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Van Norman Machine Tool Company History

When I started this website I planned to write up a history of the Van Norman company using whatever information I could find. Then Steve Steven sent me copies of a bunch of Van Norman literature, including part of a catalog. The catalog itself is undated, however an attached price list for arbors, collets, and other accessories is dated March 31, 1941. One page of the catalog is a short history of the company. I am not much of a writer, so the following historical information is quoted directly from the catalog:

In 1888, Mr. Charles E. and Fred D. Van Norman founded the Waltham Watch Tool Company, to manufacture tools for use in the Jewelry trade. A few years later, the company was moved to Springfield, and its line of products expanded. In 1890 the first Van Norman Milling Machine was built and sold and since that time the principle efforts of the company have been devoted to the design and manufacture of precision machine tools.

The Van Norman Machine Tool Company, in 1914, announced the first of its line of Oscillating Grinders now used by substantially all of the important manufacturers of ball or roller bearings in the world. In 1920 the company began the development and sale of a line of automotive repair equipment and today ranks as the outstanding manufacturer of this type of equipment in the automotive service industry.

In addition to its present modern complete line of Universal Ram Type Milling Machines, the company also makes a line of column and bed type milling machines for general production work.

Since the company's inception, the growth of the company's engineering and development facilities have paralleled or exceeded the growth of the company. No efforts or facilities have been spared to make Van Norman products the finest machine tools that money can buy and the acceptance accorded them by the largest machinery, automobile, aircraft, and ballbearing manufacturers, is evidence of the soundness of this company's policy. The machine tools in this catalog represent the latest developments for this type of product in the machine tool industry.

I have very little information about ram type milling machines made prior to the mid-1930's. I do know that there was a model 1/2, and a model 10. Dan Buckman supplied this photo of his #10 mill. Note that it was originally designed to be driven from an overhead lineshaft by a wide flat belt. Click on the image for other photos of Dan's #10 mill (480x640, 72K).

If you have a pre-1937 Van Norman mill or information about the early ram type mills, please contact me so I can update this page.

#10 Mill
The ram type mills listed in the 1941 catalog are the #6, #12, #22, #26, and #36. Those five models might be considered the "WWII" mills. All of them were introduced between 1937 and 1940. Except for the #6, all of them were produced in large quantities during the war. (The #6 was temporarily discontinued during the war. It resumed production in 1946.) All of them were discontinued between 1953 and 1956, when they were replaced by newer models.

The "WWII" lineup of mills, supplemented by the #16 (introduced in 1947) represented the heyday of the "ram type milling machine". The chart below shows the annual production of all models of ram type mills. (Click on the chart for a larger version - 800x553, 17K).

Production Graph
The total number of mills made from 1937 to 1981 (44 years) was approximately 13,733. Of that total, over 11,000 were made in the 17 year period from 1937 to 1953. The production peak was 1,780 mills made during 1942, as the U.S.A. entered the war. During and after the mid-1950's, Van Norman introduced many new models. However, sales never approached the levels of the 1940's. In the 28 years from 1954 to 1981, they sold only 2,680 mills. The drop in production was probably caused by many factors. Van Norman mills were popular with the armed forces, and after WWII and Korea, military demand dropped. Meanwhile, the Bridgeport style turret mill gained popularity, and the first CNC machines began to appear.

In addition to machine tools, the Van Norman Company also manufactured a line of automotive service machines, including cylinder boring bars, brake lathes, etc. As the sales of milling machines dropped, the company began to concentrate on the automotive side of the business. The machine tool side was sold, first to Atlantic, who continued to produce mills, and eventually to Repair Parts Inc., who currently supplies parts and tooling for the mills, but does not make new machines. The Van Norman Company still exists, after several changes of ownership, but today they make only automotive service equipment.

Page design and contents copyright 2002 by John Kasunich. All rights reserved. These pages are presented as a free service for owners and prospective owners of Van Norman milling machines. The information on these pages is believed to be accurate but is not guaranteed. Please contact me if you find errors, have more information, or just have comments about this site or Van Norman machines.

Thanks for visiting.