In 1890, Jesse and Lester Williams started a small machine shop on East Church Street, repairing bicycles and automobiles, and fulfilling occasional tool orders for local contractors. One local plasterer asked that they customize some tools for him. The customer was pleased with the improved product and more requests trickled in. The Williams brothers made a few more trowels and put them on the market. Word traveled fast and they began receiving orders from outside of the state. Their small shop quickly grew into a manufacturing and mail order business, and the brothers thought they were doing quite well.
The men needed more space and they moved to South 8th Avenue in 1902. They built a two-story machine shop, blacksmith shop and automobile shop, as well as a boiler and engine room and office. They began specializing in trowels and referred to that part of business as “Marshalltown Trowel Works.” Sales increased. The brothers and salesman Albert Higgin officially incorporated “Marshalltown Trowel Company” in 1905.
MARSHALLTOWN relied on word-of-mouth advertising and sold directly to customers who found them. In 1909, however, Jesse and Al embarked on a large marketing campaign. They loaded a sales truck full of trowels and journeyed through the plains, over mountains, and across the country. The men actively pursued sales and created a network of distributors, collecting more orders along the way. Sales grew exponentially throughout the U.S. and Canada. To keep up with demand, MARSHALLTOWN invested in new buildings and machinery. Its workforce grew, and advances in production methods increased efficiency.
The World Wars introduced MARSHALLTOWN to new markets. In 1918, MARSHALLTOWN sent 18,000 trowels overseas for the US Army, in support of its nation’s wartime efforts. Soldiers assigned to work on European jobsites, including France’s Pershing Stadium, did so using Marshalltown trowels. When the wars were over, many immigrant builders and plasterers returning to Europe took their MARSHALLTOWN trowels with them, insisting on using only the best tools available, even though they often cost more than the European brands. Orders flooded in and MARSHALLTOWN experienced unprecedented demand.
Modern communications and transportation modes made it easier for goods and sales orders to cross the ocean. By 1930, MARSHALLTOWN was the largest exclusive manufacturer of masonry tools in the world. The company earned the Presidential E Award in 1975 for outstanding performance in export sales. Six years later, it received the E Star Award for its continuing contribution to the nation’s balance of trade.
Sales were good, and MARSHALLTOWN was gaining global recognition. Demand exceeded the company’s production capabilities and, after much discussion and deliberation, MARSHALLTOWN formed its subsidiary, “Marshalltown Tools,” in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The company began production in its new facility in 1982, and added office space in 1983. Eventually, it moved its shipping and distribution to Arkansas as well.
MARSHALLTOWN has been fortunate to acquire several name-brand lines through the years. In 1969, MARSHALLTOWN bought the power trowel line from Construction Machinery Company (“CMC”) in Waterloo, Iowa. CMC’s machine was one of the only on the market that automatically stopped when the user released the lever, and these became the first powered machines in MARSHALLTOWN’s line.
In 2002, MARSHALLTOWN broadened its paint and wallpaper line when it purchased Embee (formerly Murray-Black) out of Springfield, Ohio. It integrated a full line of putty knives and scrapers, paint stripers, glass cutters and glazing tools, seam rollers, and other paperhanging items.
In 2003, MARSHALLTOWN purchased the concrete portion of Superior Featherweight Tools, from Custom Building Products in Seal Beach, California. This involved the addition of the Rock-It™ adjustable bull float brackets and Mini Rock-It™ adjustable angle adapters, in particular.
In 2010, MARSHALLTOWN welcomed Cleform Tool Corporation’s “The Power of Red.” Its acquisition of the St. Joseph, Missouri company encompassed a large array of concrete products, Gilson concrete and mortar mixers, a broad range of shovels and long-handled tools, and asphalt and seal-coating tools..
MARSHALLTOWN introduced its Quality Line Tools (“QLT”) brand as another alternative in 1992. This line offers quality tools at prices attractive enough for contractors.
When a better tool is made… MARSHALLTOWN will make it! MARSHALLTOWN has been the first to offer some of the most innovative changes in its industry. Its innovative spirit has been evident from the very beginning, and its continuous product development has helped the company achieve and maintain its status as the Standard of Quality since 1890.
From the beginning, the Williams brothers customized and improved upon the tools they made for their customers. MARSHALLTOWN introduced its Xtralite® Finishing Trowel in 1928—the forged aluminum mounting was a big change and upgrade from the heavier, malleable iron mounting that had been used for decades. The company also began offering aluminum hawks and darbies as lighter alternatives to the traditional heavier wooden versions. In 1930, MARSHALLTOWN employee J.B. Troutner was issued a patented for a handle that would be molded onto a brick trowel to prevent twisting. MARSHALLTOWN’s innovation continued as the company developed new products like the Enforcer™ drywall texture sprayer, and further improved upon existing products by adding indestructible bumpers to end mushrooming on brick trowel handles and developing patented technology to offer PermaShape® trowels.
Perhaps one of the company’s largest successes came in the early 1990s, when MARSHALLTOWN was the first company to put a soft-grip handle on a construction tool thereby revolutionizing the hand tool industry. MARSHALLTOWN obtained several patents and registered the DuraSoft® brand name. All of its DuraSoft® handles feature a unique black plastic core and a “brick red” soft-grip material that is easily recognized by tradesmen. Today, MARSHALLTOWN offers its familiar “brick red” handles on hundreds of tools, including trowels, tuck pointers, jointers and sled runners, hawks, taping knives, joint and putty knives, edgers, groovers, floats and darbies, chisels, rasps, tapers, utility knives, sanders, squeegees, texture guns, seam rollers, saws, and scrapers.
Marshalltown Trowel changed its name in 2003. The company had long since become more than just a “trowel” supplier and now offers over 5,000 products for professionals and do-it-yourselfers in asphalt, brick, concrete, drywall, EIFS, flooring, paint, plaster, stucco, tile and wallpaper. To its customers and others in the industry, the company is known for the best tools and it is known by one name—MARSHALLTOWN.
A long ways from the small machine shop the Williams brothers began over 125 years ago, MARSHALLTOWN is now one of the largest tool manufacturers in the world. Despite its growth and innovation, the company has stayed true to its roots. It still manufactures tools with superior quality and it still uses honesty and square dealing. However, staying true to its roots does not mean it hasn’t changed. MARSHALLTOWN continues making major improvements to its infrastructure and manufacturing and distribution processes to ensure that it can continue to serve its customers well for the next 125 years.