BARNSLEY BROTHERS CUTLERY COMPANY, MONETT, MISSOURI HISTORY

 

THE BARNSLEY BROTHERS CUTLERY COMPANY


Photo courtesy of James Barnsley, Grandson of R. C. Barnsley,
One of the Original Company Founders

The Monett Cutlery Company was organized in 1902, but little is known of its operations.  Its factory stood at the northeast corner of 6th and Front streets in Monett and was shown on the Sanborn Fire Protection Map for 1902.  The three names briefly associated with it in contemporary news accounts and legal documents were S. W. Pierce, L. B. Durnil and J. V. Dysart.  Pierce was a Monett saloonkeeper, Durnil a dry goods merchant and Dysart, who left the company by the end of 1902, a druggist and furniture dealer.  Pierce bought and sold a lot of commercial property in Monett and left an estate of $60,000 when he died in 1906, about $1.7 million in today's dollars.  As a young man, Durnil had worked with his blacksmith father in the manufacture of plows, but had later prospered in Western mining and was probably equally well off.  He served as mayor of Monett from 1903 to 1906, then as the probate judge of Barry County.  In retirement, Dysart acted as a Monett constable.

On December 28, 1903, Pierce and Durnil sold the factory for $4,000 (about $115,000 today) to Thomas, Richard and Foster Barnesley of Lamar, Missouri, who later changed the spelling of their last name to Barnsley.  According to a note in The Iron Age magazine in March, 1904, the Barnesleys had prior experience in the cutlery business before buying the Monett factory and planned to expand production from butcher knives and razors to include pocket knives, scissors, manicuring tools and even a few hardware items such as putty knives and fence pliers.  In August, 1904, the company floated the idea of moving to Joplin, which may have been a tactic to drum up investment interest in Monett boosters anxious to keep the factory in town.

In any event, on December 5, 1904, the business was formally incorporated as the Barnesley Brothers Cutlery Company with 500 shares and ten shareholders. Together Thomas (222), Richard (111), Foster (111) and Walter (6) Barnesley owned 450 shares, while six locals owned another 50: R. J. Parker (15), J. W. Ruggles (10), W. M. West (10), S. A. Chapell (5), J. J. Davis (5) and C. W. Lenhard (5).  If the local investors paid the full $50 par value for their shares, this move raised $2500 (about $72,000 today) for the company.  Thomas, Foster and Walter Barnesley all acknowledged the incorporation papers in Monett, but Richard was in Montague County, Texas.  Of the local shareholders, West was a doctor and married to the step-daughter of J. V. Dysart of the original Monett Cutlery Company.  Parker was a druggist, Chapell and Davis hardware dealers and Lenhard an owner of the First National Bank.  Chapell was another mayor and longtime postmaster of Monett.

From the beginning, the company promoted itself as the work of six brothers -- Ulysses, Walter (called by his middle name "Rawleigh"), Thomas, Foster, Richard and Roscoe ("Ross").   In August, 1981, the recollections of Ross's son Reece were featured in American Blade, a magazine for knife collectors.  He described Ulysses S. Barnsley as the founder and president of the firm and said the brothers were born in the Esrom community southwest of Lamar, Missouri, where U. S. had a store and was postmaster before 1900.  His father Ross ("R. C." in the letterhead photo) was the youngest brother and worked as a salesman for the company about 1906, then left to try ranching in Crane County, Texas, and oil drilling in the Laredo area.  Several of the other brothers followed a similar course.  Ross's Crane County ranch adjoined the ranch of brother Thomas, and his partner in the oil business was Foster.  Ultimately, Ross settled on a farm in the vicinity of Clarksville, Arkansas, near the oldest brother U. S.

Similarly, the recollections of T. C. Barnsley, Jr., Thomas's son, were featured in a 2012 book by Gordon L. Hooper, Pioneer Life in Crane County Before 1925, available online from Google Books.  The son was born in 1912, and after his mother died in 1916, spent part of his childhood on his father's ranch and part living with unidentified relatives. This is primarily a recollection of Texas ranch life, but there are passing refences to the cutlery business and also to the family's early ventures in aviation.  T. C. Jr. said that his father and two uncles first owned a ranch near Ryan, Oklahoma, which is directly across the Red River from Montague County, Texas, where Richard acknowledged the papers creating the Barnsley corporation in 1904.  The uncles ran the ranch while Thomas sold cutlery out of Fort Worth, presumably for the factory in Monett.  Then Thomas moved to Crane County, Texas, in 1907 with his brother Ross following in 1910.  After some back and forth to Fort Worth, Thomas settled permanently in Crane County and was murdered in 1931 by a neighboring rancher. 

Of the six Barnsley brothers, Thomas and the oldest brother U. S. seem to have led the most eventful lives.  The exact place of U. S. in the firm is somewhat mysterious.  Despite the recollections of his nephew Reece, he was never president of the company but was usually listed as corporate secretary.  He also seems never to have owned stock in the company in his own name.  When the corporation was organized in 1904, he was not listed as a shareholder at all.  By 1909, when the company published a stock prospectus trying to raise more money, he was the only brother not listed as a shareholder, but his wife Ida was named.  The family's home in Monett was also owned solely in Ida's name, perhaps encouraging speculation that U. S. was shielding assets from creditors.  Maybe there was something specific behind this or maybe it was just a precaution against his speculative bent.

