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The Importance of the Skelton Shovel Company

The merger of the Kelly Axe and Tool Company with the American Fork and Hoe Company was quite well publicized in the domestic media of the time. Likewise, the inclusion of the Skelton Shovel Company of Dunkirk, New York, was often added to articles delving into the merger, occasionally as an equally important business aspect, and other times simply as a sidenote. However, the inclusion of the Skelton Shovel Company is of utmost importance to axe enthusiasts, as it holds the figurative “key” to the connection of the Kelly company axe lines to the Welland Vale company of St. Catherines. The Skelton name has been connected to shovel production since the early 1800s, as the family was manufacturing their iconic tool in Sheffield, England, prior to immigrating to the United States in 1886. At the time, Frederick Skelton was the head of the household, and his son, Walter Ewart Skelton was 16 years of age. Though the family would migrate through Pennsylvania and then Ohio, they would settle in Terre Haute, Indiana around 1890, with both Frederick and Walter finding employment as machinists with the Sanford Tool Company of that town. By 1892, both men had left that concern, and Frederick was now a foreman for another local business, the Terre Haute Shovel Company. By 1894 he had advance to general manager of the business, showing a rapid transference of his English heritage to the market of the United States.

In June of the year 1900, the Laughlin Nail Company, a rapidly growing steel business based in Wheeling, West Virginia, made the decision to diversify their business holding. This decision included the erecting of a shovel works, noted as the “Shovel Works of the Laughlin Nail Company”, at Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, directly across the Ohio River from Wheeling. Upon creation of the new works, media reported the officers of the company as W. L. Glessner, President; F.K. Dixon, Secretary; and Fredrick Skelton, Mechanical Superintendent. John Charles McCarty and Company of 10 Warren St., New York, were noted as the eastern sales agents for company and would be tasked with the distribution of the company’s new shovels. Despite a surge in shovel sales by the company, the factory would close after one season, reportedly after being purchased by the American Axe and Tool Company. Though the “Axe Trust” was not a primary manufacturer of shovels, Hubbard and Company was, and at the time Charles W. Hubbard, Jr., was the President of the American Axe and Tool Company.

By 1904, Fredrick Skelton and his family had heeded an invitation from William Arthur Holton, a Canadian industrialist, and moved to Hamilton, Ontario, about 60 miles west of Buffalo along the banks of Lake Ontario. Moving north from his current residence of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, Fredrick would assist Holton in forming the “Canadian Shovel and Tool Company LTD”, along with financial assistance from John Charles McCarty whom he had become associated with through the Laughlin Shovel Works. J.C. McCarty would lead the sales efforts of the new concern and Skelton would manage it, whilst Hamilton would preside over the company. Skelton would develop a number of advancements in shovel technology during the time, leading to a successful business over the next 10 years.

In 1917, McCarty would decide to move his assets in a different direction, and both Fredrick Skelton and W. A. Holton would decide to involve family in their business ventures. McCarty would sell a large portion of his stock in the Canadian Shovel and Tool Company to Skelton’s son, Walter E. Skelton, as well as to Mark Baldwin Holton and Luther Janna Holton. The shift in ownership would warrant a re-incorporation of the business, leading to a new company named the “Canadian Shovel and Tool Company”. The company would continue to grow and prosper, becoming one of the largest of its kind in Canada.

    The company’s growth, coupled with a shift in the post war economics of the United States, would see a need for expansion across the border. After announcing the intent to build a U.S. based subsidiary, the Canadian Shovel and Tool Company was courted by representatives of the Dunkirk, New York, Chamber of Commerce. With an offer of land and minimal financing, as well as easy shipping from Hamilton, the company accepted Dunkirk’s offer. Additional financing was found in old business connections, with J. C. McCarty funding the majority of the initial $100,000 capital stock in the new venture. The new Dunkirk concern, officially incorporated as a business of New York in 1922, was to be called the Skelton Shovel Company. John C. McCarty would head the company as President, Frederick Skelton would be the Vice President, and his son, Walter E. Skelton would be the new company’s Secretary and Treasurer. Both Skelton’s would retain their positions on the Canadian Shovel and Tool Company, thought Walter would move to Dunkirk in order to manage the new U.S. concern, which was technically, but unofficially, a subsidiary of the Canadian Company.

