Natives of Canada, the brothers Hardinge, Henry (1863-1947) and Franklin (1867-1945) were both life-time engineers. Henry began his career as a machinist with the John Abell Company of Woodbridge in Ontario, a maker of portable engines and farm threshing devices. He then travelled to the United States, working at various jobs until he was taken on as a draftsman by a Chicago firm where is brother was already employed as an apprentice; Franklin, however, served only two years of his time before leaving to continue his studies with a local watchmaker.
Thanks to the ever-increasing use of on-line family history guides, it is now possible to trace the Hardinge family history back a little further, with Franklin having (2013) a living daughter and several grandchildren. In 1956 Franklin's sister Charlotte wrote an interesting story about her parents and her thirteen siblings: her father had been an English gentleman with the misfortune to have a dissolate elder brother; however, his mother still managed to leave him sufficient money to fund a move to Canada and the purchase of a farm - hence the Canadian births of both Franklin and Henry (known in the family as Frank and Harry). A history of the family can be found here - clicking on the various family members brings up a number of interesting details.
After completing his indentures Franklin joined his bother in their first business venture, on 23 July 1890, as Hardinge Brothers making watchmakers' tools in an eight-by-eight building at the rear of a boarding house at 359 West Monroe Street, Chicago. Driven out of their inadequate premises by cold weather, the two brothers found a backer in the form of a Mr. Stephen R. Dale and founded a firm known as The Horological Tool Company that operated from what could have been a hardly more salubrious room over a horse stable at 1230 Dunning Street (later Altgeld Street). However, by May 1892 the Hardinge Company were doing well enough to afford the erection of a small factory at 3135 Lincoln Avenue - where they remained until 1913 - before moving to new and larger premises at 4149 Ravenswood. Avenue, Ravenswood. In 1894 Mr. Dale had withdrawn his interest in the company and the two bothers reverted to their original title of Hardinge Brothers; however, just one year later, in 1895, Henry retired from the partnership (though what prompted this move is unknown) and Franklin continued on his own until 1908 when the company was incorporated for $100,000 under the laws of Illinois. In 1902 (or thereabouts) Hardinge acquired the rights to the Cataract range of Precision bench lathes formerly produced by the Cataract Tool and Bicycle Company (named after the waterfalls visible from the factory grounds) and the Cataract Tool and Optical Company the latter being incorporated in Buffalo (New York) and probably, in reality, not a separate Company but part of Tool and Bicycle. The story is a little more complicated in that, in order to acquire rights to the company's rifle scopes, the Cataract enterprise was originally bought out in 1902 by the well-known gun and tool maker J. Stevens Arms & Tool Company, of Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. Stevens, who employed the skills of former Cataract manager Mr. F. L. Smith, continued to market the scopes under their original name but, shortly afterwards passed the machine-tool side of the business on to Hardinge Brothers. The first catalog of the newly acquired organisation was issued in 1903 and, under a Hardinge heading, showed the Company's first "Cataract" branded bench lathe.
Franklin was to obtain several patents relating to aspects of his lathes and milling machines during the period 1909 to 1920 with, in addition, several relating to oil furnaces dated from 1921 to 938. Furnace patents issued from 1930 to 1936 were assigned to Hardinge Brothers Inc. (probably indicating that the furnaces were built by the same company that made the lathes) but with patents thereafter (from 1936 onwards) assigned to the inventor himself.
During the early years of the 20th century, after the acquisition of the Cataract concern, the organisation continued to grow and, in 1913, a further move was made to 1770 Berteau Avenue, though administrative offices were retained at the Ravenswood Avenue site. At around the same time that Hardinge wwas settling into their new premises, a small company was being established in Rochester, New York, by Mr. Reisinger and Mr. McDonnell, to exploit the growing market for precision work-holding devices, especially collets. The new company's unique selling point was their "Inanout" collet, a design that unfortunately proved inadequate under service conditions and was abandoned; however, the awkward name stuck, and the "Inanout Collet Manufacturing Company" was born. Franklin was an accomplished engineer, machine-tool designer and inventor and contributed to work on a calculating machine for Remmington, helped the Stromberg Carlson Company with their early developments on automatic telephones systems and developed the "scoring" machine that perforated card so that it could be easily torn where needed.
