The First 50 Years of the
Fellows Gear Shaper Company - 1896 to 1946
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Founded during a meeting of local industrialists (including James Hartness and William D. Woolson) in Springfield, Vermont, on July 13th, 1896, the Fellows Gear Shaper Company was formed to manufacture a patented invention of the then 31-year old Mr. Edwin R.Fellows: a gear shaper and its special cutters. Having worked for the Jones and Lamson Machine Tool Company - where he was tutored in his gear studies and experimental work by that firm's saviour, the famous and gifted machine-tool designer James Hartness - Fellows was well placed to succeed, the novelty of his new gear-shaping machine laying in a newly-devised method of operation called "hobbing". The process, once described as being of the moulding-generating type, used a cutter that was made to reciprocate as it rotated in harmony with the gear being generated. It differed entirely from previous methods where gear teeth had to be milled, one at a time, by a profile cutter, the blank then being indexed round to the next tooth; this method had a number of disadvantages in a production shop including the slowness of operation, the possibility of inaccurate indexing - and so the spacing of the teeth - and the difficulty of shaping them to an accurate, smooth-running profile. Because the Fellows' method kept both the cutter and blank in constant contact the finished gears were of a higher quality than before and hence more reliable and quiet running in service. The secret to the process lay in the superb quality of the hardened cutter, this being shaped like a gear and ground with an accurate profile of the tooth form required. The only disadvantage lay in the number of (doubtless expensive) cutters a machine shop was required to buy, one being needed for each profile generated - this being in contrast to the English Sunderland system where only a small stock of cutters was needed as each could cut any number of teeth providing they were of the same pitch and pressure angle. However, the Sunderland method was limited to making only larger gears, while machines by Fellows could mass produce anything from tiny ones employed in mechanical instruments up to the huge types used to rotate the gun turrets of battleships.
By the time of the shareholders' meeting in 1896, Fellow's first experimental machine, known as the 36-inch Gear Shaper, had already been constructed for him by the Fitchburg Machine Works, Mass., during early 1896. However, this particular model was never sold, the first production machine, called the "6-Type", emerging during 1897 from the Company's new but small works - with its seven employees and $500,000 worth of machine tools - on Pearl Street near the Black River and sold to the machine tool makers, Prentice Brothers of Worcester. Mass. Interestingly, like the first example of a Bridgeport miller sold, the first Fellows was recovered - being taken in part-exchange for a newer model - and, suitable repainted, presented to the New York Museum of Science and Industry.
Fellows' machines were just in time to catch the enormous boom in automobile and truck building, the Fellows system being widely employed in that and associated industries in ever-increasing numbers though the early decades of the 20th century.
The booklet reproduced below - and on the following pages - gives an interesting general outline of the Company, its staff and products.
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