The Skelton Shovel Company (or the Skelton Shovel Works of Dunkirk, New York, as it was occasionally noted on the Canadian Market), would see great success in the U.S. market. Frederick Skelton would continue to innovate and patent shovel designs, employing new tempering techniques for the heads of shovels as well as new, improved, handle designs. Skelton shovels would grow in popularity across the U.S., adding to the wealth of both the Skelton and the McCarty families. In 1924, the Skelton Shovel Company of Dunkirk, New York, would increase its capital stock from $100,000 to $500,000. In 1925, John C. McCarty would retire from active business, turning his seat as President of the Company over to his son, Edward W. McCarty. Both the Canadian Shovel and Tool Company, as well as its U.S. based daughter company, would continue to prosper through the roaring 20s under the leadership of the Skeltons and the McCartys.

By the end of 1929, however, the Great Depression had forced companies in the US and Canada to reassess their business structures, and to seek out aid from other struggling corporations. Conglomerations built of numerous, diversified businesses would be more stable than those relying on one or few products, and thus larger, stronger, corporation began to form from individual smaller ones. In June of 1930, after extensive negotiations, the Skelton Shovel Company merged with the American Fork and Hoe Company, who, at the same time, acquired the Kelly Axe and Tool Company of Charleston, West Virginia. The acquisition of the shovel and axe concerns were accomplished by a transference of stock, and the merger was solidified by the advantageous placement of its stock holders in positions of influence within the new structure of the company. Both Frederick and Walter Skelton acquired stock in the new American Fork and Hoe Company conglomerate, as did Edward W. McCarty, who was also placed in the position of Vice President in charge of sales. William C. Kelly of the Kelly Axe and Tool Company was made Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Company, though George B. Durrell, the former President of the American Fork and Hoe Company would retain his position. This structure change and exchange of stock effectively put Kelly and the Skeltons in the company that would be known for its “True Temper” logo.

Likewise, in Canada, the Canadian Shovel and Tool Company of Hamilton, Ontario, would seek out a merger with another local hardware powerhouse. At the same time the Skelton’s were negotiating a merger with the American Fork and Hoe Company south of the border, they were working on a deal with the Welland Vale Manufacturing Company of St. Catherines, Ontario. The Welland Vale company had been formed in 1874 when William Chaplin took over a struggling tool company and built it, along with his son, J.D. Chaplin, into a thriving business that build agricultural implements as well as bicycle. The Chaplins also helped build the Canadian Axe and Harvest Tool Company of Montreal in 1892. During the merger of 1930, Welland Vale acted similarly to the American Fork and Hoe Company, drawing the Canadian Axe and Harvest Tool Company and the Canadian Shovel and Tool Company in through a merging and sharing of stock, as well as an advantageous placement of leadership. In the deal, Walter Skelton not only became a major stock holder of the new Welland Vale Company’s stock, but he also was placed as their Vice President. This placed the Skeltons and the McCartys as heavy stock holders in both the American Fork and Hoe Company, as well as the Welland Vale Manufacturing Company. Due to international trade law and the loss of tax benefits for each company domestically, the two companies could not join as one, but they were now functionally sister companies under mutual stock holders and leadership. As the two companies aligned and shared resources, lines and brands, the axe portion of the businesses would fall under the Kelly name. In the United States, the axes would be noted as manufactured by the “Kelly Axe and Tool Works of the American Fork and Hoe”, and in Canada, the “Kelly Axe and Tool Company of St. Catherines”. The disassociation of the American companies, including the “American Fork and Hoe Company”, served a dual purpose: to protect the tax benefits of producing in Canada under a Canadian Company, as well as to discourage nationalistic recalcitrance against an “American” company by the Canadian Market. The Welland Vale Company would eventually be renamed “True Temper Canada”, and likewise, the United States based Company the “True Temper Company”, striking the “American” portion and simplifying advertising and trade/tax issues across the border.

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