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The Seagrave Company of Columbus, Ohio, and the axe made for them by the Collins Company

   The much sought after “Seagrave Axe”, or the “Seagrave Fire Axe”, is a magnificent representation of one of the less encountered lugged fire axes, and often the source of significant confusion. Often noted as the “original lugged fire axe”, or even as being the only name for a lugged fire axe, the “Seagrave” actually refers to something entirely different than an axe, that being a man, or the company that that man founded.   


Frederic Scott Seagrave


Frederic Scott Seagrave was born on July 16th, 1848, in Needham, Massachusetts to Saul Seagrave and Marion A. Tyler. The son of farmers, Seagrave had a modest upbringing, and left home in search of loftier dreams as a teen. By the age of 20, Frederic had settled in Michigan and married a local gal by the name of Adelaide Grace Ruttledge. He took up the role of a salesman for a local business, and to make extra money for he and his young wife, he manufactured wooden ladders for neighboring citizens who owned apple orchards. The ladders came to be known as high quality, and with an inventive mind, Seagrave began to modify and improve his ladders, adding cabling for structural support. The durability and strength of his creations became locally well known, and orders from fire departments began to stream in. The current time was one of upward growth of buildings, with 3rd and 4th stories becoming more common in the area, and with the industrial revolution’s effect on fueled building fires, conflagrations were common. Fire fighters, who often overloaded the ladders of the day, were in distinct need. With the heavy influx of business, Seagrave and Company was founded in 1881, with a small factory built at 418 Michigan Avenue in Detroit. A year later, in 1882, Seagrave was granted his first patent for one of his ladders, with another patented a year later in 1883.    





With cheap wood available from the nearby upper peninsula, and a high and quickly spreading demand, the company quickly went from simply ladders to a multitude of firefighting supplies. Though Seagrave’s ladder patents had helped get the business started, his first patent was granted in 1875, and had been for a velocipede, a three wheeled tricycle like vehicle. His inventive talents lay in carriages and buggies as well, and he was soon designing fire wagons for carrying the ladders he created.  With this addition of vehicles to his business, it was soon in need of a much larger manufacturing facility. During a quick search for acceptable and profitable locations, one was chosen in Columbus, Ohio. The resulting business was known as the Seagrave Company of Columbus, Ohio.   





  Frederic’s business grew profitably through the end of the decade, and as the 20th century grew near, the fire fighting business grew as well. By 1900, there were numerous large manufacturers of fire wagons and buggies across the nation, and like many other businesses of the time, each was looking at ways to out do the competitions. Much like the companies that formed the American Axe and Tool Company, or the Axe Trust, these fire wagon businesses chose to conglomerate, and the “International Fire Engine Company” was born. This group included the American Fire Engine Company, La France Fire Engine Company of Elmyra, New York, the Amoskeag Steam Fire Engine Company of Manchester, New Hampshire, the Waterous Engine Works Company of St. Paul, Minnesota, the Fire Extinguisher Company of Chicago, Illinois, the Macomber Chemical Fire Extinguishing Company of Worcester, Massachusetts, and several other, smaller, businesses. Within a few years, however, the government’s push towards “Antitrust” laws saw the separating of the group. The separation led to Seagrave starting a second factory out of Walkerville, Ontario, Canada, that would be overseen by his son, Warren Edmund Seagrave.  

Frederic would continue to invent and modernize the firefighting business, eventually patenting more than 25 inventions that would assist the industry. In 1907, with motorized vehicles becoming more and more popular, the Seagrave Company would start work on its first motorized fire engine. This would lead to even more inventive thought, with Frederic concentrating his inventiveness on mechanized ladders for these “futuristic” fire engines. By 1908 the company was manufacturing and distributing these new vehicles, which were equipped to carry much more weight than the old wagons, across the nation.  


Pick head Fire Axe visible on a 1910 Seagrave Engine





With weight limits of equipment less of a factor in what fireteams could carry, larger tools were able to be brought to a fire more easily. Tools like modern American pick head fire axes, which had been around since before the turn of the century, could be heavier, and thus more efficient at breaking down burning doors and walls, and still be carried. To that end, the Seagrave Company began mounting these axes to the sides of their modern fire engines. At the time, numerous companies were manufacturing Pick Head Fire Axes, each with its own specific flare to the Pick Head pattern. Some had tighter picks, some had long, curved, think spikes. Some were bulky, and others had ears, or lugs, for stability. As early as 1873, in fact, the Douglas Axe Manufacturing Company was producing a lugged fire axe for sale to those with fire wagons (and would continue to produce them under the ownership of the American Axe and Tool Company during the last decade of the 1800s and the first two of the 1900s). The Seagrave Company chose to get their axes, with lugs, at least for a time, from the Collins Company of Collinsville/Canton, Connecticut. These standard “Legitimus” lugged pick head fire axes were stamped with the Collins logo as a standard, noting their manufacturing, and were stamped again with the Seagrave Company’s name. These Seagrave marked heads were identical in make to the Collins Company’s other pick heads, and were similar to numerous other lugged pick head patterned fire axes from other companies. Despite being a manufacturer of other goods, the Seagrave Company did not manufacture its axes, it just simply got them, from the Collins Company, for use on the fire engines they manufactured to sell.    
























Warren's Lugged Pick Head was sold as an Ice Axe as well.




The Seagrave Company, and their fire engines, continued to be quite popular, leading the industry into the roaring 20s.  Fredrick S. Seagrave would retire and then pass away in 1923, leaving the company in the hands of new leadership. In 1925, Julius Fredrick Stone, who had been the president of the company since 1915, would form the Seagrave Corporation of Michigan, “buying out” the old company, while transferring the control of stock to the new business. The factory in Columbus would continue to be the main company facility, and Stone would sit as chairman of the new board of directors, with H.B. Spain becoming the new President. With the Seagrave family less associated with the company, the business would continue to prosper, and in 1963 the Seagrave Corporation was purchased by FWD, a company formerly known as the Four Wheel Drive Automobile Company. This company, based on the manufacturing of 4 wheel drive industrial vehicles, was founded in 1909 by Otto Zachow and William Besserdich in Clintonville, Wisconsin. The new company closed the Columbus facility and moved the works to Clintonville, Wisconsin, and renamed the company FWD Seagrave. As FWD Seagrave is still operational to this day, the Seagrave Company is noted as the longest running American company based on manufacturing fire fighting equipment.   











Seagrave marked pick head patterned fire axes are a rare and loved collectible with a rich history. However, it’s important to remember that they are not the only lugged pick head out there. At this time, the Douglas Axe Manufacturing Company, the American Axe and Tool Company, the Collins Company, and the Warren Axe and Tool Company are noted as manufacturers of lugged pick heads. Those marked as made for the “Seagrave Company” will always be the only “Seagraves”, and the pattern is the lugged pick head, or the lugged fireman’s axe.

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4 Comments


Unknown member
Jan 13

The photo is from a reprint of a 1936 catalog.

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Unknown member
Jan 13


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Unknown member
Jan 13

I also have the R.King brand of Collins.

My Douglas axe are marked with the W. Hunt and D.Sharp brands also.

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Unknown member
Jan 13

You can add Amoskeag , Underhill ( Nashua and aat ), Hubbard/ Lippincot to the list of lugged pick head fire axes.

I have these in my collection and can provide pictures if you like.

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