Made in America Mystery: Can You Guess the Purpose of These Old Manufacturing Technologies?

Author: Whitney Koch

Every Thursday champions of American manufacturing gather on X (formerly known as Twitter) to participate in #USAMfgHour. 

This week’s host was Kati “The Manufacturing Hype Girl” McDermith, brand ambassador for Manufacturers’ News, Inc (MNI). MNI is America’s oldest and largest compiler and publisher of industrial information. Their solutions–IndustrySelect®, IndustryNet®, and print directories–help connect buyers and sellers in industrial businesses.

For this chat, host McDermith shared snapshots of American-made products taken during her travels through North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, and challenged participants to guess “What in the heck is this?”. (In a #USAMfgHour chat from April 2022, Kati showcased American-made products seen during a trip to the Badlands of South Dakota.)

Mystery #1

To start the chat, host McDermith shared this picture and asked, “What in the heck is this?”

Ruby Rusine from Social Success Marketing made the first guess: “I’m guessing it can cut something because it says ‘knife,’ but I don’t know what it cuts.”

VirtuDesk pondered, “Some sort of lever?” to which host McDermith responded, “certainly is a lever there!” Despite the confirmation from host McDermith, VirtuDesk still couldn’t identify the item.

Felix P. Nater from Nater Associates didn’t proffer a guess but thanked host McDermith for livening up the #USAMfgHour chat.

Gina Tabasso from Vacavia Cottages & Cabins and Barracuda B2B Marketing wondered, “Blade flattener?” Host McDermith was impressed by Tabasso’s answer, replying, “WOW, good one!”

Whitney Koch from Keystone Click had a new thought. “An old-fashioned paper cutter?” she asked.

Steve Chin from Steve and April took a shot: “Old style industrial can opener?”

Entrepreneur Pavel Stepanov was stumped. “Hmmm….,” he said.

Host McDermith cleared up any confusion. This manufacturing mystery is a cast iron tobacco cutter from the Enterprise Mfg. Co – Philadelphia. Host McDermith shared that the company was bought in 1956 by Silex Co., the company that made the first electric coffee maker!

According to host McDermith, to use the tobacco cutter, one would place a bunch of tobacco leaves inside and “then use a lever or handle to bring the blades down, cutting the leaves into smaller pieces.”

Jim Palmer from Buy Direct USA commented that he has actually seen tobacco cutters on tobacco farms in Tennessee. 

Host McDermith was impressed; “I would love to visit a tobacco farm, a historical one would be super cool!” she said.

Palmer recommended the Tobacco Farm Life Museum is anyone visits Johnson County North Carolina. He added that they were still growing tobacco there and paying well for harvesting.

Koch chimed in, “This is super interesting. Honestly never thought about how tobacco leaves were processed.”

Mystery #2

Sharing a second mystery item, host McDermith asked, “What in the heck is this?”

Nigel Packer from Pelatis Online responded, “A hand drill stand,” to which host McDermith said, “pretty close, Nigel!”

Making a guess, Koch said, “I think it’s some kind of metal stamper.”

Chat participant Amy Anderson thought it might be a log splitter, which prompted a side conversation about perspective and trying to gauge the actual size of these mystery items from small digital photographs. 

Host McDermith responded, “Up here in the Northwoods (of Wisconsin), our log splitters are the size of a car!” 

“Size is hard to judge,” Anderson said. But Chin agreed with Anderson, stating, “I see a lot of lumber/log handling tools in the back.”

VirtuDesk, Kirsten Austin from DCSC Inc., and Stepanov were all at a loss.

Rusine guessed while hoping for more clarification. “It’s like a wheel of sorts,” she said. “I’m sure it turns. Does it have spikes? A spinning wheel?”

Nater jokingly said, “I think a torture system used by spies to get former #USAMfgHour Attendees to return to the #TChat Hour.”

After a round of unsuccessful guessing, host McDermith enlightened everyone. This mysterious item is a post drill or beam drill from Champion Forge. “Before electricity, post drills (or beam drills) were widely used for drilling holes into wood or metal.

Mystery #3

Host McDermith posted an image of a third mystery item and again asked, “What in the heck is this?”

