History of the Sheldon Machine Company

(Edited and Updated 10/15/2011 by John Knox)
At the request of several members of the Yahoo's Sheldonlathe Group, I
am submitting a brief history of the Sheldon Machine Company. This is
for the benefit of those who have an interest in the history of the
American machine tool industry, in general, and the Sheldon Machine
Company, in particular. I hope that my personal experiences and
knowledge will be useful.
To state my credentials, I began working with the Sheldon Machine
Company in February 1953 in the Engineering Department. I worked in
that department until 1957, when I became Plant Superintendent. In
1968 I went back to the Engineering Department to design the Numerical
Controlled machines and I stayed in there until Acme Cleveland absorbed
and closed the company in December 1982. I stayed on with the
company until everything was moved out of Chicago. In my 29 years
with Sheldon I had an opportunity to talk with some of the old-timers at
the Sheldon Company, which may have provided me with some unique
insights into the company history.
1935 - The Beginning
In 1935 the small Sheldon line of products was owned by R. S. Dean, and
was located at 3252-3255 Cottage Ave. in Chicago, Illinois. Sheldon
products at that time consisted of a 9-inch and an 11-inch lathe, a line of
hand bench arbor presses, and a mill (or shaper) vise.
There is no solid information to indicate how the name “Sheldon”
originated. It was mentioned that Mr. Dean selected it as a name for his
arbor press and vise line after he saw a Chicago street sign for “Sheldon
Street.” However, there seems to be no Sheldon Street listed in Chicago
street guides today. Another thought was that Mr. Dean's middle name
was “Sheldon,” but we may never know the true origin of the company
The First Sheldon Lathes
The first Sheldon lathes were called the “Metalworker” Series. The origin
of the Metalworkers is a bit cloudy. It has been speculated that the
design was purchased, or perhaps copied, from the Monarch Machine
Tool Company's “Monarch Junior” 9- and 11-inch lathes. Indeed, the
evidence I have seen indicates that it probably was copied.
The first Sheldon lathes came out about the same time that Monarch
switched production to solely gear-driven lathes. The “official” word in
the company was that the design and manufacturing rights were

Lennox. There was no apron clutch. an Austrian first-generation immigrant mechanical engineer. the ”S” (11-inch). near North Ave. Horace. and none of the old-timers remembered seeing any Monarch prints or drawings at Sheldon Machine. Leo Zupan. Additionally. Evolution of the Early Sheldon Lathe Design As stated. and the other was moved to Kilpatrick St. the down-through-the-bed Vbelt spindle drive. During this time the ”L” (10-inch). George Carolan. These changes included: overhead. Initially. I have some old Sheldon pictures that I will have to look at and try to make further comparisons between the two. and the telescopic taper attachment. flat-belt individual motor drives. the “U” and “E” underneath motor drives (which required a bed and headstock casting change). the first Sheldon lathe was the "Metalworker. Its spindle ran in cast iron bearings and it was a very low-cost lathe. was responsible for major design changes and improvements to the Sheldon Metalworker lathe. Leo Zupan. In 1938 George Carolan and the Armstrong brothers purchased the Sheldon line. when I communicated with Monarch about this issue. the Timken tapered roller bearing headstock. the two drop-lever feed change box. the bench and pedestal type support designs to accommodate the new drives. One old guy recalled seeing Monarch lathe parts spread all over the floor at the Sheldon factory and sketches being made. The brilliant engineering talent behind Sheldon. went along with the deal. they sent me several pages of documentation and information on the Monarch Junior. However. and the “M” (12/13-inch) lathes were developed through the tireless efforts of Leo Zupan. One department was moved to Kilbourn.. Given that evidence and my conversations with old-timers. The only difference I could discern between the Sheldon Metalworker and the Monarch Junior was the name. Sheldon Metalworker lathe parts were made directly from the sketches until engineering drawings were eventually made. and rear. I believe that the Metalworker was copied directly from the Monarch Junior. 1935-1937 Between 1935 and 1937 Sheldon's Machine Shop and Assembly departments were split. Monarch has no record of such a deal. and Paul were the Armstrong brothers of The Armstrong . but instead had a set of change gears." It had no feed box. “XL” (10-inch with a large hole through the spindle.purchased from Monarch by Sheldon when Monarch gave up their beltdriven lathes and went to exclusively gear-head design. a diverse lawyer.

Brothers Tool Company of Chicago. Sheldon continued to grow. He designed a steel lathe cabinet that had its lower left leg angled to clear the rear wheel well of Army field machine shop trucks. A small street-level truck dock was located on the South end. most of the field truck lathes had a ball socket swivel arrangement built under the tailstock end of the bed. inclined. an addition was placed on the south end of the plant. where pillow blocks for shafting were located. The new facility had all the newest over-head line shafts and flat beltdriven machinery of its time. came and went by rail. The new building addition included an enclosed. Illinois. The original plant was built of brick and steel. with wood beams overhead. to match the original building. The plant was located on the West side facing the east. the inspector had to “sign off” on the paper work. The construction was brick. Knox Avenue in Chicago in 1940. Leo Zupan made an interesting period modification for military use of Sheldon bench lathes. North Knox Avenue runs north and south. When a machine was complete and passed federal standards it was stamped next to the serial number with a very small “x” or a “bomb”-like symbol (among others). In the early 1940's there was a need for more space to meet the great military demand for lathes. but wooden beams were used because the war effort had made steel beams unobtainable. In addition to the special cabinet. All machines being built for government orders at that time were watched by federal inspectors on the assembly line. 1940 . This arrangement may not be unique to Sheldon but I have never known of a similar thing on any other lathe. floor-level double truck loading dock opening directly onto Knox Avenue. The ball and socket was unlocked when the truck was in motion so the bed did not see the twisting of the truck frame. To provide additional manufacturing capability. Most machines and material. When they stopped and set up the lathe they were to level the bed and lock the swivel joint. having been moved by hand on hand trucks and dollies. with the purchase of the Vernon mill and shaper line. Armstrong Tool was to list the Sheldon products in their tool catalogs in the hope of interesting the railroads and other businesses in the Sheldon line.WWII The operations continued in the same locations until everything was moved into a new building at 4258 N. and a railway siding came up to a loading dock on the west side (the rear of the plant). . Also. to show that it was Okay to ship.

