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Keystone Saw Works - H. Disston & Sons, Inc. - Phila., PA

  Building a Business

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The life and achievements of Henry Disston has been described in many publications at various times.  Here we will  present excerpts from original source material available and some new findings.



Henry Disston


Philadelphia, 1841
2nd Street-North of Callowhill

McElroy's directory of 1842 lists Henry Disston at
21 Bread Street.
Map by Hexamer & Locher 1860

Second and Arch, Beard Street
Contemporary View


Various publications and articles mention different firms with which H. Disston spent his apprenticeship years.  Most current research points to the William & Charles Johnson.  First meaningful record about Charles Johnson exists in Philadelphia city directory for year 1834 (Bopp).

Disston Handbook on Saws, published by Henry Disston & Sons Incorporated in February, 1914 and April, 1919, both contain the following, relevant information.

1914 edition:

"In 1836 William & Charles Johnson commenced the manufacture of saws in Philadelphia and it was with this concern that Henry Disston learned his trade."

1919 edition:

"In 1833 William & Charles Johnson commenced the manufacture of saws in Philadelphia and it was with this concern that Henry Disston learned his trade."

Interesting and detailed research conducted by Carl Bopp and published in The Chronicle of the EAIA, Volume 57, no. 4 (December, 2004), seam to support description of apprenticeship history of Henry Disston presented in Disston Handbook on Saws.  Bopp's search of Philadelphia city directories for 1823 - 1849 resulted in multiple records of Charles Johnson, William Johnson & Co., William & Charles Johnson, and W & C Johnson.  This, according to Bopp, suggest existence of the same firm under different names and at different times. 

Bopp also included a photograph of the back saw from collection of Phillip W. Baker, where steel back of the saw is clearly stamped with "W & C JOHNSON, PHILA SPRING-STEEL".

From the article "Oh!! If a Saw Could Talk"
by Philip W. Baker

Another significant information about W & C Johnson firm is available in The Chronicle published in June, 1986 -  Vol. 39 No. 2.  Merle I. Webb writes about the saw in his possession, stamped "W & C JOHNSON, PHILA SPRING-STEEL".  This saw has the flat head handle screws, characteristic for early saws.  Merle concludes that there is high probability this is the firm were Henry Disston was working during his apprenticeship years.

All this is rather convincing information that the firm W & C. Johnson was operating in Philadelphia and produced saws.

Disston Handbook on Saws, 1914:

"In 1840 the firm of William & Charles Johnson failed and Henry Disston accepted from them some tools, steel and such materials as he could get in the saw manufacturing line on account of amount due him and began the manufacture of saws in his own name."

These proceeds were the capital Disston used to start the greatest saw production company in United States.

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