When Richard M. Hoe – the New York manufacturer of printing
presses – decided to branch into saw manufacture in the 1830s,
he lacked two things. One was any mastery of the complex art of
making high-grade steel (at that time melted in clay crucibles).
The other was workmen skilled enough to forge, grind, and hammer
such steel into saws. Hoe needed to look overseas. He found both
crucible steel and skilled labour in Sheffield, which was then
Europe’s leading steel and saw making centre.
One of the workmen Hoe recruited was John Wheatman (1812-1873),
a young apprentice saw maker. He had been born in Sheffield on 4
September 1812, the son of John (a saw maker) and his wife,
John Wheatman Jun. began his career at Sanderson Brothers, which
was one of Sheffield’s leading steel firms. Since 1776,
Sanderson’s had combined crucible steel making with the
production of high-quality tools, such as saws. It soon had a
thriving American trade. One of Sanderson’s customers was R. Hoe
Hoe, Sanderson, and Wheatman
The relationship between the two firms is documented in the Hoe
company records, which are lodged at the Butler Library,
University, New York City. The papers do not make for easy
reading, as this author discovered on a visit to New York some
years ago. The letter-press copybooks are flimsy and the ink on
the tissue-thin pages is sometimes impossible to decipher.
Fortunately, historian Frank E. Comparato wrote a hefty business
history of Hoe’s (published in 1979), which explored the
company’s saw making in some detail.
Hoe quickly established a relationship with the senior partners
at Sanderson Bros (one of whom was based in New York).
Sanderson’s was soon sending regular supplies of saw plates to
Sanderson’s helped in other ways. When Hoe’s requested help in
establishing its machine-shop, Sanderson’s sent John Wheatman to
New York. He was one of a group of six English saw makers at the
factory (Iron Age, 20 March 1890).
Wheatman became foreman. He made documented trips to the USA in
1834, 1835, and 1838 (and may have made the transatlantic
crossing on other occasions). He liaised with both parties by
recruiting Sheffield workers for the Americans and passing a
stream of orders for saw blanks to Sanderson’s.
The launch of Wheatman & Smith
Wheatman apparently left New York in about 1843. There was no
disagreement. Wheatman would continue to correspond with Richard
M. Hoe and provide the New Yorkers with materials and personnel.
But Wheatman had plans of his own. In Sheffield, he found a
partner in John Smith (c.1822-1885).
Smith had been born at Hunslet, a district in Leeds, and was the
son of mason and builder George Smith (c.1791-1880). George
moved to Sheffield and combined his work as a builder with
running a pub, the Sawmakers’ Arms in Russell Street, near
Kelham Island. This was in the heart of a burgeoning industrial
suburb, which stretched for a mile or two along the River Don.
The renowned Globe Works of steel and tool maker
was located in this district.
In the Census (1841), George Smith was living in Russell Street
with his first wife, Sophia, and son John (an apprentice saw
maker). In the Sheffield directory (1845), John Smith was listed
as a saw maker at No. 62 Russell Street. John Wheatman
manufactured saws at No. 45. It was at about this time that they
& Smith advertised in White’s Directory of … Leeds, Bradford,
etc. (1847) as a manufacturer of saws. In 1849, the firm
appeared for the first time in a Sheffield directory at Russell
Works, Russell Street.
By 1853, Wheatman & Smith had relocated Russell Works to nearby
Kelham Island – a site which fronted the River Don on an
‘island’ created by a goit (or mill race).
An advertisement in the Sheffield directory in 1856 described
the firm as a steel converter and refiner, and a manufacturer of
saws, files, and edge tools. Not every product would have been
made by Wheatman and Smith, but they certainly manufactured saws
and files and had a crucible melting shop.
Once the transfer to Kelham Island had been completed, Wheatman
and Smith chose a trade mark – a brawny arm raising a heavy
hammer – which was granted in 1860.