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History of the Bolt & Nut Industry in America

 On this page, we present the Winter 2001 issue of the Carriage Museum of America-Library's Annual Newsletter.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Reprinted with permission from the Archives and Library of the Carriage Museum of America.

The contact information for the Carriage Museum of America has since changed:

Librarian Mindy Groff, 3915 Jay Trump Rd., Lexington, KY 40511
phone 859-259-2933    website:

 Carriage Museum of America-Library Winter 2001 Newsletter

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For something as small as a nut and bolt it has a rather large job, and comes in many variations throughout the history of the carriage era. In looking through the carriage collection of the Carriage Museum of America in storage we noticed the nuts on vehicles built in the early 1800s were proportionately flatter and squarer than those built later which had champhered corners on the nuts. On the earlier vehicles less care was taken to trim off the bolts flush with the nuts as the later vehicles often had the bolts trimmed off flush with the nuts with a little burr on the end of the bolt to keep the nut from coming off.

 For further matters that are not visible and more factual information there is "The History of the Nut and Bolt Industry in America" by W.R. Wilbur in 1905. The first application of machinery for making bolts and screws was made by Besson in France in 1568, who afterwards contrived a screw-cutting gauge or plate to be used on lathes. In 1641, almost a century later, this device was further improved by Hindley of York, England, and for many years was in general use.

 The notion of a nut and bolt manufactory in America originated with Mr. Micah Rugg, a small country blacksmith, in the town of Marion, Southington Township, Connecticut in 1818. In studying the best methods of making tools to manufacture implements, he invented and brought out two machines for making carriage bolts.

 In the New York Coach-Maker's Magazine, March 1868, page 151 we find the following description: "His first operation was to cut up bars of square iron into suitable lengths to form the intended bolts, then heating one end of these pieces, he rounded them with die and swage which were inserted into the mortise of his anvil. The next operation was to head these pieces, and disdaining the old method of the heading-tool, he employed for that purpose an improved drop-die. The surplus metal which formed around the head of the bolt by the drop he trimmed off with a die in a hand-press. Then with a winch, which carried the necessary fixtures upon one end of a shaft to which it gave motion, the bolt being held in this fixture, the threads were cut between dies, which were hinged at one end and had a weight attached to the other to hold them together with sufficient power to enable the die to cut the thread."

 "It was several years before power was applied to perform this operation, and when that was done a boy could accomplish more and with greater ease than half-a-dozen men could previously with the old fixtures. It was about this time that the turned head was introduced, and, if we are not mistaken, it was to circumvent the patented process of the drop. The bolt-heads were headed with an appropriate tool, and the edges or sides were beveled, about fifteen blows of the hammer generally performing the operation, and then they were inserted in the end of a revolving mandrel, held there by a screw, and a tool similar to the quadrangular deck-scraper employed to fashion this head like the one as formed with the drop, water flowing in a succession of drops upon the head during the process to prevent the friction destroying the turning-tool. These bolts were then packed in paper envelopes and sent to market."


 Up to 1839 Mr. Rugg's books showed a total manufacture and sale of about 3,000 bolts. During this year he devoted his whole attention to machine bolts and nuts. The following year, 1840, he took in as partner Mr. Martin Barnes, constituting the firm of Rugg & Barnes, the first company to manufacture bolts and nuts in America. Six operatives were employed, with a daily production of 500 bolts, consuming less than 60 pounds of Stitt's best brand of refined English bar iron, purchased at $140 per ton in New Haven and hauled with ox teams to Marion, a distance of 18 miles. About 300 pounds of Lehigh lump coal was used, costing $12 per ton on the docks and also transported to the factory by teams of oxen. The monthly payroll amounted to $150, payable largely in due bills and store orders; there being no regular pay day, notice was required to get cash as part payment.

 He secured a patent on the second machine for carriage bolts for trimming bolt heads, dated October 22, 1842. The machine was operated with a hollow punch, in which the bolt was placed and forced through a trimming die. This was the starting point that led to bolt turning. As with many new and progressive ideas it was looked upon with suspicion--carriage smiths pronounced the bolts good for nothing and manufactured from "pot metal,", made malleable by some mysterious and fraudulent "Yankee" process--and it took some good marketing and and hard work to sell this new idea of manufactured bolts and nuts.

 Once the idea of manufactured nuts and bolts caught on, this led to a period of ingenious efforts to achieve economy and rapidity in the production of bolts. Bolts made by machinery were forged from square iron, the head being left intact, and the remainder was rounded and threaded to the required length. For a number of years all bolt forging machinery was designed to form bolts from the square bar on this principle.

Bolts manufactured by the Rugg & Barnes method


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 The foregoing cut illustrates the Rugg & Barnes method of fashioning bolts from square iron. No. 1 represents the blank with countersunk head formed in a hand tool by driving the stock down with a hand hammer. No. 2 represents the same blank with head turned down to proper shape by the operation of a foot-power drop hammer, as indicated by dotted lines. No. 3 represents the finished product.

 Due to the ingenuity of Mr. William J. Clark of Milldale, Connecticut, the method of forging carriage bolts was completely revolutionized in the early 1860s.

 The records of the Patent Office show that in October, 1859, he constructed dies and produced carriage bolts made of round iron, having the angular neck under the head of the bolt formed by "lateral swaging" or compression of the dies at the same operation by which the head was formed on the bolt by the upsetting die or "plunger."

