That’s my Grandpa right there. John Archibald Smith. I never met him, he died about 5 years before I was born. But last night in my cellar I had a chance encounter with “Archie” as he’s known in the family and with some Connecticut industrial history as well.
Bitter cold weather was approaching Connecticut so I decided I’d better go down cellar and check my oil tank to see how much we had left before our next delivery. I cranked up my flashlight, went down cellar, over to the dark corner where the tank is located and took a look. On my way out a rusty old tool caught my eye. (Our dirt floor cellar is full of the odds and ends of a 150 year old house including years of occupation by my immediate family and now by myself, my wife and our kids.)
Picking it up I noticed a name that really made me smile. Under the dirt and rust it said “The HD Smith & Co, Plantsville Conn USA”. I couldn’t believe it. See, only a day earlier I had been in Plantsville, lecturing to a group of adults about Connecticut history. I threw into my talk some Plantsville stuff including a bit about the HD Smith Company. Now I had discovered some of this history right in my own cellar! For a historian this is Karma at its finest.
The HD Smith Company was organized in Plantsville in 1850 and was famous for its line of tools made with their “Perfect Handles”. They were granted numerous patents for their handles and mechanics tools. We have in our museum collection a number of tools from HD Smith including wrenches and hatchets that although a hundred years old are just as hearty and stout as the day they were made.
The tool I found is not a museum quality specimen, but with a little cleanup I bet it would still work. Of course when I looked at it I had no idea what it was. At first I thought it was some sort of bottle capper apparatus for home brewing. Upon closer inspection I noticed that inscribed under more rust were the words “The Ultimate” and “Patent Applied For”. With a little Google patent research and using our museum object database and a vintage HD Smith company catalog I tracked down what it is and how it’s connected to Grandpa Smith.
Turns out this mystery tool of mine is a Valve Compressor used by among others auto mechanics, probably made between 1920-1929 at the HD Smith Company in Plantsville. Guess who was an auto mechanic in the early 20th century? That’s right, Grandpa John Archibald Smith. And carrying on that tradition after him, was his son, Wesley Arthur Smith, my father, who was a mechanic for many years after WW II. So my educated guess is that this tool got passed down from father to son. And now I have rediscovered it. Chances are it will be passed on to one of my sons, keeping this part of my family and Connecticut history alive.
It’s funny sometimes how history just appears out of nowhere. All these little clues, stories and images just rise up, meet and make perfect sense. It’s one of the reasons why I do what I do. Plus I just love old stuff…..