than files, such as rasps.

Nicholson File continued its prosperity as it further expanded and absorbed other companies, such as the McClellan File Company in Michigan; M. Buckley & Co. in Pawtucket, Rhode Island; the Eagle Screw Company of Middletown, New York; Kearney & Foot Co. in New Jersey and Ohio; the Arcade File Works in Indiana; the G.H. Barnett Company of Philadelphia, PA; and many others. However, not all of these plants were kept opened. Only the ones that the company felt were profitable were maintained.

The early part of the 20th century saw continuous growth and prosperity under the leadership of Paul C. Nicholson, Jr. (grandson of Samuel). He remained as head of the company until 1969 when George C. Williams took over - the first non-family member to head the company.

By the 1960s the Nicholson File Company was a major player in both the domestic and overseas markets. The company had various divisions (Barnes Saw, Danielson Manufacturing Company, Atkins Saw and Great Southern Tool Engineering, Inc.) and subsidiaries (Nicholson File Export Company, Nicholson File Company of Canada, Nicholson File Nederland N.V.) and at various times have had warehouses in New Jersey, Illinois, Georgia, Pennsylvania, California, and Oregon. Their factories were located in Anderson, Indiana (domestic markets); Port Hope, Ontario (British Commonwealth of Nations market); Hertogenbosch, Netherlands (European Common Market, Middle East, and other overseas customers); and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Central and South American markets).

October 1972 saw the end of the company through a merger with Cooper Industries. Early in 1972 Nicholson File had to stave off a take over attempt by H.K. Porter Company Inc. who controlled 30.5% of the company's stock. Porter made a cash tender offer to stockholders. Nicholson File initially tried to block the offer by filing suit against Porter for securities infringement. This suit was unsuccessful and the offer went through. However, Porter did not get enough stock to take over Nicholson. Porter then filed an unsuccessful suit against the directors of Nicholson File for allegedly misrepresenting the offer to stockholders. In trying to fight the takeover Nicholson File made several merge overtures to other companies including Walco Industries and VLN Corp. However, they finally decided to go with Cooper Industries, who came to them with a better offer. Cooper also controlled 17% of Nicholson stock and had the backing of H.K. Porter. A long time New England company could no longer hold out in the economic market of the 1970s.


Elgarten, Henry. A Little Journey to an American Industry: Three Generations of the Nicholson Family - File Makers since 1864.

McManus, George J. "Unraveling the Porter-Disston-Nicholson Caper." Iron Age, April 13, 1972, p. 47.

"Nicholson File Company (1864-1904)". Talk given as part of a historical review of prominent local manufacturers, April 11, 1951. Found in the collection.

Nicholson File Company. Annual Reports, 1964-1968.

"Nicholson File, Cooper Decide to Consolidate." Wall Street Journal, June 14, 1972 and June 22, 1972.

"Ex-File Co. Holders Gain." Providence Journal, November 22, 1972.

"Nicholson Drops VLN Merger Plan." Providence Journal, June 14, 1972, p. 26.

Source: Rhode Island Historical Society- Nicholson File Company Records




Rhode Island State Archives


1915 January 07


Copyright is in the public domain unless otherwise specified. We reserve the right to restrict reproduction of materials due to preservation concerns.





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celluloid negative


"Nicholson File Company," in Virtual Exhibits, Item #343, (accessed January 21, 2019).