Appendix 22: Hans Goldschmidt and his Shopsmith

Back to Chapter 6.5 technological development

 

The Shopsmith Combination Tool: An Engineered GemIn 1946, Dr. Hans Goldschmidt designed the Shopsmith, a home-craftsman's “combination” woodworking machine with a small, space-saving footprint -- 55 inches long and 21 inches wide. The Shopsmith  comprises five main components: a 30” lathe, an 8” table saw, a drill press/mortising chisel, a disk sander, and a shaper.

image of my 1947 shopsmith 10E

However, experience soon shows operators of Shopsmiths that you are limited to its uses only by your imagination. Countless variations in setups for a multitude of operations are possible. Today, 50-year old Shopsmith combo tools  are prized possessions of many amateur woodworkers, myself included. (My Shopsmith is pictured on  the left.)

These components are engineered to operate in both horizontal and vertical settings, perhaps the most compelling argument when considering this tool’s merits.

Gordon B Ashmead notes,all its functions the machine will perform its operations with efficiency equal to the best single-purpose tools of similar capacity. Optional accessories include a bandsaw, a jig saw, and a jointer cutter head. In a short five years on the market, from 1947 -- when the nationwide mail-order and department store corporation, Montgomery-Ward, began demonstrating and selling units – to 1952, over 100,000 units sold, with the operation realizing $18.000,000 gross sales. (In 1948, its first full year, Magna sold $3,000,000 worth of Shopsmiths!) Other sources verify about how robust sales of the Shopsmith were between 1947 and 1952.

In his article -- Document 11 -- Ashmead notes 75,000 units sold by 1950, while Skip Campbell (also in Document 11) claims that by 1952, the number sold was 125,000.

To keep contact with users, a house organ, Shopsmith Shavings, was published.

Sources: Frank J Taylor “The Easy Way to Get Rich”, Saturday Evening Post 224 no 39 September 1952 pages 44+; Gordon B Ashmead "Precision Makes the Shopsmith" Western Machinery & Steel World  January 1951, 66-68, 92-93; Time 68, no 13 3-29-1954, Anonymous, "Inventor in Menlo Park"; Skip Campbell, telephone conversation and email; Hands On! no 7 September-October 1980.

Brief Bio

The “Dr” in Goldschmidt’s credentials is doctor of administrative engineering. During WW II, for a Jew to live in Germany was not to be. He and his wife, Ilse, fled when the Nazis were after him. He sought refuge in this country, where he had spent several boyhood years while his father was on the Yale faculty. (The son of a German professor, Goldschmidt had spent his youth in both Europe and New England.) During WW II he was a time-study man at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond , CA.

In the aftermath of World War II, with Americans were looking forward to settling into a peace-time, Goldschmidt was investigating a potential "gadget" to manufacture that would be snapped up by eager purchasers.  Moreover, Goldschmidt reasoned, with rising incomes and increased leisure time, gave money to spend on hobbies. 

He was struck by the fact that -- as Philip Creden claims -- "Americans liked to work with their hands" — something that Goldschmidt knew was considered demeaning  by lawyers, doctors and professors in Europe.


I read an article that so many Gl's had learned crafting during the war, there was a big demand for home workshops, ... I decided that was something I knew something about.

Source: Hands On! no 7 September-October 1980.)



Goldschmidt also noted surveys suggesting that most homes would have workshops, that men  were recognizing their need for busier leisure [link to Mansfield ohio article, jan 17, 1954] , and  concluded that a potential market existed for an affordable combination woodworking tool with a  modest footprint.

Given America's ebullient climate following World War II, Goldschmidt was convinced that this  country was poised for an epidemic of craftsmanship. When we consider the phenomenal size  and impact that the Do-It-Yourself movement had upon  America, starting in the early 1950s --  a movement of revolutionary dimensions economically, socially. culturally -- Goldschmidt's  intuition proved correct:


We came in on a revolution in the American way of living… Nowhere else is there leisure for hobby work like this. Nowhere else are there so many people who take such pride in making things with their hands.



From Roughed-Out Drawings to Half-Scale Mock-Up to Life-Size Working Model

In 1946, Goldschmidt started his project. He begun by roughing out models of combination tools  on  paper, but soon concluded – correctly, I believe – that to do justice to any tool designed for  woodworking he required experience to become familiar first-hand with woodworking tools and  processes.

That experience came, when, in 1946, he took a job in a cabinet shop in Berkeley, California.

Twelve  months later he roughed out the model for combination woodworking that ultimately became the  Shopsmith 10E. (See image above.)

Put simply, the Shopsmith comprises a tool powered by a fractional horse-power motor mounted on    two parallel hollow tublar “ways”, or steel tubes, about six feet long. The parallel steel tubes are  the foundation  that supports conducting woodworking operations in both vertical or horizontal  positions, and function as -- among other tools -- a table saw, a lathe, jig saw, a shaper, a jointer,  a mortiser, a disk sander. 

 After working for a year at the cabinet shop, Goldschmidt quit his job to build a mock-up of the  Shopsmith.

