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Manufacturers Index - Peter A. Frasse & Co.

Peter A. Frasse & Co.
New York, NY, U.S.A.
Manufacturer Class: Wood Working Machinery & Metal Working Machinery

Last Modified: Nov 30 2018 9:16PM by Jeff_Joslin
If you have information to add to this entry, please contact the Site Historian.

In 1803, Swiss immigrant Henri Frederic Frasse opened a small machine shop, as Henry Frasse, at 1 George St. in New York, specializing in mechanical repair work of clocks, engines and the like. Well-known inventor Robert Fulton hired Frasse to make the first working model of a steam-boat engine; in about 1806 the model was taken to England where the full-size engine was made by Boulton & Watt. When Fulton was building a torpedo, Frasse designed and built the clock-work for it. This association with Fulton considerably enhanced Frasse's reputation and his business grew. In 1816, the year after Fulton's death, Frasse opened a shop at 95 Fair Street (now Fulton Street) to sell watch and clock makers' supplies and take in repair work. He and his family lived in the same building as the shop. In 1843 Frasse granted partnership to one of his sons, either William Henry Frasse or Peter Abraham Frasse, and the business name became Henry F. Frasse & Son. Whichever son was the original partner, by 1847 it was Peter, and William—four years older than Peter—had struck out on his own, manufacturing and selling watchmakers' tools as William H. Frasse, located at 56 Chatham Square.

When Henry F. Frasse died in 1849 the business fell to son Peter, then 27 years old, and the business name became Peter A. Frasse. William, meanwhile, continued on with his independent business. It appears that after his father's death Peter began manufacturing tools as well.

In 1868 Peter took a partner into the business, James M. Montgomery, and the business name changed to Peter A. Frasse & Co. In 1876 Montgomery left to start his own business and Peter's son, Charles Frederick Frasse, joined the business in Montgomery's place. The following year, in 1877, another partner, John L. Howe, joined the business as well. In about 1880 the old building at 95 Fulton was torn down and a new and larger structure built in its place. Beginning about 1885 Peter took a less active role in the business. When Peter died in 1891, the business was incorporated with John L. Howe as president, and Charles F. Frasse being one of several directors. By 1898 the business had outgrown its location, and fortunately they found a larger space available right across the street at 94 Fulton Street. When Howe died in 1901, Adolph E. Brion succeeded him as president, Brion having been secretary since 1891.

So why is a retailer of watchmaker's and jeweler's tools listed here among maker of woodworking and metalworking machinery (plus the engines and motors that power them)? Because Peter A. Frasse & Co. is believed to have manufactured a couple of small lathes that they sold. The Briggs Lathe, available in wood wood-turning and metal-turning variants, was sold through several different retailers including Frasse plus Jackson & Tyler of Baltimore and John Wilkinson Co. of Chicago. The Leader Lathe was a Frasse exclusive.