Chin chimed in, “Looks like an old-style lathe of some sort.” Gary from London Gas replied, “Barrel lathe? For rifles.” Host McDermith offered them both validation, stating, “Yessss!!! Keep going…”

Koch asked, “Is it a hand mill?? That wheel on the right makes me think of the manual machines at my last job.” She later added, “Should’ve said lathe. I always mixed those up.” Host McDermith responded to her comment, stating, “This picture was taken at a museum in Cody, WY.”

Packer pondered, “A belt-driven thread-cutting lathe?”

Nater jokingly answered, “A Frankenstein torture table.”

With participants out of guesses, host McDermith cleared up the confusion. This mystery item is a double spindle lathe barrel driller from Pratt & Whitney Company of Hartford, CT. It was used to bore the hole in the barrel of a rifle. Host McDermith captured this image while visiting the Cody Firearms Museum.

Nater responded, “Kati, I had family and friends who worked at Pratt and Whitney over the years who loved working there. But, I never took a tour.”

Host McDermith was impressed. “That’s neat!  I would love to tour that facility also. This machine was big.”

Rusine had a lightbulb moment after reading host McDermith’s answer. “Ohhhh…. so that’s what it is! I think I got the ‘spin’ thing right,” she said.

Mystery #4 

The next mystery item proved to be even more of a stumper than the others. Host McDermith tweeted this image and asked participants, “What in the heck is this?”

Koch chimed in first, commenting, “Ooh, that’s tough. I can see the mechanism but can’t piece together what it would do.” Rusine responded to her, “That was hard… I gave up.”

VirtuDesk could only respond with a gif. “We feel like we spent so much time looking at it,” they added.

Anderson ventured a guess, writing “First glance reminds me of a spinning wheel. Next thought is something in a heist mill…Sure to be amazed by @KatiMcDermith answer to Q4.” 

Replying to Anderson, Koch said, “Googling heist mill…”

Anderson responded to clarify her initial response: “Well, autocorrect strikes again, trying to say grist mill.”

Acknowledging Anderson’s clarification, Koch said, “That makes sense-I didn’t find anything under ‘heist mill.’ I’ve eaten at an old grist mill but honestly am still not sure what it is…”

Following up with Koch, Anderson shared this about grist mills: “Where they ground grain into flour (corn into meal). Typically powered by water turning big stones against each other with the grain being crushed as it flows between them (I think). Knew it was too small though, so just guessing.”

“My deck furniture,” Nater kidded.

Rusine and her team answered, “We have no idea what this is… we’re gonna wait for your enlightenment, Kati!”

Chin said, “Something operating a flywheel. Looks like it’s in some old horse-drawn carriage garage, but I can’t imagine what it’s used for.”

“Looks like a sewing machine to me. Lol,” said Stepanov.

“A mess,” Gary said. “Looks like some sort of weave machine, like the one Rumpelstiltskin used to spin straw into gold.”

Host McDermith solved the mystery for participants: it’s a portable forge from the Buffalo Forge Co. It was likely used for blacksmithing, and given its location, host McDermith thinks “it was used to make horseshoes or wagon wheel hubs.”

Packer said, “Used by Blacksmiths when they went around re-shoeing horses I think Kati.”

Host McDermith replied, “Also likely. It was with the wagon and had a wheel by it but it also had a horseshoe on it, so I was guessing it was one of those.”

“Ah-ha,” Koch exclaimed. “That makes sense. I was trying to noodle out why there was a work surface.”

Mystery #5

Stating this was her second favorite mystery item, host McDermith posted this image and asked participants, “What in the heck is this?”

“Coffee maker?” Gary asked.

“That [is] literally was what I thought it was,” responded host McDermith. “An Antique Kuerig LOL!  I was surprised when I researched it more.”

Austin asked, “An incinerator?”

Replying to Austin, host McDermith joked, “I’m nervous for Susan and Buddy…”

Similar to Gary’s guess, Packer wondered if it was a” coffee grinder, mixer and dispenser.”

Koch responded to Packer: “I like your guess! I can totally see that.”

“I am lost for words but, I will take an intellectual guess,” Nater said. “It looks like my father’s parts and supplies dispenser in his workshop. What is it?”

“This looks so cool,” said Koch. “Those compartments on the bottom look like bread boxes to me. Is it a machine to make bread rise faster??”

Following Nater’s train of thought, Rusine said, “Some sort of a container that dispenses something! Love the tiny details on those two cylinders.” 

“Turbo broilers,” Stepanov joked.

