E. C. Stearns & Company

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E. C. Stearns & Company
Hardware Manufacturing
Industry Hardware
Genre Hardware, Tools
Founded 1864
Founder George Noble Sterns (1812-1882) and son Edward C. Stearns (1856-1929)
Headquarters Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York, United States
Area served
United States
Key people
Son, John Edward Stearns, was secretary of the company in 1929 and had been in active charge of the business since his father, Edward C. Stearns retired a few years earlier[1]
Products Hardware, Tools
Number of employees
Divisions Stearns Automobile Co.,
Stearns Steam Carriage Co. (1901-1904)
E. C. Stearns Bicycle Agency (1893-1899)[2]
Stearns Typewriter Co. (1905-1915)

E. C. Stearns & Company was a manufacturer of tools and hardware in Syracuse, New York and was organized in 1864 as George N. Stearns Company by George N. Stearns, a wagon maker.[3] During the early years, the company was principally involved in the production of hollow iron tools and specialties, hollow augers, and saw vises.[4]

After George N. Stearns encountered health problems in 1877, son Edward C. Stearns, an industrialist, along with his sister, Avis Stearns Van Wagenen assumed duties and renamed the company.[3] By 1884, the firm manufactured iron castings and skilled machinists produced patterns for metal fabrication. At the end of the 19th century, the company was one of the most extensive manufactories of hardware in the United States, and was one of the leading manufacturing industries of Syracuse.[5]


E. C. Stearns & Company - Manufacturing Machinists - Pattern making - Syracuse City Directory, 1884

Edward C. Stearns founded several other manufacturing plants in Syracuse, including E. C. Stearns Bicycle Agency (1893-1899),[2] Wholesale Bi-steam Carriage Company, and Stearns Automobile Company which was founded as Stearns Steam Carriage Company.[6] The company also produced typewriters for a period of ten years beginning in 1905 under the name Stearns Typewriter Company.[7]

Family business[edit]

Edward C. Stearns was the son of George N. Stearns, a wagon maker, who also invented several tools and patented many of his innovations including a boring and mortising machine and auger. He was born in Syracuse on July 12, 1856 and was the youngest of seven children born to Delilah Taylor and the elder Stearns.[5]

About 1860, George N. Stearns began manufacturing his patented devices under his own name and he established himself in a "small but complete works". In 1864, he incorporated as George N. Stearns Company and relocated to a small building the firm erected at 116 Cedar Street in Syracuse.[8] The company was principally involved in the production of hollow augers.[5]

The business grew quickly and Stearns was "soon able to send his own traveling men on the road, instead of allowing a few large jobbers to monopolize the sale of his goods."[5] Edward C. Stearns was the head salesman and during the early years spent much time traveling continually to the "principal cities of the Union."[5]

Edward C. Stearns, along with his sister, Avis Stearns Van Wagenen (then Mrs. Avis Mead), assumed the duties of the company in 1877 and a new co-partnership was formed after their father experienced health problems. The company name was changed to E. C. Stearns & Company.[5]

George N. Stearns died on July 19, 1882 in Syracuse.[5]

Second generation[edit]

E. C. Stearns & Company - "Ball nozzle", 1898

In 1880, the company moved their offices and plant to the old John A. Nichols Gun Works which was located on the north side of James Street near the corner of Lock Street. During the same time period, the firm established a branch office in Chicago and western shipments were made from that point.[5]

By 1884, E. C. Stearns & Company produced light gray iron castings. The firm's skilled machinists offered services such as pattern making and Japanning.[9]

After experiencing rapid growth of the business, the hardware line was expanded to include saw vises, parlor sliding door hangers, band setters, spoke shaves and pointers, and other products.[5]

For several years after, new buildings were added to the facility each year, and at one time, the company was one of the most extensive manufactories of hardware in the country, and was one of the leading manufacturing industries of Syracuse.[5]

