The 1950’s heralded the atomic era, which from a design perspective brought in many sleek, futuristic objects built with the use of plastic and aluminum. No tool manufacturer embraced this more than Millers Falls. The primary identifiable features – the opaque red plastic handle material known as Tenite (MF also used a translucent red permaloid plastic in circa late 1930s tools such as the No.5010 Parsons De Luxe brace, and the #209 De Luxe Smooth plane), and the widespread use of aluminum. Tupperware had it’s debut in 1948 and plastic became a major force in the clothing industry – polyester, lycra and nylon. The basic benefits of plastic – easier to mould, “unbreakable”, through-body colour, and cheaper to manufacture than their natural alternatives. Aluminum too, could be easily cast, is light, and won’t rust. The 1950s also signalled the age of mass consumption – and both aluminum and plastic helped drive this new way of life. There was an increase in spending power, and suburbs were rapidly expanding, bringing an investment in items based around home and family life.
The following tools are identified as “Buck Rogers”-era Millers Falls:
- No. 100 Automatic drill
- No. 104/308 Hand drills
- No. 300 Hacksaw frame
- No. 525 Metal cutting keyhole saw
- No. 709 Smoothing plane
- No. 714 Jack plane
- No. 1220 Plane-’R-File
- No. 1950 Bit Brace
Most of these tools can be readily identified by their unique red-gray colouring. Only the No.525 contained no plastic component. These tools were designed by industrial designers Francesco Collura (104, 308, 300), L. Garth Huxtable (100, 525, 1220), and Robert W. Huxtable (709, 714, 525).
These tools may have been meant to represent more futuristic implements. Who would want a hardwood handle on a plane when one could have an “unbreakable” Tenite handle. The reality is of course that hardwood handles rarely “break” in the true sense of the word – and plastic handles do have a tendency to fade over time due to UV exposure. The real rationale for using Tenite may have been the ease of injection moulding rather than some form of machining to create a hardwood handle. There were similar objects being designed in other industries, for example the “atomic espresso machine” designed by Giordano Robbiati of Milan, Italy in 1946 – pure aluminum and a sleek, streamlined appearance.
The atomic era may have been the last great foray into tool design before the resurgence brought about by the likes of Lie Nielsen, and Lee Valley/Veritas. Were the MF tools luxury items? In 1950, the average monthly US salary was roughly $250, in 2012 it’s about $4,200. A No.709 smooth plane sold for $8.50 – roughly 3.4% of a months salary. A Stanley No.4 sold for $8.25. Today, a similar No.4 smooth plane from Lie Nielsen sells for $300, or 7% of a months salary. Although $8.50 in 1950 has the same buying power as $82.37 today. Here’s the No.1950 with a close-up of the Tenite handle.
Psst… Is there a secret society of Millers Falls collectors out there somewhere?