Gary had another answer: “Stagecoach strong box.”

Rusine appreciated Gary’s guess. “Oh… an interesting answer, Gary,” she said. “Like a black-box or something?” 

“Like a safe… but it was wrong,” Gary later responded.

“Hydraulic cylinders,” wondered VirtuDesk.

Tabasso said, “[G]enerator or power transformer.”

According to host McDermith, this mystery item is a Chuckwagon Portable Pantry. It was used in the Old West during cattle drives and on cattle ranches in the late 1800s. The food truck of its day, a chuckwagon essentially a mobile kitchen.

“I love this one,” host McDermith said. “It has compartments for bread or such and spices along the top.  It is so neat!”

Rusine said, “I would never have guessed this one correctly.”

Shocked, VirtuDesk replied, “That’s a pantry?”

Koch said, “Hey, I was kind of on track noticing the bread boxes. That’s pretty cool!”

Mystery #6

Posting mystery item number six, host McDermith asked, “What in the heck is this?”

“A seeder?” Gary guessed.

“[P]retty darn close,” host McDermith replied.

VirtuDesk said, “Looks like a wagon to us.”

Stepanov initially agreed. “Like the ones where you put hay in it,” he said. However, he later said, “I think it is the one they use in farms to separate the rice grains from its coating.”

Sharing about her research, host McDermith said, “Funny story…I was thinking, this will be too easy.  Then I found out what it really was…not a wagon. [A]bout a 1/4 of the size.”

“Ooh, interesting,” replied VirtuDesk.

Koch said, “Going with some kind of sifter.”

“I think you’re on to something!” host McDermith said.

“A filter of sorts?” Rusine asked.

Packer wondered, “[I]s it for removing husks from grain? I remember one in my uncle’s barn.”

Nater chimed in, “I almost got this one just by its design.”

Host McDermith said it is a fanning mill, which was widely used in agriculture to more efficiently clean grains of impurities.

“I honestly thought I would get more washing machine replies,” host McDermith said. “I thought it was a washing machine or wagon.”

Rusine said, “Never occurred to me….”

“Wow, so I am right? Awesome!” Stepanov said.

Mystery #7

Saving the best for last, host McDermith posted this image, adding: “Ok – this is my favorite!  Going here was a surprise for my husband ‘Commander in Jeep’ for our anniversary!”

“What in the heck is this?” she asked for a final time.

“A lumber mill?” suggested Austin.

Rusine said, “Oil-drilling home/building?”

“It does look like a rig!” said Koch in response to Rusine.

“Yeah… But I’m still wrong….,” Rusine replied.

Gary said, “Looks like a mine, probably a gold dredge.”

“[T]his one’s got me,” Packer said. “Is it a grain lift for rail wagons?”

Koch said, “I shouldn’t have peaked at the answers. My initial thought was some kind of stationary crane.”

Jokingly Pavel asked, “A paper factory?”

“A storage house?” proposed VirtuDesk.

Revealing her final mystery, host McDermith identified it as a gold dredge. “I love rock, minerals, mining, etc and this was an absolute treat to visit!” she said.

“YAY! Oh this was such a good memory,” host McDermith shared. “I will never forget the ride there when hubby had no idea what we were doing. [I]t was AMAZING!  AND beautiful!!!”

This particular gold dredge is the Yankee Fork Dredge in Idaho. According to host McDermith’s post, “Dredges scrape or gouge out riverbeds to harvest gold.”

“Ooo Oooo Ooo I got one right, Yay,” said Gary. 

Replying to Gary, host McDermith said, “[Y]ou got many right! so glad you were here today!”

Austin said, “Love it!”

“Wow!” Rusine marveled.

Koch said, “That must have been incredible to see in person, Kati!”

“Cool,” commented Stepanov. 

About #USAMfgHour

Anyone who champions U.S. manufacturing can join in on a new conversation each week on Twitter using the hashtag #USAMfgHour. The chat starts at 11 a.m. Pacific Standard Time/2 p.m. Eastern. Share positive blog posts, helpful articles, news, important information, accomplishments, events, and more with other manufacturers and supporters from throughout the country.

Are you interested in hosting a #USAMfgHour chat? Contact organizers @DCSCinc, @SocialSMktg, and @KeystoneClick.

To learn more about how Keystone Click can help you level up your online presence, contact us.