We looked at John Fisher last week, and his founding in 1903 of the Marine Hardware and Equipment Company in the old bicycle factory in Ferry Village. It appears that more capital and/or new investors were needed in 1911, as a new corporation was formed, Marine Hardware-Equipment Company.

The original Marine Hardware sold its property and assets to the new corporation. Fisher did stay on as a salesman for a few years, but he was no longer in a management role and he eventually left the company.

Marine Hardware sold a wide variety of its own manufactured hardware, such as this socket turnbuckle. South Portland Historical Society image

When Marine Hardware-Equipment Company was established in 1911, George H. Griffen was still the board president, so he is believed to have been a significant owner at that time. Sometime around 1914, a new face showed up at Marine Hardware – George C. Soule – who was listed as a plant manager, along with Frank W. Smith.

Soule would soon become a major player in the management and vision of the company. Around 1915, George Griffen moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts.

There are a few other notable South Portland residents who were affiliated with Marine Hardware, one of whom was William H. Richardson. You may remember William’s brother, Frank W. Richardson, the grocer and South Portland state representative who we wrote about previously. William and Frank’s grandmother was Abbie Burgess Grant, the lighthouse keeper who was made famous in the children’s book, “Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie.”

William also had two daughters, Amy and Gladys, who married the two Trefethen sons, Meredith and Leland, the founders/operators of Trefethen’s Garage that was located on the corner of Broadway and Cottage Road (where Pratt-Abbott is today).

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Trademark symbol for Marine Hardware-Equipment Co. of South Portland, Maine South Portland Historical Society image

William H. Richardson had first worked as a bookkeeper for the Thomas Laughlin Company in Portland in the 1890s. This is undoubtedly where he met John Fisher. After Fisher left and started up Marine Hardware, Richardson also left and went to work as a bookkeeper for Marine Hardware. He survived the management transition and by 1917 had risen to the role of company treasurer. He remained with the company as its treasurer until its end in 1928, then left and went to work as a bookkeeper for his sons-in-law at Trefethen’s Garage.

Another interesting local figure at Marine Hardware was John B. Woodbury. He started working there as a teenager, becoming a machinist, then rose to superintendent and then assistant to the general manager. Woodbury was only 2 years old when his mother died in 1891, and only 4 years old when his father Capt. John B. Woodbury drowned when the fishing schooner Mary Lizzie went down in a gale. Only one crew member survived the sinking of the Mary Lizzie, George Upton, who was in the water for 33 hours before he was found and saved.

The barrel that Upton used to stay afloat is now in the collection of South Portland Historical Society. The young, orphaned Woodbury and his siblings were raised by their grandmother.

George Soule received a patent in 1914 for this chain repair link for Marine Hardware. South Portland Historical Society image

Along with Richardson and Woodbury, Soule was one of the longest-running employees at Marine Hardware. He started with the company when it was being run by John Fisher and rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the key decision-maker in the evolution of the business.

Soule’s name appears on numerous patents for the company, starting with a patent for a chain-repair link in 1914. Soule and John Woodbury also jointly applied for patents – in 1922, they were issued a patent for a process of making wire-rope clamp clips and, in 1923, they were issued a patent for a rope clamp.

These patents represent just a few of the incredible variety of hardware that was manufactured in the plant. In a 1916 Marine Hardware catalog, preserved at the South Portland Historical Society, there is a complete list of the hardware manufactured at that time. The product list included items like eye bolts, hooks, hinges, boat cleats, turnbuckles, iron and brass (nautical) chocks, and calking irons.

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With rare exceptions, Marine Hardware sold only products that it manufactured.

Marine Hardware ended its business operation in 1928, but its end was really just the beginning of another company. On June 1, 1928, the Marine Hardware-Equipment Company, with Soule as its president, sold its property and business to a newly-formed corporation, Maine Steel Products Co., with Soule as its president. The change in corporations is believed to be the result of the need for new investors and a large influx of capital. While Maine Steel Products continued to make marine hardware like its predecessor, the company also began a focus on the manufacture of snowplows. Snowplow manufacturing would certainly be a much more capital-intensive business than the production of small hardware items.

The patented chain repair link is shown being sold as a “chain splice link” by Marine Hardware in 1916. South Portland Historical Society image

Maine Steel was a large, South Portland-based operation with quite an evolution of its own. We’ll look at the history of that company in an upcoming column.

Volunteers needed: South Portland Historical Society is preparing to reopen its museum at Bug Light Park in May. We are currently seeking volunteers to help with giving museum tours and running the gift shop. Volunteers typically cover a three-hour shift each week. If you might be interested in volunteering and would like to learn more about it, please reach out to us at 207-767-7299 or by email at [email protected]

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at [email protected]

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