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C.F. Pettingell, 1873-1905; Pettingell Machine Co., 1905-1915; Pettingell Machine Co. (II) 1915-1920s; Amesbury, Massachusetts; 1920s-1943, Lawrence, Massachusetts
Associated Builders
Bela Body Co.; Pettingell Machine Co. (III) 1943-1950s; Pettingell Machine Co., Division of Crane Mfg. Co.,1950s-1970s; Lakeport, New Hampshire

The Pettingell Machine Co. was named after its founder, Charles Franklin Pettingell, who established an Amesbury, Massachusetts machine shop in the early 1870s that specialized in the manufacture of carriage and wheel-building apparatus.

Charles Franklin Pettingell was born on February 12, 1847 at Salisbury, Massachusetts (now Amesbury) to Amos (b. Jun 15, 1817-d. Mar. 27, 1883) and Mary (Lawton) Pettingell, a local contractor and builder.

At the time Amesbury was one of the top three carriage-building centers in the United States, the others being Cincinnati, Ohio and New York City. Between 1870 and 1890, the industry transitioned from producing completely hand-made vehicles built to order to mass-produced conveyances whose components (wheels, carriage gear, dashes, etc.) were built in large factories by mostly unskilled labor using machines tools supplied by Pettingell and others.

By 1873 Pettingell had established his own machine shop and business must have been good as he married S. Ellen Bartlett, the 20-year-old daughter of W.H. and Louise Bartlett on December 16, 1874.

Pettingell licensed wheel-making equipment from local carriage-makers such as Joseph Richardson Locke of Locke & Jewell (manufacturers of the Warner patent wheel) in addition to devising his own time-saving appliances. (Although Locke's patents were not specifically assigned, he apparently licensed his designs to Pettingell as the machines are nearly identical.) Pettingell was soon advertising the Locke-based C.F. Pettingell Rim and Felloe Rounding Machine to the carriage industry in the popular carriage trades.

A circa 1880 description of Locke & Jewell's business follows:

"The wheel factory of Locke & Jewell at Patten's Hollow was established in 1867 and is doing a large business in manufacturing wheels and carriage parts, and have recently added to their other branches the manufacture of carriages. The whole amount of business for 1880 was $100,000, and the number of workmen employed was fifty-two. During the year they have manufactured six hundred carriages."

The Draft-book of Centennial Carriages displayed in Philadelphia at the International exhibition of 1876, has the following entry:

"C. F. Pettingell, of Amesbury, Mass., makes a specialty of carriage-wheel machinery, to which he has given his attention for several years past, and has produced a large and valuable assortment—so large, indeed, that it would be quite useless to attempt to describe them in this connection; but we present below a list of the principal kinds, which he either keeps in stock, or is prepared to make to order:

"Patent rim planing machine. Hub mortising-machine, with cutter or cones. Polishing-machine for polishing spokes. Polishing-machine for polishing carriage-parts. Polishing-machine, for polishing rims. Rim-rounder. Rim boring-machine. Round tenoning-machine. Spoke tenoning-machine. Lathes, with or without centering-machine. Spoke smutting-machine, or re-tenoner. Spoke facing-machine. Surface-planer for rims. Polishing-machine, for carriage-woodwork. Surface-planer for rims. Polishing-machine, for carriage woodwork. Power mortising-machine. Foot-power mortising-machine. Surface planers. Dressing-machines. Rabbeting-machines. Saw tenoning-machines. Rounding-machines. Boring-machines."

In 1887, one year before Amesbury's legendary "Carriage Hill Fire" of April 5, 1888, a much smaller blaze heavily damaged C. F. Pettingell's machine shop and the adjoining Locke & Jewell carriage and wheel works which were located on Mechanics Row. Both firms rebuilt and remained in business throughout 1888 when most of their competition was busy rebuilding.