Built on a half-scale the model comprised a Rube-Goldberg like makeshift of wood,  plastic, tin and tubing. Goldschmidt gained enough evidence from the half-scale model to convince  him to move up to a full-scale model, this time composed of castings, tubing, motor, pulley and  belts salvaged from junk yards and second-hand outlets.

 Necessarily, parts such as saw blades, Jacobsen chucks, drill bits and sanding disks came from  hardware stores and tool shops. 

 When he assembled the total array of parts – as an owner of a 1947 Shopsmith, I can vouch that  the numbers do indeed add up -- were assembled, the machine functioned smoothly enough to  convince Goldschmidt to look for a source of funds to begin its production on a greater scale.

 

Though Goldschmidt made minor refinements, in 1952, the 100,000th Shopsmith is virtually  identical  in size, shape and operation as the Life-Size Working Model assembled in 1947.

Seeking Financing

With the working model complete, Goldschmidt’s operation was now at a critical juncture. He lacked  enough funds to set himself up to manufacture and market the invention. He had to seek financial  backers. Potential manufacturers were wary of combination machines, because, as Taylor argues, “experienced amateur woodworkers would have nothing to do with them. When the obvious sources of financial backing proved unsatisfactory and/or unfruitful Goldschmidt  sought out a wartime colleague, Robert L. Chambers, a former supervisor of Goldschmidt when  Goldschmidt worked in the Kaiser shipyards.

Trained in marketing at Harvard School of Business Administration, Chambers – then only  twenty-nine years old -- became interested and enlisted for assistance his brother, Frank. Although  the two Chambers knew little about the problems connected to marketing combination woodworking  power tools, they did agree to invest their own savings and borrow the rest of the financing needed  to launch a production operation.

The Natural Shopsmith Market: The Beginner Hobbyists

The financing the Chambers scraped together – a $20,000 shoestring, although not all sources are  consistent in the amount – proved not sufficient establish a Shopsmith factory, the team arranged  to have parts manufactured through contracts with war plants. The payoff for the factory owners:  the Shopsmith jobs helped keep factory workmen busy. One contractor agreed to assemble the first 1000 Shopsmiths in idle space in a San Francisco plant,  waiting ninety days for his pay, but the first few Shopsmiths were hand-built, to get demonstrators  in a hurry. So the three partners came up with a daring idea.

Brilliant Decision: Market Shopsmith to Amateur Woodworkers Through Montgomery-Ward

Why not by-pass the expert hobbyists, where loyalty to established brands is too strong for change  to take place easily?

Instead, given the climate of ebullience that emerged from the aftermath of  the War, the Shopsmith team decided upon a new target audience: the wannabe woodworker. The  idea held much  promise, providing the cost of the unit could hold at about $200.  Maybe, too, these  initial purchasers of Shopsmith 10E -- later 10ER -- would consider additional accessories:  bandsaws, belt sanders, and  jig  saws.

For Goldschmidt,


We figured that if a beginner would use a Shopsmith for ten minutes, or even watch a demonstrator, it would sell itself.


The manufacturing operation was called Magna Engineering Corporation; the home office was a  small  building in a San Francisco lumberyard.

It was now late in 1947, and this term of three young enterpreneurs hoped to market enough  machines around Christmas to get over the first hump. But they were confronted by the "good-news,  bad-news" conundrum:

The Bad News

The results of a marketing survey suggested some potential set-backs. The survey found:

(1) a general prejudice against multiple power tools among serious experienced amateur woodworkers. Veteran hobbyists think 

(a) that time is wasted time in change-over from tablesaw to disk sander or from lathe to drill press,

(b) that the tilting table is dangerous, and

(c), that the capacity of the 8-inch saw blade is too limiting, and

(d) that the Shopsmith is under-powered. 

(2) the conservatism of power-tool dealers; they displayed machines, but didn't demonstrate them. 

(3)  power-tool dealers were reluctant  to stock a new and unproved line.

The Good News

A lucky break came when Bob Chambers called a friend, Dave Hatchell, Pacific Coast buyer for  Montgomery Ward, who promptly signed for 250 Shopsmiths to be delivered in six weeks, in time for Christmas sale.

This prospect became a challenge, but everybody rose to the occasion, and delivered 250 crated units. Even the crating, however, was a task.

'Manufacturing a new precision tool in six weeks was an unheard-of feat; but applying wartime expediting know-how, the partners sweated it out. Just before the deadline, the superintendent of the assembly plant said, "Your machines are built. Who is going to crate them?"

Crates were ready, but no one to do the crating. Working all night, the Magna Engineering team   crated the 250 Shopsmiths, each weighing 200 pounds, finishing in time for shipment the       following morning.

Still not finished, the next morning -- they never had a chance to sleep -- they headed for Ward   stores to show clerks how to demonstrate this shiny new combination machine to prospective     customers.

