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Leonard Bailey: A Legacy of Finishing

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Leonard Bailey: A Legacy of Finishing

Legacy Matters!

Leonard Bailey was an inventor.  He loved to tinker and create. Working on his own, he designed 3 products – the Bailey, Victor, and Defiant tools.  His designs became models for most similar tools made after the mid-1800s. However, most people won’t know his name.

Born on May 8, 1825 in Hollis, New Hampshire, Leonard started out as a cabinetmaker before becoming a toolmaker in Boston, where he produced innovative products during the 1850s. Leonard’s first patent, in 1855, describes a scraper plane with an adjustable cutter. The blade was mounted on a plate that pivoted near the sole of the tool. As the angle changed, the depth of cut changed.

Leonard’s 1867 patent shows the plane design we are still familiar with today. The plane’s cutter moves along a 45-degree bed by means of a forked lever that’s activated by a knob. This mechanism was used on both wooden and cast-iron planes. Leonard is also credited with the adjustable frog – the bed on which the cutter rests – and the cap iron, a thin piece of metal with a curved edge that’s fastened to the cutter to keep it stiff. Leonard had ideas.

In 1843, another young entrepreneur, a hard-working Connecticut man formed a bolt company. Frederick too, had ideas.  He saw expansion, manufacturing and building as key components to growth in America. A decade later he would incorporate his company and continue building a growing tool dynasty.

Meanwhile, Fredrick’s cousin, Henry formed his own woodworking company, also focusing on the building industry.  Henry’s company made rulers and levels. In 1869 Henry partnered with his friend Leonard Bailey when Henry purchased Bailey, Chaney, & Co.

The purchase gave Henry’s company the right to manufacture tools under Leonard’s patents, which they did for several years. However, in 1875, Leonard Bailey terminated his contract with Henry, claiming that sales of new products cut into his royalties on Leonard’s past products.  They separated.

Shortly thereafter, a frustrated Leonard Baily re-developed the Victor plane to compete with his old friend and co-worker’s planes, still in production. He fought several unsuccessful patent infringement fights with his old partner and lost a significant battle in 1878 when Henry’s company won a decision against him and the Victor line of planes.

In 1880, Henry took over as the sole agent for Leonard Bailey’s Victor planes. After a series of patent infringement suits and charges of industrial espionage, Henry bought the entire Victor production facility in 1884 and then discontinued the line. Leonard Bailey, meanwhile, stopped inventing and became a manufacturer of copy presses. Leonard’s run as an inventor ended in bitterness.

Leonard Bailey died on February 5th, 1905. Although cousins Henry and Frederick eventually put their name on the company, and often get all the credit for Leonard’s ideas, Leonard Bailey’s genius as an innovator cannot be diminished.

Fredrick Stanley founded The Stanley Company in 1843 in New Britain, Connecticut, and eventually incorporated in 1852. He subsequently spun off the Stanley Rule & Level Company in 1857. In 1920, the two Stanley cousins, Fredrick and Henry, merged their companies into The Stanley Works. This stood until 1935 when the company reorganized simply as Stanley Tool. Today they continue to innovate as part of Stanley Black & Decker.

In an apparent nod to Leonard Baily’s contributions to their overwhelming success, or perhaps for branding reasons, Stanley started casting the Bailey name into the beds of their plane bodies around 1906, well after old friend, partner and inventor Leonard, had passed.

Related: Innovation Inspired From Love and Legacy Cooking Traditions

Regardless of which name is stamped on them, virtually every bench and block plane Stanley made from 1869 forward are all referred to, somewhat generically, as ‘Stanley Bailey’, or simply ‘Stanley’ or ‘Bailey’ – all are technically correct. The Bailey planes comprised Stanley’s basic bench plane line and the company made millions of them. Some had the Bailey name stamped into the bed, while others did not. All, however, refer to the various design patents originated by Leonard Bailey.

As the patent rights expired late in the 20th century and hand tools began falling out of favor, the Bailey name was eventually dropped from use. The designs and patents of Leonard Bailey, however, still live on in many of the hand planes available on the market today.

So, today all Stanley Baileys can appropriately be referred to simply as Stanleys, as can many Bailey planes – the terms are frequently used interchangeably. Just remember that not all Baileys were Stanleys. It depends on the model and when they were made. The early non-Stanley Bailey planes tend to be more rare and quite valuable. If you have an old plane from your grandfather, you may want to check the name on it – it may have more than sentimental value.

All of this from a relationship more than 150 year old, beginning with a simple series of patents, from a relatively unknown man with a genius mind, to a brand that has innovated and stood the test of time. Leonard Bailey certainly made his mark on history, tools, finishes and innovation.  What are you creating today? What will you leave behind?

That is why, Legacy Matters…

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