The Fitchburg Sentinel covered the great Maundy Thursday Carriage Hill Fire over a two-day period as follows:

"Swept by Flames

"Haverhill, Mass., April 6. – The little town of Amesbury, eleven miles northeast of here, the largest carriage manufactory in the world and home of the poet, Whittier, suffered terrible loss by fire last night, which has nearly wiped out the entire business portion and telegraph office. The fire broke out at 4 o’clock in the afternoon in the large factory of the Babcock Carriage Company and as the town is near the coast the heavy northeast wind prevailing swept the flames before it with irresistible force. There has for years been a squabble between the adjoining towns of Amesbury and Salisbury over the subject of annexation, and as a result both towns have neglected their municipal equipments awaiting the consolidation, and so there was no adequate fire department. Before aid was received the flames jumped from the burning Babcock Works to the post office, and twenty minutes later it, along with the telegraph office, was in flames. Word had to be sent by train to Haverhill, Lawrence and Newburyport asking for aid, which did not arrive on the scene till long after dark. By that time eight factories, aggregating over a million capital, were in flames, along with some twenty dwellings, and innumerable other stores and building were gutted.

"A cold rain prevailed at the time, which undoubtedly saved the entire place. Some hundred families are homeless. The day being a fast day was a legal holiday, so there was no work going on, and the sacred character of the day was sadly broken up.

"Amesbury, Mass., April 7 - Over a score of buildings were eaten away by the fire of Thursday night, as most of the carriage factories included several structures. The losses are roughly as follows: F.W. Babcock & Co., $200,000; A.N. Parry, $50,000; J.H. Clarke & Co., $50,000,  Hume Carriage Co., $50,000; C.N. Dennett, $75,000; M.M. Dennett, $40,000; Lambert Hollander, $20,000; N.H. Folger, $75,000; J.F. Chesley and Fannie Brown $2,000; Frank Sands and Mrs. Sands $3,000; Wingate Morse, $1,500; James Hume, houses $1,000; John Hume & Son, $5,000. The insurance is about $850,000 and the fire is believed to have been of incendiary origin."

Although Pettingell was spared in the famous 1888 blaze, a smaller blaze that occurred on October 10, 1891 severely damaged both Locke & Jewell's and the adjacent Pettingell manufactories which were both located on Mechanics Row, adjacent to Patten's Pond.

The fire was mentioned in the October 11, 1891 Utica Daily News (Utica, NY) as follows:

"In Amesbury Mass., the carriage manufactory of Locke & Jewell and several surrounding buildings, were burned yesterday. Loss $125,000."

Both firms rebuilt but by 1897 only Pettingell remained in business, Locke & Jewell had retired and sold off their assets to their neighbor.

The business section of the August 21, 1894 Boston Globe included a small item concerning the firm:

"ORDERS COMING IN: Business is Looking Up In Amesbury and Merrimac.

"AMESBURY, Aug 20 — The settlement of the tariff question has caused business here to boom. Today the Pettingell Machine Works, one of the best known concerns in the country, started up after a two months' shut-down."

Existing advertisements reveal that by that time Pettingell offered approximately thirty different labor-saving machines for the carriage-building industry. Products included tenoners, tilting arbor bevel saws (table saws) and irregular template dressers for wooden working plus friction cutters and rolling formers for sheet metal fabrication and their ever-popular rim and Felloe rounding machines.

The Twentieth Century brought a steady decline in Pettingell's wheel and woodworking machine business. In mid-1905 a group of Amesbury businessmen headed by A.G. Bela purchased the failing business from Pettingell for pennies on the dollar, reorganizing it on November 14, 1905 as the Pettingell Machine Co.

Bela and his backers felt the firm's machine shops could be re-purposed to turn out the new metal-finishing machines needed by Amesbury's burgeoning automobile body builders and set about designing new machines that greatly reduced the amount of time needed to turn out a metal-skinned composite automobile body.

