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Manufacturers Index - Louis Levin & Son, Inc.

Louis Levin & Son, Inc.
Los Angeles, CA; Culver City, CA; Santa Fe Springs, CA, U.S.A.
Company Website: https://levinlathe.com/
Manufacturer Class: Metal Working Machinery

Last Modified: Sep 13 2019 9:34AM by Jeff_Joslin
If you have information to add to this entry, please contact the Site Historian.

The Education of Louis Levin

Russian-born watchmaker Louis Levin moved to the USA in 1904. His son, Samuel Levin, was born in 1907. Louis got a job at a jeweler in Bridgeport, CT, and later worked for a series of jewelers and watch repair houses in New York and then Cleveland. He steadily improved his skills and became known as a highly skilled machinist. In 1920 he opened his own watch repair shop in Los Angeles as Louis Levin and this was the genesis of the business. Sam started his horological training around this time and he proved to be as talented as his father. In 1932 Sam became a partner and the business name became Louis Levin & Son, which at some point became Louis Levin & Son, Inc.

The Levins helped establish the Horological Association of California and they created the now well-known journal Horology. With the Levins writing numerous articles for their journal, including several articles on designing and fabricating their own specialized tools, their reputation as skilled and knowledgeable craftsmen grew. In 1938 they published a book, Practical Benchwork for Horologists, which further enhanced their reputation. Even people outside the horological community took notice: Howard Hughes hired them to make a special sextant and timepieces for his circumnavigation flight, and they maintained and regulated the clocks at the Mount Wilson Observatory.

Louis Levin & Son During World War II

In 1938 Samuel Levin gave a talk and wrote a journal article on "The Lathe and Its Use". During the war Louis designed and brought to market a line of lathe collets. Collet production was particularly challenging, and it wasn't until 1954 that Louis was satisfied with their quality; after that time, the company destroyed any pre-1954 collets that were in inventory or that came in for service, and replaced them at the company's cost with new production. Meanwhile, Sam designed virtually everything else made by the company and also developed the manufacturing processes and special tools required.

By 1939 the company had made a watch-maker's lathe, in the Webster-Whitcomb style, for their own use. It had a 2" (50 mm) center height, a 12" bed and used a cone bearing for the headstock, which had a lever collet closer. The cross-slide could hold two cutters at once and there was a self-indexing six-position turret attachment. They soon added a screw-cutting attachment and a spiral milling attachment. Sometime after 1941, with European-made machinery in short supply, the company began manufacturing their lathe. These early lathes were constrained by the war shortages of labor and materials and were not as high quality as their later lathes.

The Post-War Era: Diversification

In the aftermath of the war it was becoming apparent that the company's horological market would diminish due to the introduction of modern mass-production techniques—such as stamping gears rather than machining them—to the watch market. In the coming decades the advent of micro-electronics would further diminish the market for high-end watch-making and -repairing tools and machines. The company's West Coast location was, however, ideal for accessing the emerging aerospace market, and the aerospace industry's need for extreme precision was a perfect fit for Levin & Son.

In 1951 the company introduced a new lathe headstock and bed. The headstock used angular-contact ball bearings, which were more expensive than conventional bearings but allowed much tighter tolerances. The bed was 18" long, which provided more room for the mounting of accessories. In 1952 they introduced several new lathe accessories: lever-operated collet closer, double-tool cross-slide, 6-position self-indexing turret, and a screw cutting attachment. Also introduced at that time was a micro drill press that used the same precision angular-contact bearing spindle as the various accessories. A "ball turning rest" lathe accessory was introduced in 1958. That year, Sam's son Robert Levin had graduated college as a mechanical engineer and joined the firm. One of his first tasks was to assess whether their horological lathe could be used in the emerging business of manufacturing plastic contact lenses. Louis Levin & Son ultimately developed detailed processes and documentation for making contact lenses on their lathes. The contact lens industry became major customers for the Levin lathe.

When the U.S. Government solicited bids to supply a lathe capable of holding tolerances of 10 one-millionths of an inch (a tenth of a ten-thousandth), Louis Levin & Son was the only bidder that could meet the spec without reservations. This did necessitate the creation of a new higher-precision version of their lathe. The company's micro-drill presses were manufactured to the same precision as their lathes.

In 1966 the company partnered with Japanese grinder manufacturer Tsugami Manufacturing Co. to introduce a version of that firm's cylindrical grinder to the U.S. market. The grinder was modified by Levin & Son to further enhance its precision. This grinder was used in Levin's manufacture and reconditioning of their high-precision lathe and drill spindles.

Modern Era

In 1984, Louis Levin & Son, Inc., was acquired by G. L. Ohrstrom Co. of New York, an investment company. Louis Levin & Son, Inc., remains in business today and still manufactures lathes and drilling machines, having out-lived most of their competition.

Parts and Service for Levin Lathes and Drilling Machines

Levin & Son, Inc., provides parts and service for most of the lathes, drilling machines and accessories that they manufactured over the years.

For more information on the various models of Levin lathes, the Lathes.co.uk pages on Levin lathes are a good source.

The Active Atom YouTube channel has an ambitious and highly detailed video series showing how to rebuild Levin spindles.

Information Sources

  • The company website's company history was the primary source for our much shorter summary.
  • 1918 Los Angeles Directory lists a Louis Levin but it is a different person of the same name (the 1930 directory lists four persons named Louis Levin).
  • 1920 Los Angeles Directory lists two Louis Levins but neither is our Louis Levin.
  • 1921 Los Angeles Directory lists Levin Louis L watchmkr 220 W 5th rm 903 h 3724 N Griffin av".
  • 1922 Los Angeles Directory lists Levin Louis watchmkr 220 W 5th rm 811 h5743 La Mirada av".
  • 1923 Los Angeles Directory lists Levin Louis watchmkr 747 S Hill rm 509 h5323 La Mirada av".
  • 1924 Los Angeles Directory lists Levin Louis watch mkr 747 S Hill rm 509 h 5315½ La Mirada av".
  • 1926 Los Angeles Directory lists Levin Louis watchmkr 747 S Hill R 509 h 5317 La Mirada".
  • 1930 Los Angeles Directory lists "Levin Louis (Pearl) watch repr 747 S Hill R 509 h991 West Kensington rd".
  • 1934 Los Angeles Directory lists "Levin Louis (Pearl) watchmkr 747 S Hill R509 h947 W Kensington rd".
  • 1935 Los Angeles Directory lists "Levin Louis & Son (Louis and Saml) watchmkrs 747 S Hill R405".
  • 1937 Los Angeles Directory lists "Levin Louis & Son (Louis and Saml) watch repr 747 S Hill R405".
  • 1938 Los Angeles Directory lists "Levin Louis & Son (Louis and Saml) watch reprs 747 S Hill R405".
  • 1940 Los Angeles Directory lists "Levin Louis (Pearl) (Louis Levin & Son) h663 Laveta ter". Also listed "Levin Louis & Son (Louis and Saml) watchmkrs 747 S Hill R405", and "Levin Saml (Sarah) (Louis Levin & Son) r751 N Laurel av".
  • 1942 Los Angeles Directory lists "Levin Louis & Son (Louis and Saml) instrument mfrs 747 S Hill R405".