"Preserving Our Industrial Heritage"

History Of Machinist Chests

Machinist Tool Chests


Machinist tool chests were standard equipment for machinists during the 1900’s.  Their design facilitated the safe, secure storage of precision measuring instruments, as well as taps, drills, and other tooling items used in the machinist trade.  The wooden design of the chests was key to helping prevent the rusting of precision tools.  Wood provides moisture absorbing and breathability characteristics not found in metal tool chests.  The majority of chests were quarter sawn oak, but some were made from mahogany, cherry, and walnut. 


Regardless of manufacturer, machinist chests were very similar in appearance, having shallow drawers, lined in felt to provide a cushioning for micrometers, calipers, etc.  Most also had a front panel that locked in place to provide security for the contents, while offering a flat surface to lay out tools when it was in the “down” position.


There were 15 or more manufacturers of machinist tool chests in the early 1900’s.  Union, Gerstner, Star, National, SIPCO, and Pilliod were just a few of the companies making these chests.  Union and Gerstner are considered by most to be the premier quality chests.  The only manufacturer still making chests is Gerstner (H. Gerstner & Sons), located in Dayton, Ohio. By the end of the 1960’s, all of the others had ceased making machinist tool chests.





H. Gerstner & Sons Inc. began production in 1906 in Dayton, Ohio.  Harry Gerstner made his first tool chest for himself, while working as a patternmaker.  Upon seeing the chest, Gerstner’s co-workers approached him to make chests for them.  Gerstner saw an opportunity and started his company to supply machinist chests to the market.  Over the years, Gerstner also made chests for other machinist tool manufacturers such as the Starrett Tool Company.


H. Gerstner & Sons continues to be privately held and operated in the same building since 1913 by descendants of Harry Gerstner.  Over the years, the company has expanded their product lines to tap additional markets with related products.   View complete history at http://gerstnerusa.com/history.htm



Union Chest Works.

Union was started in 1893, manufacturing drafting tables.   They then started making wooden machinist tool chests and the in the 1920’s, metal machinist chests were offered.   When the parent company fell on hard times in 1931, three owners of the metal division purchased Union and relocated to LeRoy, NY.  Union continued making both wooden and metal tool chests until their wooden chests were phased out in 1953, with the metal chests lasting until the late 1960’s.  Union relocated to Chandler Arizona in 1973, ultimately closing in 1984.



SIPCO  -  Schartow Iron Products Co.


Frank E. Schartow, was born Frank Littlefield, in 1882.  He relocated to Racine in 1903 and within a short time, began managing the Barton Manufacturing Co.  After purchasing Barton in 1911 he changed the name to Schartow Manufacturing Co.  He then moved operations to Milwaukee, but Schartow returned to Racine in 1921 and started the Schartow Iron Products Co.   Schartow marketed his products both in the U.S. and abroad and also supplied the federal government during WWI and WWII.





The Pilliod Company, started in 1896, was located in a small community of Swanton OH about 20 miles SW of Toledo. (Originally Swantown, OH?) Pilliod manufactured furniture as well as tool boxes. 

The Pilliod Cabinet Company
Furniture Manufacturers

105 – 117 Woodland Ave.
Swantown, Ohio  43558

Additional Plants?

Pilliod of Alabama, Inc.
Pilliod of Carolina, Inc.



Other Manufacturers

There is little information on the other manufacturers available.  As additional information surfaces, we will update this section.  Should you have any additional history on machinist chests, please help us by forwarding it to us.

Guide For Wooden Machinist Chests - Pre 1960's


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