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In the year 1873, at the little city of Eugene, Oregon, two brothers, William Robinson Barr and Hugh Barr, began making industrial cutlery. They did not describe their output in these words - perhaps they had no vision then of what this small enterprise was to become - but they did put into their product all their virility of purpose, all their unusual skill, all the love which the workman lavishes upon the children of his hands, with the result that the things they made were superior in quality to cutlery made elsewhere upon the earth.
For forty years, William and Hugh Barr stood at forge and lathe fashioning knives and other sharp steel implements of better quality than those manufactured by machinery.
And day by day, month by month, during those years came the demand for other articles. Men used their knives, found them good and called for other things. In the Oregon country in those days game was abundant and every man owned a gun - but these guns were sometimes defective, often undependable.
So, Barr Brothers, artists in steel, made guns, guns that stood up longer under hard usage, guns that shot straighter than the machine made firearm.
Then the flour mills required needles for sewing sacks, and Barr Brothers produced needles clearly suited for that purpose, a needle adapted to sack sewing and whose life far outlasted its machinery made cousin.
Thus grew Barr Brothers' reputation from the seed of small beginnings to the wideflung esteem of sturdy maturity, and in 1912 they removed to the city of Oakland and established themselves in the plant they occupy today.
Through all these years, Barr Brothers have never employed salesmen, never utilized the irresistible force of advertising, never published a catalogue, never availed themselves of any of the customary processes by which sales are promoted.
Nevertheless, from every state in the union, from every trade center, orders have continued to come for Barr Brothers' products. A situation illustrative of Elbert Hubbard's famous saying:
"If a man write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door."
Forty summers and winters Barr Brothers bent over forge and lathe producing knives, needles, draw axes, shipbuilding tools and scores of other articles, in all of which the inherent characteristics of their makers were hammered into the steel, and with these sterling attributes a selling quality unsurpassed by any similar wares in the world.
The fame of their goods passed by glowing word of mouth from user to user, the demand grew wider and wider; but the two brothers were growing old. Age will be served as well as youth. And thus we reach another stage in the history of this house.
from Metal Trades, April 1921
Time was, and not so very long ago, when most of the cutlery used in the United States was imported. An idea of the change that has occurred can be gained from the statement that in 1920, $2,000,000 worth of American cutlery was exported to Great Britain. One of the factors in this change has been the activities of Barr Bros. Co., of Oakland, the only concern making a general line of cutlery west of Chicago, and the largest sack and packing needle manufacturer in the United States.
The company was started in 1873 at Eugene, Oregon, to supply the local demand for kitchen and other cutlery and also for sack-needles, important articles in a grain-growing and milling district. The growth of the company was relatively slow in the earlier years, but since coming to Oakland in 1912, its business has expanded rapidly, so rapidly as to outgrow completely the present facilities. Plans are now underway for the construction of a new and larger plant. In the meantime the company has been obliged to refuse an order for machetes for South American shipment that alone would have required the entire facilities of the present plant. Two interesting new specialties, which it is hoped to place on production shortly, are a positive double-edged pruning-shear and a buttonhole-making device.
The raw material for cutlery, which is sheet steel of the proper composition for the use intended, is cut to proper size in the Gilro press shown in Fig. 1. Annealing to remove strains is done in a gas-fired steel furnace, the material being brought to the annealing temperature and then cooled slowly in the furnace, the entire process taking from 12 to 16 hours. The forging is done on the 100-lb. Bradley hammer shown in Fig. 2, which also shows a blank for a large kitchen knife, together with the same blank after it has been forged. These pieces are on the right of the anvil. Fig. 3 shows a drop-hammer made by the company, which is used for the needles. Beside it is a small gas-furnace for heating the pieces. All dies used by the company are made in its machine-shop department. Fig. 3 also shows a length of wire for one of the various kinds of needles, as well as a needle after the drop-forging operation has been completed.
After blanking and forging, the knives and needles are given a double heat treatment, and quenched in oil after each treatment. The treating temperatures and the quenching temperatures vary according to the kind of article treated, but are held within close limits for any given operation, control being obtained by means of a Brown pyrometer. The heat treatment is done in a gas-fired Stewart furnace.
After completing the heat treatment, the knives are ready for grinding. While a good deal of the grinding is done by hand, several special machines are also in use. Fig. 4 shows one-half of an automatic grinding machine made by the Hemming Bros. Co., one machine being arranged to grind the right-hand side of the blade and the other the left-hand side. The knives are held in the device shown in the foreground, a knife being shown about to be slipped into the holder. It takes two minutes to grind a knife of that size, compared with ten by hand-grinding, and the machine does better work, as well. On the right of Fig. 5 is a machine, also made by the Hemming Bros. Co., for polishing both sides of a knife at once.
The needles, after being drop-forged as already described, have the "fins" removed in the press shown at the left of Fig. 5, various dies for different types of needle being required Fig. 6 shows a machine made in the company's shop for doing the milling work on the needles. The cutter on the right mills the large eye clear through the needle, also the two shallow slots, while the cutter on the left cuts the slit at one end, which forms the spring in the eye.
Grinding of needles is done by hand. All grinding, whether for knives or needles, is done on either alundum or carborundum wheels, the grade varying according to the type of article ground.
The first boning hooks were introduced in 1955 as a safety aid for the United States Meat Packing Industry. The hooks were made of carbon steel, and the handles were lacquered hardwood.
The next 30 years saw a dramatic increase in demand as the benefits of using hooks in the slaughter of meat spread by word of mouth. There were many changes made in the sizes and shapes of the hooks from 1955 through 1985. Stainless steel hooks hardened to a spring temper and plastic handles became the standard. Our easily visible bright orange handles had become commonplace in meat plants, small to large, across the United States.
The 1980s brought many challenges to the meat industry and ergonomics became the topic of discussion. Barr Brothers pioneered the idea of ergonomics in hand held meat hooks, with the introduction of the tapered hammer handle design.
Barr Brothers has the most extensive line of hand held meat boning hooks available. We have worked with the ergonomics departments of the largest meatpacking plants in the United States to develop our current product line.
Our hand held meat boning hooks are used in virtually every meatpacking plant and butcher shop in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The 1990's have brought sales of our products to many countries outside North America. We have customers throughout Europe, Central and South America, Australia and New Zealand.
The slaughtering environment with a high production rate can benefit from the use of hand held hooks, versus the human hand, in the following ways: