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A Look Back: The Robinson Knife Company

Submitted photo

Submitted photo

By Jolene Hawkins

Looking Back to some of the business we had in town, the year is 1929 and the largest single industrial employer in Springville was the Robinson Knife Company.

And in that year, they paid $108,000 to its 100-plus workers. Located on the corner of Main and Carolina streets, it is a three-story brick and steel plant, close to the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh Railroad Company lines.
The Robinson firm began business here in Springville in November 1927, when consolidating its Cuba, N.Y., and Bradford, Pa., plants. George Robinson and W.R. Case founded it as Robinson Knife in 1921. Robinson was an English cutlery maker and Case was a manufacturer of a variety of knives, scissors and straight razors.

G.L. Robinson was president, David Skerker treasurer and R.C. Goodrick superintendent, all actively engaged at this plant. L.H. Simon of Bradford was Vice President and secretary of the corporation. They have been making cutlery since 1920.
The particular type of utensil specialized by the firm is table and kitchen cutlery, both of carbon and stainless steel. It is incredible what an ordinary kitchen paring knife must go through before it is ready to be displayed on the hardware dealer’s counter.

It involves the intelligent attention of many careful hands from the dieing out of a strip of steel through the tempering; annealing, grinding, shaping and riveting of the handle; polishing and cleaning; and then packing before the knife is ready to be shipped out. Many different shapes and sizes are made to meet various requirements, some with wooden handles, some with celluloid handles or different colors.
The cutlery made is sold through different agents, and go into every state in the United States as well into Canada. The workers in the plant are skilled in their various lines of work and command good pay for their service. Many of them work on a piecework basis.

The building is 40 feet by 100 feet and is extended with a one-story section to the north with the same width and 75 feet in length. The handle making plant where the wood is worked up is separate structure one story in height and 100 feet long.  Here, the wooden or celluloid handles are cut from the rough timber or slabs, shaped, punched and kiln-dried ready to be attached to the blade in the main building.
It is interesting to learn that the cocobolo wood from South America, also ebony and boxwood from the same tropical land, is much used in the making of the pretty grained handles so admired by the housewife. The cocobolo is of very firm texture, dark red, often with exquisite graining. Beech and black walnut grown locally are also used in the handles.
It takes a great deal of grinding and polishing to bring the blades down to the almost mirror surface many of the knives have and to give them a sharp edge as well to delight the user.  Wheel after wheel, with sandpaper of various grades of roughness, is used to gradually bring the blade to its beautiful luster.

The tough hide of the walrus is utilized in this polishing. The leathery spongy substance, often an inch thick, is set on edge on the polishing wheels, a foot-and-a-half in diameter, and soaked with emery dust of the necessary size for the part of the process which that particular wheel is to take.
While most of the handles are riveted in place under heavy pressure, some of them are set in hot metal at a temperature of 900 degrees. The name of Springville is etched prettily into the shining blades of much of this cutlery and goes out abroad over the world to let the user know that here we have craftsmen who are proud of their workmanship and do not hesitate to let the user know where it came from.

You can find some pocketknives still that on the blade near where it attaches to the handle will be stamped “Case, Springville, New York.”
Would you like to learn more about the businesses in Springville, or your family? You can stop by the Lucy Bensley Center on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 23 N. Buffalo St. View our local newspapers, files, books and other genealogy resources we have, or send us an email at lucybensleycenter@gmail.com.

Be sure to stop and visit the Concord Mercantile/Heritage building on Wednesday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and see the old time General Store and walk through the Heritage Building, representing downtown Main Street business. You can also come and listen to music on Tuesday or Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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