Edward Rivett had a long background in the watch lathe and tool industry before he turned his hand to manufacturing larger precision machine tools. Born in 1851 near Montreal, in Canada, it is thought that he might have served time as an apprentice in Switzerland - obviously in the watch or other precision industry. He took out his first patent (of around 30 to be registered in his name) in 1880 when he was working for C.A.W. Crosby, a successful Boston jeweller and watchmaker; this partnership developed to the extent that, in 1884, the pair registered the Faneuil Watch Tool Company with Rivett as General Manager and Crosby as Treasurer. From a modest workshop the business expanded until it occupied a newly-built factory, 125 feet long and with 150 windows, overlooking the Charles River in Brighton, Boston. In 1890 the partners could see the opportunities in diversifying from a sole reliance on watch lathes and their associated tooling and began to expand their product range to include, first, the No. 4 Precision Bench Lathe, a small range of high-precision bench milling machines, a made-to-order, 3-ton, three-spindle vertical-milling machine, then various grinders and other sizes of bench lathe, including the No. 3 and No. 4 and the wonderful 8-inch Precision. In 1903, to (partially) reflect the company's change of direction, it was named the Rivett Lathe Manufacturing Co..
In 1908 business had been good enough to double the size of the factory, but four years later Edward Rivett retired, selling his concern to a group of investors who renamed it The Rivett Lathe and Grinder Company. In the build-up to World War 1 the new owners enjoyed a good return on their money, with production steadily increasing and another factory extension added in 1915 - just a year after the War's start in Europe. Remarkably, the factory was extended again in 1920, at a time when all nations, especially the more advanced ones, were suffering a post-war slow-down. However, this optimism was short-lived, and by 1923, with the company's finances in trouble, a reorganisation took place which saw the name changed to The Rivett Lathe and Grinder Corporation. The company survived the Great Depression of the early 1930s, sometimes only making a handful of lathes each year, though no doubt sales of grinders, spare parts, sub-contract machining and commissions for one-off high-precision machines all added to the balance sheet. At some point during the 1930s the company's name was again changed, almost certainly to reflect the uncertain times and give better legal; protection to the directors, to Rivett Lathe and Grinder Incorporated - at this time the two most prominent designers (if patent applications are a guide) were Frederick Blanchard and Ralph Robbins. World War 2 saw a vast increase in output of both lathes and grinders, with not only a strong home demand, but also large export orders and "lend-lease" arrangements for the UK. The usual post-war depression again saw a drastic fall in demand for high-quality machine tools, although the company did go back to its roots and introduce a new design of watchmakers' lathe, the 1R or "Ball Bearing" Model; unfortunately, only five or six hundred were manufactured before the market was saturated. Hydraulic controls (which required the same skills to manufacture as precision machinery) were also added to the product line, together with a completely new design of toolroom lathe, the 1020.
The Rivett Company survived as a separate entity until 1966, when Applied Power Industries, makers of fluid drives, bought the company to obtain the rights to special hydraulic valves and control systems. The Rivett Company was then combined with a subsidiary of Applied power, the Dynex Company, to form Dynex-Rivett, which is still trading in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. The machine-tool side of Rivett was sold off to a maker of production drilling equipment, the Leland-Gifford Company of Worcester, Mass. Leland-Gifford were in turn bought by White Consolidated and the machine-tool part of the business transferred to one of their subsidiary companies, Fay-Scott in Dexter, Maine. It is highly probable - and very unfortunate - that the remains of the Rivett production machinery was buried in a Maine land-fill in the 1970s.
With a swing of 4.25" (a 9.5" lathe in American terms) and a maximum capacity of 21.25" between centres the 608 was a development of the original "8" Precision Lathe" of the late 1800s. It was, therefore, an ingeniously designed machine, exceptionally well made and beautifully finished - but, of course, so expensive that most of them found their way into the hands of the military, or Government research and development laboratories who, over the years, have proved themselves remarkably liberal when spending your money and mine. Certainly, some very well-preserved examples have come out of Official Reserve Stores over the years - and, who knows - there may be more left, lurking perhaps in some long-forgotten, dark corner of the Naval Procurement Office, Offshore, India Sub-region, Branch 7.
Equally famous in both the USA and the UK (many examples having been sent to Britain during WW2) a 608 in "civilian dress" would normally have glistened all-over in an imposing, fully-machined then hand-scraped and polished finish. It is amusing therefore to read, in the maker's wartime catalogue, a notice which apologised for the Government-imposed, "War Finish" (order L-108 from the U.S. War Production Board). Rivett certainly complied with the letter of this regulation, if not its spirit - they applied a coat of paint to the headstock and tailstock. In the early years of the 20th century the factory's master scraper (who brought the lathe to its final state of accuracy and alignment) was a Mr. Higgin - who recorded his involvement (unofficially) by scratching his name onto the back of the maker's labels.
Available over the years in three types the headstock spindle changed thus: early ones, until some point in the 1920s, accepted 4NS collets with a maximum through capacity of 5/8". Later machines were offered with the option of what was to become the very popular 5C collet (in which latter case the maximum capacity increased to 11/16-inch) and finally, when V-belt drive was offered, the 5C spindle was adapted to become what the makers called the Type PV-5C. In the latter configuration the maximum through-spindle collet capacity was 1" (limited by the size of the drawbar) with the collet able to hold a maximum of 11/8" in its bore. In all cases the spindle ran in massive phosphor-bronze bearings, which were fully adjustable for wear, with the edge of the drive pulley carrying a ring of 60 indexing holes. Maximum speed varied slightly over the years with the 4NS able to run to 1600 r.p.m., the 5C to 1295 r.p.m. and the PV-5C to 1500 r.p.m.
An entirely conventional backgear assembly was fitted, with engagement on an eccentric shaft, though there were differences in the arrangement on early and late models: lathes have been found with both 16DP and 18DP gears and headstock spindles carrying gears of 90 & 27 teeth or 90 & 38 teeth and backgears with 78 & 27 teeth or 68 & 27 teeth; all gears, as was common at the time, had a 14.5º pressure angle. The differences in the gearing arrangements on the headstock may be accounted for by the need to include a V rather than flat-belt pulley drive system - as well as on-going refinements to the mechanical specification.
Instead of a tumble-reverse mechanism to control the direction of the drive from headstock spindle to leadscrew, the 608 used a large gear, keyed to the spindle, that could be slid (by grasping a knurled ring on its outboard flange), into any one of three positions. Pushing the ring and gear to the right engaged a small intermediate gear that, driving through the gearbox or changewheels, caused the carriage to move towards the tailstock. In the gear's central position the drive was out of mesh and the carriage stopped whilst, logically enough, moving the gear to its left-hand position caused the carriage to move to the left, towards the headstock.
The 608 pictures below are all reasonably high-resolution images from the maker's catalog and may take a little time to load; reproductions of this particularly fine publication are available.