Their most successful invention was the Pettingell Automatic Hammer which was thoroughly tested at Amesbury's numerous auto body factories before being marketed to the nation's composite automobile body manufacturers.  US Patent Office assignments reveal that some of Pettingell’s metal-working machines were designed by Amesbury resident George L. Knights, a former bicycle manufacturer.

The firm's numerous metal working machines were the perfect companions to their woodworking offerings, and new composite body-building enterprises often ordered the bulk of their equipment straight out of the Pettingell catalog (highlights of which are presented in the left margin).

The Pettingell Machine Co. was dissolved in 1915 (according to General Court of Mass. 1917 edition.) and reorganized. Although he had stayed on as a junior partner in the firm bearing his name, Charles I. Pettingell, Charles Franklin Pettingell’s son, left the firm and went to work for the Walker-Wells Body Co., one of Amesbury’s large production body builders.

Pettingell Machine Co.'s president, A.G. Bela, organized the Bela Body Co. and began supplying composite aluminum bodies in the white for the Winton Motor Carriage Co of Cleveland, Ohio.

The failed firm's assets were purchased by the bankrupt firm's shop foreman who along with three partners moved its operations into the former Walker-Wells Carriage Co factory, a three-story brick structure located at the corner of Elm (77 Elm St.) and Clark Sts.

A sudden need for sheet-metal manufacturing equipment placed the fledgling operation in a good economic position during the build-up to the First World War, and hundreds of Pettingell's automatic hammers were purchased by firms engaged in the manufacture of aeroplanes and small naval vessels.

The firm’s most popular product was the Pettingell Automatic Hammer, which was available in two sizes, the #1 and the #2. Body panels that required several days of hand hammering could be finished in less than an hour using the labor saving device which was designed specifically for the automotive body business.

April 1917 issue of the Hub:

"PETTINGELL Extra Large Bevel and Mitre Saw Table

"Heavy work requires a heavy machine. We have built this new machine massive and heavy and rigid to withstand the strain of modern Mill work. It does it—does even more—combines all the best ideas of our small Bevel and Mitre Saw with many new improvements, and practical features found only on this machine.

"Frame work and entire construction are built to eliminate warping or twisting of tables or parts. This permits you to do perfect duplicate work- You can saw any bevel, mitre, angle or two angles at once and the work will be accurate to a dot. It saves time and labor, too.

"Saw Can Be Raised or Lowered at Any Angle - Up to 45 Degrees Without Stopping the Machine. The work is always level, it cannot bear down on either saws or gauges.

"Left-hand table can be quickly moved and adjusted as work requires, and the right-hand table can be easily moved to allow Dado heads in place of saw.

"The table runs very easily, being provided with special rolls and tracks. It's the best Bevel and Mitre Saw Table in the world—installed in the largest and best factories in Detroit and middle west.

"Sold on a guarantee of satisfaction.

"A trial is all we ask—the machines do the rest.

"Over 400 factories are now using our machines.

"We will help you plan and install complete machinery equipment for any kind, style, quantity or output of work you need.


"Please mention "The Hub" when you write."

May 1917 issue of The Hub:

"The United States Government War Department when calling for proposals and bids for machinery recently specified machines made by the PETTINGELL MACHINE CO., AMESBURY, MASS.

"In an emergency the United States Government Engineers want the best—machines that can be depended on to do the work at all times, so they SPECIFIED THE PETTINGELL MACHINE CO.'S MACHINES.


"When you want the best order PETTINGELL Machines:

Bevel and Mitre Saw Tables, Improved Saw Tenoners, Irregular Shapers, Automatic Power Hammers, Friction Drive Rotary Metal Cutters, Beading and Moulding Formers, Rolling Machines, Foot Presses, Cornice Brakes, Etc.


July 1917 issue of The Hub:

"THE United States Government, Canadian Government, British Government, have all ordered and are using Pettingell Machines, and will soon place orders for many more.

