Bemis & Call Tool Factory, Springfield, Mass

The factory of Bemis & Call Hardware and Tool Company at 125 Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The origins of the Bemis & Call Hardware and Tool Company started in the 1830s, when merchant Stephen C. Bemis began manufacturing hardware here in Springfield. One of his early business moves was to purchase Solyman Merrick’s patent of the monkey wrench, which would become one of the company’s leading products. He subsequently formed a partnership with Amos Call, and in the 1840s Bemis & Call began manufacturing tools and hardware in a factory here on this site along the Mill River. The company initially rented space in a factory building that they shared with several other tenants, but later in the 19th century they would purchase the entire site.

Stephen C. Bemis retired from the company in 1855,   and went on to have a career in politics. He served as a city alderman from 1856 to 1858, as mayor in 1861 and 1862, and in between he was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 1859, although he lost the general election to fellow Springfield politician Eliphalet Trask. In the meantime, his son, William C. Bemis, became treasurer when Stephen retired, and remained with the company for the next half century.

William became president in 1897, and that same year the company built a large addition to the original factory. This three-story brick building, seen in the center of both photos, was joined four years later by the more ornate two-story section on the right, which was used as the company’s offices. The original wooden building stood on the left side until around 1920, when it was demolished and replaced with the current four-story brick building. During this time, Bemis & Call continued to specialize in wrenches, but also produced punches, pliers, calipers, and eventually combination locks.

Bemis & Call finally sold their wrench line in 1939, around the same time that the first photo was taken. However, unlike so many other Springfield-based companies, they survived the Great Depression and remained in business until finally closing in 1988. The factory buildings themselves are still standing, though, with hardly any exterior changes since the first photo was taken nearly 80 years ago, and they serve as a reminder of Springfield’s legacy as an important industrial city in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

40 thoughts on “Bemis & Call Tool Factory, Springfield, Mass”

  1. How long was the original 1873 – pat Dec 2 1873 pat # 145085 – manufactured. Mine does not have the ‘extra’ stamped dates or markings. I believe these were also sold to the railroad companies, but is also not marked .
    Mime is old, but as a ‘ family tool ‘ I would like to try to see if my father, or grandfather
    may have purchased it.
    Any help would be good !

    • I’m not sure how long they made that model, but the patent date gives a good clue as to when it might have been made. The length of patent terms back then was 17 years from the date that it was issued, so my guess is that the wrench was manufactured sometime between 1873 and 1890, because after 1890 the patent would have expired and there would have been no need to include that information on the wrench.

      Hope that helps!

    • I am Brian Gebo, I have a shop in The monkey wrench building. I have added a dozen stained glass windows to this location in the last 2 years. Gebos Glass Creations is located in suite 218.

      • I’m wondering if you can help me to identifying a furniture maker in that area in the 1940’s? I think I remember the name began with a B?
        Can you help me?

  2. I’m the happy owner of a Ben is and Call Co pipe wrench. Made in Springfield Mass. Extended 10.5 “long. 2” opened only other markings is. RY

  3. Sept.7,2018
    Going thru an old tool chest found in an abandoned house in Vermont.
    Among the tools was a 6″ divider marked Bemis Carr CO.

    Thanks for sites like this because I had no idea that this co. existed.

    • I’m glad you found the site helpful! I have an old Bemis & Call monkey wrench, and it’s amazing how well-made those old tools are. Modern companies definitely don’t make tools like that anymore!

    • Interesting. There was a George Bemis, now deceased, who was very active in California
      setting up Special education in that state back in 1960’s1970’s. He was married to my aunt Beatrice. She was buried in Anchorage, Alaska in the 80’s. I do not know where he was buried but I could probably find out.

    • My grandmother, Florence Bemis (married William E Marble) was daughter of Stephen C. Or William- she was born around 1878. Wendy Levins mother, Patricia Marble Levins granddaughter of Florence) has a Bemis family Bible with correct genealogy/dates. So you’ve more direct relatives in Connecticut (through Wendy) & her family, her aunt & uncle Cowles family and their kids in CT then Marbles in Calif & a Marble granddaughter who left Cal & went to Hawaii (Heather Christianson) , her sibs & cousins. I see they’re out researching!

    • Hi Mary,

      I see that you’re a direct descendant of Stephen Bemis. My name is David Rothenberg and I am the proud owner of the Bemis & Call Manufacturing complex on Main Street in Springfield.

      • Please if you can send me a photo of this poster. I have an old pipe wrench that I would love to know when it was made or around about when. Thanks so much. R Trivette. Southport n.c. 28461. 9102799179. Would love a pic through text. Thanks.

  4. I just acquired a fever seen before pipe wrench with a
    stamp: BEMIS & CALL.CO.
    I’ve never seen this type of wrench, it is actually a pipe wrench on one side and a monkey wrench on the other.
    I have several old wrenches and other tools, that’s why I’m
    interested when this tool was made. Would anybody in know
    send me the info. Thanks so much!