Like most new inventions, making it a successful product was a potential disaster: marketing it   required turning store  clerks into informed demonstrators -- not an easy task, since ideally a       demonstrator is, first and foremost, an insider, with insights derived from experience, and a     facility with the technical language of the machine and the vocabulary of woodworking.

Trade traditions had to be broken down, prejudices had to be to overcome. From all reports, this  period of the operation was the most exhausting. with the Magna Engineering team evidently  working  day and  night. For Goldschmidt,



"I don't know how we made it. The big part of inventing is finding a nesd, and the man who finds that is the real inventor even if he hires some-one to design his invention. But even then his idea doesn't have value until the invention is marketable."

Orders began pouring in from the seven stores in which Montgomery Ward was demonstrating. They  came so astonishingly fast that the Ward chain put Shopsmiths in eighty-four other western stores,  and later made it a stock item in 600 stores across the country.

Promotion Through Demonstration

According to Taylor, even before the victory at Montgomery Ward arrived, Shopsmith units were  demonstrated by the Magna team in the  automobile showroom in the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel.  The team brought in Shopsmiths and lumber, and invited several hundred Southern California  hardware merchants and appliance dealers to come and see how the the Shopsmiths could perform.

With this experience for evidence about the potential reception of the Shopsmith for the amateur  woodworker, Magna Engineering then hit on the idea of putting Shopsmiths, accessories and wood  on the road, in station wagons,  and taking the show directly to dealers.

During 1948 these Magna teams covered the country, demonstrating Shopsmiths for any dealer who  would grant space in his store. The result: an unbelievable $3,000,000 gross in sales.

Given that orders were out-stripping Magna's abilty to assemble units in the San Francisco plant,  Magna contracted with a Cleveland plant to supply the Eastern half of the country. It was a wise  plan: sales grossed $3,500,000 in 1949, $5,400,000 in 1950, and $6,000,000 in 1951.

However, rather than giving Goldschmidt a motive to slow down, these results, Taylor claims,  had  the opposite effect:


Amazed at the fortune that had over-taken him, Hans Goldschmidt was in a position within four years to retire and take it easy. Instead, he worked harder than ever, proving that an inventing urge, once started, is hard to choke off. In fact, it was like turning off a flood.

To keep in touch with Shopsmith users, a house organ, Shopsmith Shavings, was published. Most  of the contents are items from users. Letters from users reported how each owner used the machine  to do something the inventor himself never thought of.

The 1958 Merge With Yuba Consolidated and Cessation of Production, Mid-1960s

In 1958, Magna Engineering merged with Yuba Consolidated Industries. Goldschmidt headed Yuba ‘s engineering efforts until 1960, then left to operate his own toy and game design company. He is now retired and living in California.

The Shopsmith tool line ran into problems and ceased production in the mid-1960’s.


Yuba Consolidated Buys Shopsmith Firm

The stock of Magna Power Tool Corp., which manufactures the Shopsmith, a home workshop power tool, has been purchased by Yuba Consolidated Industries. Inc., the presidents of both firms announced today.

President Robert L. Chambers of Magna remain as president of the woodworking power tool firm which will become a subsidiary of Yuba. the announcement said. President J. L. McGara of Yuba will continue w head that firm.

Magna has its headquarters in Menlo Park, and plants in Berkeley and Fort Wayne, Ind.

Dr. Hans Goldschmidt, inventor of the Shopsmith. will remain active at Magna in product development, the announcement said.

Source: Oakland Tribune March 25, 1958, page?



In 1971, John Folkerth visited the plant in Raymond, Mississippi in search of spare parts. He found not only the parts, but molds, dies, jigs — everything he needed to make new Shopsmiths. Since Yuba Consolidated was willing to sell, Folkerth offered to buy Shopsmith, and -- as a reprise --  "in 1973, the invention of Hans Goldschmidt — the multi-purpose woodworking tool — was back on the market".

Concluding remarks:

Again, the Shopsmith is an engineered machine, with qualities built into it that allows units to operate as well today, half a century later, as they did in the early 1950s.

If  there are "weaknesses", these are:

the lack of a tilting arbor for the saw, which makes some cutting  operations unsafe;

the 8" saw blade is too limited for cutting the materials ordinarily cut by woodworkers; and

the 10ER's motor lacks the power needed to cut hardwoods.

Regardless, this fifty year old combo tool can drill, mortise, disk sand, work as a lathe, put simply, virtually any  woodworking operation that other, specialized tools are designed do, providing you have the patience for set-up.

Sources: Frank J Taylor “The Easy Way to Get Rich”, Saturday Evening Post 224 no 39 September  1952 pages 44+; Gordon B Ashmead "Precision Makes the Shopsmith" Western Machinery & Steel  World  January 1951, 66-68, 92-93; Time 68, no 13 March 29, 1954, Anonymous, "Inventor in Menlo  Park", page ?;   Carolyn M. Goldstein, Do-It-Yourself: Home Improvement in 20th Century  America New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1998, pages 50-51; Skip Campbell, telephone  conversations and emails, 2007; Hands On! no 7 September-October 1980.