Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Want Innovation?--Think (Ames) Shovels

Nicole has choreographed the angle on this
particular shot, though has not yet placed
a "Kodak moment" sign at the location.
My thanks to friends and associates Greg Galer, Henry Ames, Bill Ames and Nicole Tourangeau Casper, Director of Archives and Historical Collections at Stonehill College, for their combined efforts in aiding me in today's visit to the Arnold B. Tofias Industrial Archives--the Ames Shovel Collection.

It's a gem located on the Stonehill campus in Easton, Massachusetts, not far from Oliver Ames's (1779-1863) famed Shovel Works, and tells the story of one of America's oldest enterprises--and the Industrial Revolution's great successes.

Were you to walk across America in first half of the 19th century, you would have found Ames shovels at work on every farm, foundation, country road, turnpike, canal and railroad in the early Republic.  Cumberland Road?  Ames shovels.  Erie Canal? Ames shovels.  Union Pacific Railroad? Ames shovels.  Transportation Revolution?  Ames shovels.  By 1879, the firm launched by Oliver Ames produced 3/5's of the world's shovels.  (For comparison, Android tablets hit 60% market share this quarter, and 60% of your body is water.)

I'm saving "the rest of the Oliver Ames story" for my Nation of Entrepreneurs book, but wanted to share just a few pictures from today's visit.


Silver-plated shovels highlight a variety of Ames products in a case used at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.
(Really, how cool is that?)  Attendees of this first, large American world's fair would have
also been amazed by a typewriter, early electric light, and Alexander Graham Bell's telephone.  By then, the Ames
family had been making shovels for a century.
To the right, the earliest shovel in the collection.  Oliver's father, John, was forging shovels a few years
before the American Revolution.  Handles were usually made of ash.

The earlier, hand-carved "D" handle above, and the improved "Y" handle below.  An important innovation.

Note the "bend" in the shovels to the right--an innovation that we cannot definitely attribute to Oliver Ames
or his sons, but we know came to be closely associated with their products.  I dare you to shovel for a day with, and a day
without, this "modest" improvement and then tell me if it isn't a miracle on par with, say, an iPhone.
Nicole says this is a favorite: the potato shovel.

A selection of shovels used by soldiers.  Both Oliver Ames and Robert E. Lee were occasionally
referred to as "the King of Spades."
Thanks again to Greg, Henry, Bill and Nicole for a fascinating visit, and to Arnold Tofias, the Ames family and Stonehill College for preserving this important collection.  It won't make snow shoveling next winter any more fun, but it most certainly gave me a new appreciation for this remarkable and still essential tool.