Thomas Howard White
Thomas Howard White, manufacturer, was born at Phillipston, Mass., April 26, 1836. He was taught the machinist’s trade in his father’s chair factory at Phillipston. In 1857, he invented a small hand-power sewing machine. White, along with a partner, W. L. Grout, and just $350.00, began manufacturing the machine in 1858 in a factory in Templeton, Mass. White was in charge of production, while Grout handled sales and marketing. They named the machine “The New England” and the retail price was ten dollars. By 1863 sales had grown to the extent that White moved to a larger factory at Orange, Mass., where he manufactured for three years. Tiring of partnerships, White sold the business in Orange, and moved to Cleveland, OH, in 1866. A few of his best mechanics moved with him, and there founded the White Manufacturing Co. For ten years the business grew from an original production of twenty-five machines a month to 2,000 a week in 1882. With the opening of a London office in 1880, the company’s foreign trade soon encompassed the world.
From the first Mr. White devoted most of his time to problems of finance and production, engaging others to improve the machine itself. In order to reduce production costs he engaged the best mechanical engineering talent to devise manufacturing economies, and in his factory the full automatic lathe, the multiple spindle drill and the screw machine were brought to a high degree of perfection.
From time to time he enlarged the range of the business by adding new products, such as roller skates, bicycles, phonographs and automobiles. From 1894 to 1898 the company produced White bicycles at the rate of 10,000 a year, and in the same period it produced 450,000 bicycle pedals for other bicycle manufactures. In 1900 the company entered the automobile manufacturing field, which was developed largely by his sons under his encouragement and guidance.It grew so rapidly that it was established as a separate organization, the White Motor Company. Mr. White also founded and became president of the Cleveland Machine Screw Co. (later the Cleveland Automatic Machinery Co.), which manufactured screw-making equipment. He continued as president of the White Sewing Machine Co. until his death June 22, 1914. By 1914, the company’s capitalization had grown to $1,235,000, its main plant at Cleveland occupied more than 275,000 feet of floor space, and it employed close to 1,000 persons. White Motors grew to 6,000 employe es, over 1.5 million square feet of manufacturing space, in 25 buildings, located on 35 acres of land, and at the time was the world’s largest manufacturer of trucks and busses.
White was actively interested in public, educational and religious affairs. He served on the Cleveland City Council in 1875-76 and was a member of the Masonic order and the Unitarian Church. He observed the highest standards of business conduct, and required all others connected with his organization to do likewise. He was a man of great energy and industry, was modest, conservative and of few words, and was an almost unerring judge of character. He was known and highly esteemed in Cleveland as a generous, patriotic and public spirited citizen, and attained a noteworthy place in its industrial, social and intellectual life.
1994 Vacuum & Sewing Hall of Fame Inductee