Information Sources

  • A personal website, for Walter Grutchfield, has an excellent page on Frasse, including various period advertisements going back as far as 1840. That ad is for "Henry F. Frasse, watch tool maker, and importer of watch & clock maker's, jeweler's & dentist's tools, 95 Fulton Street."
  • 1813 Longworth's American Almanac, New-York Register, and City Directory (published 1812-07-04) lists "Frasse Henry, mechanic 1 George".
  • 1846-7 Doggett's New-York City Directory lists "Frasse Henry F. & Son, watchmakers' tools, 95 Fulton"; "Frasse Peter A., watches, 95 Fulton, h. 95 Fulton"; "Frasse William H. watchmakers' tools, 56 Chatham, h. 171 Greenwich". This listing confirms that William H. Frasse struck out on his own before his father's death.
  • 1866-08-04 Scientific American: an ad for "Morse's Patent Twist Drills, Chucks, Sockets, etc.", lists dealers, including Peter A. Frasse, 95 Fulton street.
  • 1875 Frasse catalog online via archive.org.
  • 1876-03-25 Scientific American has a text ad for William Frasse's company: "Fine Tools For Machinists, Jewelers, Engravers, Watchmakers, Amateurs, and others. Also, a fine assortment of File and Steel Wire Suplies, at FRASSE & CO. 62 Chatham St., New York."
  • 1876-05-20 Scientific American has a text ad for William Frasse's company: "Scroll Saws. Machines, Saws, Tools, Patterns, Etc. / FRASSE & CO. 62 Chatham St., New York."
  • 1879-01-04 Scientific American. "The well named Leader Lathe is far ahead of competitors. For descriptive circular, address Frasse & Co., 62 Chatham St., New York."
  • The 1888 book Illustrated New York: The Metropolis of To-Day (Google Books).
    PETER A. FRASSE & Co., Importers, Manufacturers and Jobbers of Machinists', Jewelers', and Manufacturers' Supplies, Nos. 95 and 97 Fulton Street.—An establishment that is the oldest of its kind in the State, and which has long been one of the most prominent in the country, having been in existence for almost three-fourths of a century, is that of Messrs. Peter A. Frasse & Co., the widely-known importers, manufacturers, and jobbers of machinists', jewelers', and manufacturers' supplies, whose headquarters are located at Nos. 95 and 97 Fulton Street. This house has done much to advance the material prosperity of the metropolis. The concern dates its inception back to 1816, when it was founded by Mr. Henry F. Frasse (father of Peter A. Frasse), and was continued by him until 1849, when Mr. Peter A. Frasse, became the proprietor. This gentleman brought to bear in his transactions a thorough knowledge of the industry in which he was embarked, coupled with business talent of the highest order, and under his vigorous management the enterprise was carried on with constantly-increasing success. For forty years he continued in the sole control, until, in 1877, he admitted to partnership Mr. John L. Howe, a gentleman possessed of sterling business ability, and widely known in commercial circles. The building utilized for the purposes of the industry has dimensions of 25x100 feet, and is six stories in height. The firm manufacture hand-cut files, letters and figures in sets, blacksmith, hand, and machine screw-taps, stocks and dies, steel-pointed plumb-bobs, polishing heads and stands, file and chisel handles, double and single tracing wheels, F. & H. adjustable saw mandrels, slide rests, eclipse blow pipes, machinists' tool chests, etc., etc. Among the specialties handled by them may be mentioned the following: Stubs' files, tools, and steel: S. J. Addis' London carving tools; Addis' tools, in sets of six and twelve; Grobet's Swiss files; Webster & Horsfall's music wire; Vautier & Renard's gravers; Swiss plyers, nippers, etc.; German tools; Hubert's French emery paper; repoussé tools; Washita, Arkansas, and Turkey oil stones; Barton's emery paper and cloth; Barton's sand paper. All these goods are noted as being the finest of the kind in the market, and are unexcelled for reliability, utility, and general superiority. Both a wholesale and retail trade is supplied, a heavy stock being carried to meet the active demand, and all orders are filled on the most equitable and liberal terms.
    Confusingly, there is at a completely different version of this book with the identical title, year, and publisher. It appears that rather than make a book twice as thick, or offering it in two volumes, they simply published it as two separate editions. It is likely that each company mentioned in the book paid for the privilege, and were given some number of copies as part of the deal. Thus, publishing two separate books effectively halved the printing costs. The second volume is available via Illustrated New York: The Metropolis of To-Day (archive.org)
  • 1899 Seeger and Guernsey's Cyclopædia of the Manufactures and Products of the United States lists "Frasse Co., 19 Warren St., New York" as makers of tapped nuts, counter-shafts, lathes, machinists' tools, tool chests, piano wire, bicycle repair tools, and emery paper.
  • 1899-03-16 American Machinst has an ad from Frasse & Co. with a small illustration of the Leader Lathe they sold.
  • One Hundred Years in Business, a history of Peter A. Frasse & Co.
  • 1909-10-02 The Metal Worker, Plumber and Steam Fitter has an article on "The Engine of Fulton's Clermont" which states that that engine was designed by Henri Frederic de la Frasse, who "was the only machinist of note then to be found in the city of New York". It notes that Fulton was an artist and visionary and not a practical mechanical man, and it was up to Frasse to translate Fulton's lightly sketched ideas into a working and practical device. It clarifies that the model engine was built and then a small boat was built and the two were assembled and then tested on a nearby pond (near Centre and Leonard Streets), to a sizable crowd. In later years Henry Frasse made and sold replica models of the Clermont engine, a practice continued by son William Henry Frasse. The article provides considerable information on the whereabouts and occupations of various children and grandchildren of Henry Frasse.
  • 1916-06-15 The Iron Age has an article on the centennial of Peter A. Frasse & Co., 417-421 Canal Street, New York.
  • July 1916 Machinery.
    Peter A. Frasse ft Co., Inc., 417 Canal St., New York City. Anniversary booklet entitled "One Century In Business," describing the development and growth of the company from its inception in 1816 to the present. The business was established at 95 Fair St. (Fulton St.) by Henri Frederic Frasse, who started as a dealer in watch and clockmakers' supplies and repairer. A store was opened in conjunction with the machine shop in which was carried a complete and varied stock of Jewelers' supplies and Imported fine tools, consisting of files, pliers, nippers, etc. Upon the death of Henri Frasse in 1849 the business was taken over by his son, Peter A. Frasse, under whose name it is now carried on. Later the stock was increased until a complete line of machinists' tools of both foreign and American manufacture was handled, Including vises, forges, blacksmiths' tools, etc. In 1900 the Shelby seamless steel tubing department was adder) to the business. With the outbreak of the present war, the firm was obliged to discontinue Its agency of the Poldi Steel Works, and In order to take care of Its customers, it began the manufacture of a complete line of electric furnace and open-hearth tool and alloy steels. The story of the growth of this business, which Is so closely connected with the growth and development of the country in general, makes Interesting reading, and the book, which has been carefully and artistically prepared, is a creditable souvenir of "one century in business".
  • 1919-02-05 The Jewelers' Circular-Weekly.