By 1891, the firm provided employment to 350 men and turned out among other specialties ten distinct styles of patent parlor sliding door hangers, barn door hangers, a number of different kinds of patented locks, barn door locks, window and door screens, door and window screen frames, hinges, adjustable stove-pipe thimbles, adjustable screw and door frame clamps, vises, spoke shaves and pointers, jack screws, hollow augers, cast-iron stable hay racks and feed boxes, saw vises, bench drills, mallets, chisel handles, lawn mowers, iron sinks, and stable fixtures, etc.[10]


E. C. Stearns & Company - new "Paint tower" - November 1895

In February 1882, the enterprise broke ground and erected an extensive plant on the corner of West Adams street with entrance at 224 Oneida Street[4] in the sixth ward. They were ready for move in by November that year. The following February 1883, the new foundry, machine shop and wood shop were in full operation.[5]

During 1884, proprietor, Edward C. Stearns, lived close by and was a "boarder" at the corner of Rust and Tallman streets.[9]

The buildings were all constructed of brick, well lighted, and conveniently arranged for manufacturing purposes. All of the buildings were outfitted with costly machinery, much of which had been designed and built by the firm for their special use. All tools and appliances used in the manufactory were considered the very best quality.[5]

The plant utilized in 1891 in the manufacture of various hardware specialties consisted of the following buildings:[5]

  • Main building - 252 feet (77 m) by 60 feet (18 m) and four stories high
  • Foundry and woodworking department - 250 feet (76 m) by 200 feet (61 m)
  • Japanning building - 43 feet (13 m) by 25 feet (7.6 m) and two-stories high
  • Pattern building - 40 feet (12 m) by 20 feet (6.1 m)
  • Screen frame factory - 104 feet (32 m) by 60 feet (18 m)
  • Storehouse - 31 feet (9.4 m) by 72 feet (22 m)
  • Miscellaneous - 166 feet (51 m) by 35 feet (11 m)

By November 1895, the landscape in the vicinity of E. C. Stearns cycle works is of "decidedly changing quality." Each year since the company first engaged in bicycle building some enlargement of the facilities took place rendered necessary by the "continually increasing demand for its product." Two new buildings were erected in 1897, a "paint tower" and "power house". The tower was one of the highest in the city. In addition, a four-story brick building was under construction. The lower floor was designed for the new offices of the firm, which more than doubled the size of the company's former quarters.[11]

Branch office[edit]

In May 1896, Herbert E. Maslin, company officer, returned from France where the company had established a branch office.[12]

Global sales[edit]

By 1901, the company reported having been a general demand for the output of the plant. Like other large Syracuse manufacturers, the firm benefited from the expansion policy of the country. Large shipments of lawn mowers and other articles having been made to Germany, England and other foreign countries.[13]

Bicycles and automobiles[edit]

By the early 1890s, E. C. Stearns & Company had branched into bicycle manufacturing and formed a subsidiary called E. C. Stearns Bicycle Agency. Stearns, ever innovative, moved to automobile production and built his first automobile in 1899, an electric. The automobile firm sold so few models through 1900 that they reverted to steam power in 1901. The Stearns enterprise was known as Wholesale Bi-steam Carriage Company and Stearns Automobile Company which was also called Stearns Steam Carriage Company.[14]


Several companies in the business of bicycle manufacture including E. C. Stearns & Company entered typewriter production at the beginning of the 20th century. The Stearns Visible was introduced in 1905.[7]

The machine actually took several years of work to get ready for market due to the complex design of the tabulator which employed a circular housing around the mainspring containing numbered notches that matched "space for space" with actual carriage travel. This ensured that stops for the decimal tabulator placed in the notches thus corresponded to carriage position.[7]

The design was quite advanced for its day and August Schneeloch who filed with the patent office in May 1902, was finally granted U.S. patent #844756 in February 1907.[7]

The company manufactured the machine for approximately 10 years, ending production around 1915.[7]

Hardware patents[edit]

