From Toys to Technology - A History of Kingsbury Corporation...
The history of Kingsbury Corporation is a story full of entrepreneurial spirit and youthful exuberance that was America in the early years of the Industrial Age. It began with a young man filled with dreams - Harry Thayer Kingsbury - whose inventive spirit took him from the ownership of a modest Keene bike shop to the boardroom of one of New Hampshire's largest and most successful manufacturing companies. Along the way, his company overcame many of the challenges facing our young country - the Depression, natural disasters, and even two world wars. Yet, an ability to adapt, and a depth of creativity that flowed like water over Niagara, ensured that H.T., as he was affectionately known, and his company would continue to thrive for as long as quality and true Yankee craftsmanship were appreciated.
The company's history began with the founding of a sewing machine and clothes wringer manufacturing and repair company in 1875 by a local man named David Piper. Ten years later he welcomed young James S. Wilkins, Jr. into the business. Together they formed the Triumph Wringer Company that within a few years began to manufacture cast iron toys, including a toy wringer originally produced as a promotional item.
In 1890, James Wilkins took over the Triumph Wringer Company and founded the Wilkins Toy Company, which manufactured a growing line of cast iron trains and fire engines. Although James had a knack for creating new toys, his business skills were lacking. By 1894 he was in deep financial trouble. Harry, a 25 year-old owner of a local bike shop with an inventive streak and a gift for mechanical problem-solving, bought the company with the help of his grandfather, Edward Joslin. Together, they had created the perfect opportunity for the shy but inventive young man to blossom.
Before long, young Harry had expanded the line of toys to include cast-iron carriages, farm machinery, and even the first toy horseless carriage in 1900. A review of the early toys reveals H.T.'s commitment to detail. In 1902 he patented a clock-spring motor that propelled toy cars. Amazingly, the design of this early motor was so efficient it was used throughout the lifetime of the toy company.
Harry's gift was not just his knack for designing new toys; he also designed and built the equipment that manufactured them. It isn't too hard to imagine H.T. tinkering in his workshop to find yet another way to produce more toys to delighted children everywhere - a practice he maintained almost until his death at age 91 in 1961. His patents were numerous and included battery- operated lighting systems for toy automobiles and a toy bank that recorded total deposits. When other toy manufacturers said it couldn't be done, H.T. delighted in doing it, and the quality and diversity of the Kingsbury toy line made the company an unqualified success. There were boats, cars, airplanes, trucks, submarines, and even blimps. Like the temper of the times, Kingsbury toys reflected America's fascination with motorized vehicles.
In 1916, H.T.'s eldest son Edward received a new degree in Mechanical Engineering from M.I.T. and joined the company. He saw an immediate need for an automated drilling machine sensitive enough to drill through hard spots in the cast iron wheels of the toy cars without breaking the drills. Like his father, he enjoyed a challenge. His solution to this particular problem - the Friction Drive Drilling Machine - perfected in 1918, heralded the beginning of a new era for the company, which changed its name that year from the Wilkins Toy Company to the Kingsbury Manufacturing Company.
That same year, the U.S. Government contracted Kingsbury to adapt their toy making machinery to produce a special wing nut for the country's fledgling Air Corps. It was the first, but not the last time, that our country would call on Kingsbury to assist with a war effort. The original machine used to produce the wing nut is now a part of the Smithsonian Institute's display of historic machines.
In 1921, the first order for a Kingsbury drilling machine was received. In that same year, a young engineer named Gunnar Swahnberg was traveling to Keene by train to apply for a job at Kingsbury when he heard another man talking about the same position. When the train had barely reached the station, Gunnar leapt off and sprinted to Kingsbury to apply, hoping to beat the competition by more than a few footsteps. His gumption paid off. He was hired. Together, he and Edward would soon develop some of the most successful machining equipment in the company's history. He also rose to become President of Kingsbury years later.
Under Edward's direction, the manufacture of drilling machines grew steadily, eventually requiring the construction of a separate building. In 1928, this part of the company was separated and set up with 50 employees and its own 15,000 square foot facility on a 17-acre site adjacent to the toy company. Edward was named President of the new Kingsbury Machine Tool Corporation.
Harry and his younger son, Chester, continued to manufacture remarkably detailed toys that slowly took on the full personality of the items they were meant to resemble. The toy cars had electric head and tail lights and even Swiss music box radios. In the 1930s, Chrysler Airflow cars were extremely popular. Recognizing this, H.T. and Chester introduced a different Chrysler toy automobile each year, replicating the yearly styling changes so closely that Kingsbury toys were the only ones licensed to display the Body by Fisher emblem. An early advertisement in The Child's Magazine promoted Kingsbury toys as "so life-like they seem turned small by magic."
The decade of the 1930s proved difficult in many ways. As the country's Depression deepened, Kingsbury struggled to hold on. In 1936, a devastating Keene flood stopped production, triggering a decision to expand to meet a growing demand. Two years later, a hurricane and flood again shut the plant down for a week. But by 1939, clouds of war loomed over the land, and Kingsbury was once again called on to aid in the buildup of the U.S. military forces. As a result, the machine tool business experienced rapid growth. however, the war had an effect that the Depression, floods, and even a hurricane were unable to have: it closed the toy manufacturing business forever. The need for steel and rubber for the war effort relegated metal toys to a low priority status. By 1942, the toy manufacturing area had been taken over for the production of machinery. The company never looked back. Two years later all the equipment used in the production of toys was sold to Keystone Manufacturing Company of Boston which produced toys for a few short years afterward.
By 1945 Kingsbury was riding high on the rush of the post-war automobile business and all manufacturing was shifted to the design and manufacture of specialty machinery for a variety of metal forming industries. The company was taking on the look of today's Kingsbury Corporation.
In the decades following the war, Kingsbury has grown into one of the world's most innovative and advanced manufacturers of special-purpose high production assembly systems; special machining systems, including rotary index machines and transfer line machines; flexible manufacturing systems, machining centers, and vertical turning systems. You'll find Kingsbury parts in a variety of consumer products such as washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioners, typewriters, hand tools, power tools, automobiles, trucks, and tractors.
The capabilities of today's Kingsbury Corporation extend beyond even the imagination of H.T. himself. His entrepreneurial spirit and creativity continues as a mainstay of the Kingsbury workforce, guiding the company into its second century of manufacturing excellence.