 In the fall of 1861 a few "pinched neck bolts" were put on the market, and more in 1862, and the great savings in the cost of forging them was in part given to the customers, and the reduction on prices led the trade rapidly from the full square bolts that could not compete in the cost of manufacturing.

 Mr. Clark was granted other patents Nos.43,669, August 2, 1864; and 40,327, October 20, 1863, one of which permitted the metal forming the angular neck of the bolt blank to be projected to the corners as large as the full square iron would make, and when driven into wood was less liable to split the wood by side-pressure.

 This "concaved neck bolt" met with much more favor in the market than the "pinched neck bolt", as it was less liable to turn in the socket when the nut was screwed on or off, and it commanded a better price. Mr. Clark fortified this invention a year later by taking out a patent on the "Dies" forming the concaved neck.

 An extensive demand for a cheaper grade of bolts, suitable for constructing the commoner class of vehicles was first met by Alvin Pond's "pinched neck" carriage bolts, introduced by Thos. H. Lamson and Walter H. Woodruff, who purchased the patent which merely covered the style, the method of manufacture being covered by Clark' patent.

Clark's Pinched Neck Bolt & the Concave Neck Bolt

 Plant's Manufacturing Company ad, 1860

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 This was soon followed by the Star Bolt, manufactured by the Plant Manufacturing Company. This was of the pinched neck variety, closely resembling the ordinary pinched neck, and used by the same class of manufacturers and also came under the Clark patent.

 Pond, Star, Diamond, and Bastard Neck Bolts

 Following then came Orrin C. Burdict's Diamond Neck Bolt, on which he secured a patent, as the diamond form evaded Clark's patent.

 Then came the Bastard Square-Neck Bolt, made with a thin head and short square shank, and manufactured in large quantities by Hotchkiss & Upson.

 Another notable novelty in the fashioning of bolts occurred in 1890, when Russell, Burdsall & Ward began manufacturing their cold-forged "fin-head" bolt, constructed with headfins, or thin lugs, under the head, to be driven into the woodwork, serving instead of the square to hold the bolt stationary, while the nut was being screwed on or off.

 To compete with the fin-head, the Upson Nut Company brought out a cold-forged bolt with four fins, or more properly speaking, with a corrugation under the head, operating the same as the fin-head.

 The North cold-forged bolt, invented by W.C. North, of Cleveland, was, in a certain sense, the legitimate offspring of the fin-head and the corrugated head with which it was intended to compete. Instead of fins or other attachments to the head, the North Bolt has a corrugated neck that replaces the square neck on the ordinary carriage bolt.

 Fin-Head, Woodford Fin-Head, and North Corrugated Neck Bolts

 The round of the bolt is, of course, smaller than the corrugated or ribbed neck. The hole to receive the bolt is bored to the size of the round section, and the corrugated neck is driven in. This bolt can be driven through metal surfaces and into solid metal, a thing impossible to either the finned or common carriage bolt. The demand for this popular bolt at once found in the general market testified to its merit. In 1905 there were 510 establishments engaged in the manufacture of bolts and nuts, which number includes manufacturers of bolt and nut machinery. Information from History of the Nut and Bolt Industry in America.

Dash, Fender, Carriage and Singletree Bolts

 As to the finishing of the threaded end of the bolt, the Carriage Monthly, December 1873, page 159 gives the following information about a change in carriage bolts: The change for the better is comparatively small, yet it is nevertheless worthy of notice. We refer to the turned end of the Skelly-made bolts. Formerly the projecting ends of bolts were pointed so as to facilitate the application of the nuts.

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 The ends were merely hammered out leaving irregularities, which interfered to some extent with starting the nut, still this was a step in advance of the old method of leaving them square. Mr. T. Skelly, of Philadelphia has recently introduced into his factory machinery wherewith he is enabled to turn off the ends of bolts, thus adding to their neatness of finish, and the ease with which the nut may be applied.

A variety of different bolts


 In applying bolts to the various carriage parts, care should be taken that the heads of bolts are flush with the surface so that water does not get in and rust the metal surface or rot the wooden surface.

Bolt heads need to be flush with the surface.

 Not all carriage parts have flat surfaces; some are rounded or angular. In order to do the best job of having the bolt head flush to irregular surfaces we found instructions given in the February 1902 Hub, page 495. In summary the bolt heads are first heated, and using an inexpensive tool made by the blacksmith to the angle or form of the carriage part, are re-shaped in the tool before being put in the carriage part. Countersunk bolts in Rocker Plates seem to have been an especially vexing problem to get the head to fit tightly enough that the water did not get in and rot the wood. A specially designed bolt was made that had a large round thin head. Trimming could then be applied over the thin top.


  •  "Carriage Bolts," New York Coach-Maker's Magazine, March 1869, page 151.
  • Wilbur, W.R., History of the Bolt & Nut Industry of America, 1905.
  • "Something About Bolts and Clips," Hub, May 1898, page 111.
  • "Some Things About Bolts," Hub, February, 1902, page 495.
  • Threaded fasteners in Metal Artifacts," Technical Bulletin17, published by the Canadian Conservation Institute, Department of Canadian Heritage, 1030 Innes Road, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0M5.
  • "Important Improvements in the Manufacturing of Bolts," Carriage Monthly, December 1873, page 159.


Skelly Carriage Bolts

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 Leading Manufacturers of Carriage Bolts

 Russell, Burdsall & Ward, 1895

 Port Chester Bolt & Nut Co., Empire Tire Bolts

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