"If you want dependable machines that are recognized as the Standard | for quality and production the world over—you will Eventually Buy Pettingell Machines

"If you would save time, money and disappointments do it now

"Over 7,500 in daily use and not a disappointed customer


"When you want the best order PETTINGELL Machines:

"Bevel and Mitre Saw Tables, Improved Saw Tenoners, Irregular Shapers, Automatic Power Hammers, Friction Drive Rotary Metal Cutters, Beading and Moulding Formers, Rolling Machines, Foot Presses, Cornice Brakes, Etc.


November 1917 issue of The Hub:


"In addition to our regular line of metal and wood auto body and aeroplane machinery, we have opened a department for the manufacture of AUTOMOBILE HARDWARE and are now in a position to supply many parts:

"Windshields, Pedestal Bases, Rocker Plates, Hinges, Stock Clamps (for use in wood mill), Special Parts, Aeroplane Hardware,  Special Tools (for body machinery)

"We would suggest that manufacturers place their orders hardware parts soon, as our supply is to be limited, if in need of any special parts WRITE US and we shall be glad to give you all information possible. Automatic Machinery enables us to turn out parts rapidly and at a low figure.

"Get our prices before placing order.

"PETTINGELL MACHINE CO., Amesbury, Mass." 

During the 1920s the firm’s largest customer was the Fisher Body Corp. who used over 500 Pettingell automatic hammers in their factories. During the teens, twenties and thirties their specialized equipment could be found in every firm in the country that dealt with either manufacturing or repairing composite automobile bodies.

(Due to the scrap metal drives of World War II very few Pettingill Automatic Hammers survive, and restored examples sell for as much as $20,000.)

Sometime during the late 1920s, ownership of the firm changed, and production was relocated to Lawrence, Massachusetts. Although the Pettingell Machine Co. enjoyed much success during the twenties and thirties, the United States entry into the Second World War put its owners in a sticky situation. As all four of the new partners were Hungarian nationals, they were classified as "non-resident enemy partners" by the US Government due to the fact that Hungary was now an important ally of the Axis Powers.

On March 11, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9095 establishing the Office of the Alien Property Custodian as an independent agency under his direct authority. A wartime agency, the APC had responsibility for the seizure, administration, and sometimes the sale of enemy property in the United States. On September 18, 1943 the seized assets of the Pettengell Machine Co. were sold for $45,000 to three American citizens; Fred Gontbier, Arthur P. Willette and Earl C. Amidon.

Operations were eventually transferred to a plant located at 100 Mechanic St. in Lakeport, New Hampshire and in 1961 the firm was sold to Browning Laboratories, a Laconia, New Hampshire electronics manufacturer. During the late 1960s Pettingell was acquired by the Crane Mfg. Co. , a Laconia, New Hampshire based manufacturer of textile manufacturing equipment.

© 2004 Mark Theobald - with special thanks to Fay Butler






John Mason Pettingell, Charles Henry Pope, Charles Ireland Pettingell - A Pettingell genealogy: notes concerning those of the name, pub 1906

David W. Hoyt - The Old Families of Salisbury and Amesbury, Massachusetts. With some Related Families of Newbury, Haverhill, Ipswich and Hampton. Part I, pub. 1897

Emily B. Smith - A Chronological Record Of the Principal Events That have occurred in Amesbury, Massachusetts From the Organization of the Township of Merrimac in 1638 To 1900, pub 1901

Joseph Merrill - History of Amesbury: including the first seventeen years of Salisbury, to the separation in 1854 and Merrimac, pub 1880

Draft-book of Centennial Carriages, displayed in Philadelphia at the International Exhibition of 1876, pub 1876

Annual Report On the Statistics of Manufactures: 1891, Volume 6, Massachusetts. Dept. of Labor and Industries, Massachusetts, pub 1892 by Wright & Potter, Boston

Emily Binney Smith - Chronological record of the principal events that have occurred in Amesbury From the Organization of the Township of Merrimac in 1638 To 1900, pub 1901 

Don Peloubet - Wheelmaking: Wagon Wheel Design and Construction, pub 1996

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