    Peter A. Frasse & Co., 1869
    Peter A. Frasse & Co., Inc., 1919

    The house of Peter A. Frasse & Co., Inc., makers of jewelers' tools, supplies, etc., 417 Canal St., traces its history back over a period of over 102 years. The original founder of this concern was Henri Frederic Frasse. He came to the United States from Neuchâtel, Switzerland, about 1800, and a few years later established his own shop at 95 Fair St., which was afterwards renamed Fulton St. He began as a dealer in clock and clockmakers' supplies, but also found time to turn out clock tools and watch repairing and model making. It was in Frasse's shop that the working model of Fulton's first steamboat was made.

    In 1816 Mr. Frasse opened a store in conjunction with his machine shop and carried a various stock of jewelers' supplies. He also began importing fine tools.

    When the founder of the business died in 1849, the business passed over by his request to his second son, Peter, who changed the title of the firm, using his own name instead. Peter A. continued until 1868, when a new member came into the firm in the person of James M. Montgomery, and the house title became Peter A. Frasse & Co. In 1876 James M. Montgomery branched out for himself, and Charles Frederick, son of Peter A. Frasse, was taken into the firm, the name of which remained unchanged. The business increased until it was found necessary to tear down the old business at 95 Fulton St. and erect a much more commodious structure.

    Dating from 1885 Peter A. took less active interest in the business, which was now taken care of by his son, Charles, and John L. Howe. After his death, which occurred in 1891, the business was incorporated, with John L. Howe as president and treasurer, Adolph E. Brion as secretary, and Charles F. Frasse, Matthew Howe, John L. Howe, Adolph E. Brion and William M. Embler as directors. In 1892 Charles F. Frasse passed away. By 1898 the house had outgrown its home at 95 Fulton St. and it became necessary to seek larger quarters, which were found at No. 94 in the same street.

    In 1901 James L. Howe, president, died, and Adolph E. Brion was elected to the presidency. In 1910 a site was selected at the northwest corner of Canal and Sullivan Sts., and the construction of a modern fireproof building commenced. In 1914 Frederick O. Becker was elected secretary of the company and Lester E. Brion was elected assistant treasurer and a director.

  • 1920-03-11 American Machinist has an article announcing that Frasse Steel Works was rebuilding their Hartford, CT, plant. "The new works will take over the New England business of the Peter A. Frasse Co. after the first of the year. The parent corporation was a New York company, while the new concern, which markets the greater part of its products in western New England, is incorporated under the laws of Connecticut.
  • September 1921 Machinery. "Peter A. Frasse & Co., Inc., 417 Canal St., New York City, have been appointed sole agents for the Metropolitan district for Sibley drilling machines made by the Sibley Machine Co., South Bend. Ind."
  • August 1922 Machinery has an ad for Rivett Lathe & Grinder Co. that lists Peter A. Frasse & Co., Inc., New York City, as an agent for their grinding machines.
  • From an owwm.org forum discussion, Ed Hobbs: "You are right in that the Briggs Lathe No 1 is attributed to Frasse & Co of NY. From Ken Cope's book on foot powered machinery, it says that they were the 'proprietors' of the Briggs and Leader lathes. The one pictured, (from my collection) was designed to be foot powered and had a base with metal legs and what appears to be a wooden treadle and a wooden table top which I am missing. If anyone has a base, I would love to hear from you. Frasse was also a dealer but did at least offer a small, drill press that could be foot or motor powered with their name actually cast into the machine."
  • New York University's guide to the records of Peter A. Frasse & Co. has a nice timeline.
  • Information on "The Briggs Lathe", which is believed to have been made by Frasse and sold through various retailers including Frasse.
    • From the EAIA's "Directory of American Toolmakers", which has this entry for Briggs: "The name A. Demarest was also reported in context with a treadle powered lathe called 'The Briggs Lathe'. The significance is not clear, but Demarest may have made it and Briggs been a patent holder." The only dated material found is from 1880.
    • We have not found a treadle lathe patent for anyone named Briggs or Demarest.
    • lathes.co.uk page on the Briggs lathe provides some speculation on who made the Briggs lathe but we do not believe their ideas have much merit (not that we have any better suggestions to make).