After Reisinger dropped out of the company McDonnell went into partnership with Mr. Leon Morrison and formed the Morrison Machine Products Company; in 1925 the company was purchased by Mr. Evans and Mr. Anderson and relocated to Elmira, New York. In 1931, at the height of the depression, Hardinge was in receivership and Anderson and Evans took advantage of the very low stock price and bought them out; they then consolidated their interests by relocating them from Chicago to join their New York operation. To improve efficiency, a new factory and offices were built and, by 1938 (with the company employing over 300 skilled workers), were well positioned to take advantage of the great upturn in production that preceded the United States entry into WW2.
Although exact details of the buy-out by Anderson and Evans are unknown, Franklin Hardinge retained his Chicago factory (at 1770 Berteau Ave. at N. Ravenswood Ave.) and may have kept his shares in Hardinge Brothers Inc. or traded them for company assets, possibly the Chicago buildings and machine-tools. Oil furnaces remained in production - as evidenced by his 1930s furnace patents, with the name of his business being changed to the Hardinge Mfg. Co. (so now there were two separate Companies with the Hardinge name: Franklin's personally-owned Hardinge Mfg. Co. in Chicago and the New York-based Hardinge Brothers Inc.). Interestingly, because numbers of the men who had been making lathes in Chicago did not (or could not), move to Elmira, Franklin equipped a room alongside the furnace business and began manufacture of lathes using the name Elgin Tool Works (could it be that Hardinge has acquired the assists of Elgin of Illinois earlier in the depression?). The new lathes bore a very strong resemblance to the earlier Cataract models with even the beds, headstocks and tailstocks being interchangeable with the older types; however, as the Elgin castings were made from new patterns, they assumed an individual identify. In summary: Hardinge Brothers Inc. of New York did not own the Elgin Tool Works during the 1930's, but Franklin Hardinge did, calling it a division of his own Hardinge Mfg. Co and with tags attached to machines proclaiming that fact.
In the mid-1930s a British manufacturing subsidiary was organised with help from a firm based in the west of London, Automotive Engineering Ltd. The new company, Hardinge Machine Tools Ltd., was formed on the 3rd of February, 1937; 85% of the stock was owned by Automotive Engineering and the first six employees worked from the corner of a factory in Twickenham making collets, form-tools and feed-fingers. In line with the American Company, the years of WW2 saw a dramatic growth in output and, in 1940, the Company moved into a propose-built factory at Hanworth, Middlesex, together with a temporary "shadow" factory in nearby Acton as demand for munitions, which the company were now making, grew still further. In 1943 Automotive Engineering was taken over by Sheepbridge Engineering, who then sold part of the Hardinge UK equity to Hardinge Brothers Inc. - through they still retained enough stock to maintain a controlling interest in the company. The late 1940s saw the introduction of the first HLV lathe, notable not just for its outstanding precision but also a variable-speed headstock and an independently controlled, electrical power-sliding feed to the carriage. In order to promote the new lathe, and demonstrate its unique properties to potential customers, a war-time ambulance was converted into a demonstration van able to hold three lathes and their tooling. The HLV lathe was in competition with the Cromwell toolroom lathe and was eventually to comprehensively outsell it. Production was relocated to Exeter in 1966 following the compulsory purchase for development of the original factory site (though sales and Administration continued to be operated from there until 1972). In 1979 Sheepbridge Engineering was bought by GKN who, two years later, sold the remaining (and majority) shareholding to Hardinge Brothers Inc. In 1977 Hardinge UK moved to new premises at Matford Park in Exeter.
In 1983 the company launched its first CNC machine, the Model HXL; although originally designed as a CNC toolroom lathe it was marketed as a production machine and, with a weak turret and cantankerous GE1050 control system, was destined not to be a success. In 1988 the more popular "Conquest" range was launched but, by 1989, the manufacturing facility in the UK was uneconomic to operate and closed - the company relying upon the marketing of US-built machines and spare parts. In 1995, apart from the incomparably excellent (and now unique) HLV-H, the entire product line became CNC. At around the same time, Hardinge Brothers Inc. acquired control of the Swiss Kellrnberger grinder company and added their products to that company's lines..