universities. another . laboratories. Again. and industrial consumers.1945 After the war. Sheldon redirected its sales efforts toward schools.

In the mid-1960's they introduced first the “GR” and then the “R” models. yet another addition was made to the south end of the plant and set back from Knox Avenue. . or other combinations. At the same time Sheldon was developing a large 30 HP NC 48"x 40"x14" horizontal mill which was featured at the 1972 Machine Tool Show in Chicago. This addition was brick and returned to steel-beam construction. Through that dock many of the larger pieces of machinery were brought into the factory. It’s interesting to note here that a group that split away from the group that built The Monarch Machine Tool Company had formed the Sebastian Machine Company.” 16. with an eye toward larger equipment. Sheldon made several interesting contributions to this period.” 20. Inc. To accommodate the Sebastian lathe acquisition. after Leo retired. The 1950's In late 1953 Sheldon purchased the Sebastian lathe line from Cincinnati Metalcrafts. but they were in fact belt driven from below with a one. with a single.addition was made to the south end of the plant. street-level dock facing south into a parking lot. The larger Sebastian lathe line included 12.bay. The 1960's and 1970's – Introduction of the GR and R Models and NC and CNC Some people refer to the 1960’s and 1970’s as the Golden Age of the American machine tool industry. and thereby added a 17-inch machine to the line. and the only geared-head lathes that Sheldon built. It included an over-head crane to handle the assembly and movement of the heavier Sebastian machines. Four of the big NC mills were built and used strictly for Sheldon machine tool production until Sheldon was closed. to qualify for the opportunity to quote and build gearedhead lathes for federal contracts. These were the only Sheldon-designed Sebastian machines ever built. In the mid-1950s the 13” and 15" Sheldon-Sebastian machines were added to the line. Limited production of these continued while a new Sheldon-Sebastian line was designed.” and 24” swing machines. At this tool show Sheldon also unveiled a new Model 1710 CN lathe. Some people refer to the later R-series Sheldon lathes as gearedhead lathes. starting in about 1958. The design on the later R-15 and R-17 machines was done by a sharp young man who worked for some years under the wing of Leo Zupan and really made big strides in designing the "R" series. His name was Don Oddo and he did a very nice job at the new and innovative design. at the Stock Yards.or two-speed motor or direct driven with hydraulic variable speed motor.

university. A very sharp line was drawn at giving out blueprints however. and they are up front about who they are. . through the Sheldon plant to look at what was going on. contracts. 1977 saw the introduction of a CNC 2040 vertical mill with 32-tool automatic tool changer. the demand had increased for the "R" 13.000 lbs. Also.” I was involved several times taking folks from other builders. even at the machine tool shows.” and 17” lathes. or if I can do anything to help you with your projects. I remember explaining how we were doing things. At the same time under development was a CNC 32" 30 HP slant bed lathe that was to have been in the 1982 Machine Tool Show at McCormick Place in Chicago. purchased parts and accessories from South Bend. why make them sneak around to find out and take a chance that they got bad information. The table capacity of these machines was 10. on the theory that if they really wanted to know. Sheldon and Other Machine Tool Manufacturers To my knowledge there was never any hostility between Sheldon and South Bend. I don't know if Sheldon ever sold parts or accessories to South Bend but Sheldon. The competition continued right down the line much like you'd expect to see in a sporting event. and laboratory. By mid-1975 the production of all NC lathes had been changed to CNC lathes and they were offered with 4 station rear turrets and 4 or 8 station front turrets. Their policy was that if competition comes to you with questions or for manufacturing information.Late 1972 saw the introduction of a 2816 NC lathe built on the frame of a 28” x 80” made by Voest-Alpene of Austria and the beginning of the decline of "L". too quickly. by this time the "O" mill and shaper production were dwindling. followed in 1979 by the 3040 horizontal mill with 2-18" 8-position index tables and a 30-tool automatic tool changer under CNC control. however there was fierce competition in the field of school. "XL". 1982 – The End of Sheldon Production In late 1980 Sheldon was purchased by Acme Cleveland who closed the Sheldon factory in December of 1982. South Bend included. I guess if I had to give a reason for Sheldon closing it would be too many big ideas and different directions. & "M" lathe production. I'll continue to look for Sheldon pictures and documents that may be of interest. and if any Sheldonlathe Group members have any other questions. "tell ‘em what they want to know. please let me know. or other machine tool manufacturers. However. "S". but if they’re not being up front don't tell them anything.” 15. from time to time. Sheldon had a very open policy about competition.

John Knox .Respectfully.