E. C. Stearns & Company - Faucet patent - March 1916

A faucet design in March 1916 was submitted to the United States Patent Office that had a cylindrical casing having a substantially horizontal portion and a downwardly curved discharge end. Patent number was 1,169,519.[15]

Company officers and management[edit]

During 1891, the officers of the firm were Edward C. Stearns, Avis Stearns Van Wagenen and Herbert E. Maslin,[5] vice-president, who was born in Hinsdale, Illinois and educated in Aurora, Illinois. Maslin was also president of the Cycle Board of Trade and vice-president of The Tinkham Company. He was manager of American Bicycle Company and a member of the Engineer's Club of New York City and Century Syracuse.[16]

By May 1896, Edward C. Stearns announced his retirement from E. C. Stearns & Company. He had been engaged in the business for twenty years after he purchased his father's interest. Stearns was replaced by Herbert E. Maslin who was "very prominent in the cycling world."[12]

His son, John Edward Stearns, was secretary of the company in 1929 and had been in "active charge" of the business since the elder Stearns retired several years earlier.[1]

Twentieth century[edit]

During 1938, the company advertised their new Stearns Power Lawn Mower for $79 which had a Briggs & Stratton engine and an "18 inch width of cut." The company offered eight other models that year priced from $88 to $260.[17]

By 1954, the company was marketing a "reel-type" mower.[18]


E. C. Stearns & Company - Window screen frame - The Manufacturer and Builder, March 1888
E. C. Stearns & Company - "Monarch" lawn mower, 1890
E. C. Stearns & Company - Freezer - 1897
E. C. Stearns & Company - Incinerate - 1919
Stearns lawn mower - Made in Syracuse, New York - 1934
Stearns lawn mower - Alexander Grant & Son - 1936


  1. ^ a b "Edward C. Stearns, Civic Leader and Pioneer in Bicycle Industry, Dies". Syracuse Herald. Syracuse, New York. April 22, 1929. 
  2. ^ a b "Bicycle Brands Home Page". The Wheelmen, 2010. Retrieved January 7, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Automobile Manufacturers Starting With The Letter S. American Automobiles, Farber and Associates, LLC - 2009. Retrieved 2010-08-11. 
  4. ^ a b "New York - Syracuse - Points of Interest". Atlantis International, 2006. Retrieved January 1, 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "George N. Stearns". Old Wood-Working Machines, 2010. Retrieved January 1, 2011. 
  6. ^ Notable Men of Central New York. Dwight J. Stoddard, 1903. Retrieved 2010-08-14. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "Stearns Visible". Thomas Fuetig Collection, 2010. Retrieved January 7, 2011. 
  8. ^ Boyd's Syracuse City Directory 1879. Andrew Boyd, 1879. 
  9. ^ a b Boyd's Syracuse City Directory 1884. Andrew Boyd, 1884. 
  10. ^ Memorial History of New York. 1891. 
  11. ^ "Increasing the Stearns Plant". Syracuse Daily Standard. Syracuse, New York. November 11, 1895. 
  12. ^ a b "Retirement of Mr. Stearns". The New York Times. New York, New York. May 19, 1896. Retrieved January 7, 2011. 
  13. ^ "Wheels Hum in Midsummer an Unprecedented Era of Prosperity". Syracuse Herald. Syracuse, New York. July 14, 1901. 
  14. ^ "1900 Stearns Electric". Early American Automobiles, 2010. Retrieved December 31, 2010. 
  15. ^ Domestic Engineering, Vol. 74. Domestic Engineering Company, Chicago, March 25, 1916, p.438. Retrieved July 3, 2011. 
  16. ^ Biographical directory of the state of New York, 1900. Atlantis International, 2006. Retrieved January 1, 2011. 
  17. ^ "Stearns Power Lawn Mowers". The Post-Standard. Syracuse, New York. 1938. 
  18. ^ "Grass Queen". Atomic Antiques, 2010. Retrieved January 1, 2011. 

External links[edit]