    • I recently acquired what sounds like the same unusual Bemis & Call monkey/pipe wrench you talk about. The pipe wrench side of it is just a V cut in the upper jaw with a small grooved replaceable jaw insert on the lower jaw. The remaining nut is below the lower jaw assembly and is about 3 inches long. The wood handle and attaching nut is missing from mine with just the shank with a left hand threaded end remaining. I can’t find a patent number on mine but it appears to have a patent date of Dec. 3 or 8, and year is either 1873 or 1878…. It’s hard to read it. Todd DeNio, Ely, Minnesota.

      • Hi Todd (and Elmars upthere), I live in Buenos Aires (sorry for my English), and recently bought an old but excellent pipe wrench similar to the one you are describing. Look at this link, with a beatiful catalog, maybe you can find your model there.
        I knew this model of wrench before, when I was a kid, this kind of tool was at home … and 50 years later I could buy a similar one !
        Hope it Helps, best regards

  5. I would love to find out how old my wrench is. How do I go about doing this. It has a wood handle with the steel going all the way through. Any info would be great. Can’t find anything buy name on it. Thanks. R Trivette. Southport n.c.

    • Hi Robin,

      Loring Coes is the inventor (1840) and patent holder (1841) of the adjustable “monkey” wrench. At the time Loring owned the Coes Knife Company, which of course manufactured knives. When Coes and his brother started manufacturing the wrench, they designed it with a knife handle, which was a characteristic feature of the Coes wrench well after Coes Wrench Company was acquired by Bemis and Calls Hardware And Tool Co.

      Unfortunately, that means your wrench cannot be dated without knowing more about it. Wrenches of that design would have the manufacturer stamped on the side of the steel head. These heavy steel wrenches had a secondary use: for percussive persuasion. Thus, usually the head of wrench of the era is beaten up pretty badly, and often that obscures the original imprints. Still, sometimes you can still make out bits of an imprint. With a little knowledge of common imprints, it is sometimes possible to deduce the original imprint and thus the manufacturer, and this can certainly help with dating.

  6. I have a safety deposit box manufactured by Benis and Call Co. It has a metal tag on the inside of box. And in the outside of the box it has United Benefit Life Insurance Company and Mutual Benefit Health and Accident Association and Omaha. The box must have belong to them. I’ve found this safety deposit box to be very interesting especially since I found it on the curb in front of a house with the rest of the clean out.

  7. I found an old B.S. & Co. (stamped) on the top side of the wrench. It is all steel except the wooden handle riveted to it. It has an adjustable bolt/nut on the side to open and close the square jaws (no grips on the jaws). There appears to be a small B in an oval right above the wooden handle (appears to be forged into the metal).

  8. Hello, I too have a tool made by Bemis And Call, a combination pipe/monkey wrench. I found it in an antique shop in upstate Michigan, along with an old saddle maker’s tack hammer. The wrench is marked with the Bemis And Call company script, and “Springfield Mass USA”. I noticed something odd about this particular wrench, on one side it is marked BRH, and BH on the reverse. These stamps are slightly crooked, and appear to have been made post manufacture. If anyone has any idea about this wrench’s age, or these strange markings, I would really appreciate it.

  9. I have a Bemis Call pipe/monkey wrench Springfield mass. Made in USA. It is approximately 12″ long.
    The tool is still usable and I appreciate that they are still around. I got it at a habit for humanity store because of the unusual design. Thanks for any ideas of how to date it.

  10. i’ve recently found a scale with bemis & Springfield Mass….looking for some history on it. any info would be greatly appreciated………ty

    • I have two Bemis & Call Springfield, Mass. scales that I am going to list on eBay. They are marked 0 to 11# on one side and 10 to 50# flipped over. They are so well made, machined rather than cast that I would suspect that they were made in the 1920s (purely a guess). Larry Violette

  11. I have a Bemis and Call Co. 12in No.90 nut wrench stamped with L&NRR (Louisville and Nashville Railroad). The other side of the handle says Billings, then a triangle, then Made in the USA. Is there any way to get a general range from that?

  12. I have a Bemis and Call lockbox in pristine condition and would like to change the 3 digit combination. Does anybody have any old instructions on doing so?

    • Examine inside of lock.
      Make sure you understand before attempting
      Inside of lock inside box has a small lever in an L shaped slot.
      Make sure box is ope…unlocked and combo is at unlock number.
      Move lever into L portion of slot ….over and down it will catch and will be spring loaded so be careful…won’t hurt but may mess up lock number.
      When it is in L position and number is at open number you can change the number.
      Then ensure number is where you want it…then release lever it will pop back down in position

  13. I have had a #6 (3/16″) round leather drive punch from Bemis & Call H&TC for several decades. I still use it and it has been used very carefully its entire life so it is still in excellent condition. I have many punches and this one stands out as having been made very carefully, with not only attention to function, but also form. It must have sat in a moisture environment for a few years, as one side rusted a bit. It was cleaned up before I got it and the minor corrosion pitting only adds to the patina and age of this great tool, in addition to giving it a more secure grip.

  14. I recently purchased an old surveyor’s race knife (timber scribe) and it is marked Bemis & Call H & T Co. Any idea how old it might be, or when the company discontinued making these?


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