Whatever his role in the cutlery company, U. S. was a tireless business promoter.  From about 1908 to 1911, he and L. B. Durnil of Monett supported the efforts of at least three inventors to build an airplane, which ultimately resulted in the DeChenne airplane flown by Logan McKee in Monett in 1911.  His efforts as a pioneer promoter of the aviation industry are detailed on a seperate webpage, but he always had other business ventures in mind.  For example, in April, 1909, when the company claimed to employ about 50 persons in Monett, he discussed relocating an enlarged cutlery firm to Fort Scott, Kansas;  then in June he tried to raise money to start a company in Monett manufacturing hay presses; then in July he was trying to raise more money for the cutlery company in Monett with the stock prospectus mentioned above; and finally in October he was promoting a newly invented mailing machine.  As in 1904, the 1909 effort to sell more stock in the company was near in time to an implied threat to move the company.

Despite his constant pursuit of business success, U. S. Barnsley was also a committed socialist.  The socialist party in the United States at the time was never more than a fringe political movement, but it had not yet become associated with communism in the public mind and was probably viewed by many people as harmless.  In any case, U. S. was the socialist candidate for Barry County recorder in 1906, for a seat on the Missouri Railroad and Warehouse Commission in 1910 and for Monett city treasurer in 1912, never receiving more than a handful of votes for any position.  Moreover, the first airplane inventor backed by Barnsley was H. L. Call, a noted author of socialist tracts, some of whose ideas on aerial flight were visionary at best, perhaps with a tinge of quackery.

In March, 1913, The Monett Times reported that U.S. had attended the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson in Washington and continued to New York where he "purchased largely of stock" for the cutlery factory.  Then, in October, 1913, the paper carried an ad for the sale of his Monett home.  Thereafter he and his family were reported to be living in Ozone, Arkansas, then back in Monett, then in Iowa, then in Colorado.  No later than April, 1918, he seems to have settled in Ozone, Johnson County, Arkansas, where he sold real estate and established an early motor court, forerunner of the modern motel.  Ida sold the Monett home in July, 1918, by which time she and U. S. were apparently divorced.  At any rate, she signed the deed in Colorado and declared herself single in the acknowledgment.  According to internet sources, U. S.'s oldest son Dan served in General Eisenhower's headquarters during World War II and his youngest son Robert, by a second marriage, was lost as an airman in the Pacific.

The other Barnsley brother whose life stands out in retrospect is Thomas.  He was one of the original purchasers of the Monett Cutlery factory in 1903 and the largest shareholder of the Barnsley Brothers corporation at its inception in 1904.  The 1905 company letterhead shown above lists him as "manager" of the company in Monett, but his son's recollections have him selling cutlery in Fort Worth and moving to Crane County, Texas, by 1907. Somewhere along the way, he also lived in Oklahoma City, where he manufactured knives under the "T. C. Barnsley" imprint.  The spelling of "Barnsley" on the Oklahoma City knives tends to date them after Monett.

Beyond these bare facts, there is a hint of the fantastic to stories about Thomas.  His son claimed that he had a law degree from Baylor and sometimes traveled internationally on secret missions for the U. S. government, comparing him to a modern CIA agent and offering without any detail the story of a trip to Hong Kong about 1919 or 1920.  Who knows what to make of this, but the temptation to write it off as just a Texas tall tale is somewhat lessened by stories in the Monett Times in 1914 detailing Thomas Barnsley's escape from Europe when World War I started and his travels in the Middle East.  Apparently, he did travel abroad in this period, leaving a young family behind in Fort Worth.  It is also interesting that his associations with Monett were still strong enough in 1914 that he would publish his story there.  Thomas Barnsley in Europe 1914.  Thomas Barnsley in the Holy Land.

Apart from the stories of the individual brothers, the Barnsley Brothers Cutlery Company in Monett seems to have done well.  The 1909 stock prospectus mentioned above said that it did "nearly $57,000 worth of business during the panic year of 1908 on a capital of $14,700."  In today's dollars, that would be almost $1.6 million of business on a capital slightly over $400,000.  Subsequent financial reports remained postive.  At its stockholders meeting January, 1910, the company reported 1909 sales of $65,650, which would be over $1.8 million today.  At its stockholders meeting in January, 1914, the company reported a surplus for 1913 and declared a dividend of 5%.  In 1911, a Monett Times article said that Barnsley Brothers was responsible for Monett having home mail delivery.  At the time, home delivery was available only in cities whose post offices sold a certain volume of postage, and the shipping of Barnsley products put Monett over the top.

When the Barnsley brothers bought the Monett Cutlery Company in late December, 1903, they bought its factory site at 600 Front street.  This is the location shown in the photograph at the top of this page, but the 1902 Sanborn Fire Protection map for Monett shows the building as a one-story wood frame, so the structure was either remodeled or completely rebuilt.  The street work shown in the photo appears to be the installation of Monett's first sewer system, which dates it to late 1907 or early 1908.  No later than 1909, however, the company moved one block north to the old Westbay Bank building at 600 Broadway, where it remained until at least January, 1914.  The reason for this move is completely unknown, since the company continued to own the original factory site until it was sold in April, 1914.  At any rate, in May, 1909, the company advertised for rent three rooms in its factory, including "a fire proof vault," which indicates the move to the old bank building had already occurred.  The photograph also shows the word "factory" on the side of the building, but the company apparently bought some of its stock from other manufacturers.  One of the firm's suppliers was W. R. Case & Sons, the famous Pennsylvania knife makers, who sued Barnsley Brothers in Barry County Circuit Court in 1906 over a contract issue.  As reported in the 1981 American Blade article, family tradition says that Case acquired Barnsley Brothers sometime in the 1910's, but this is undocumented and seems unlikely.

After its report of the 1914 stockholder meeting, the Monett Times never again mentioned Barnsley Brothers as a going concern, at least in the papers available online.  There was no notice or report of a 1915 stockholder meeting, and in May, 1917, discussing a totally different subject, the paper mentioned in an offhand way that the company had "left Monett."  It seems likely, however, that the company remained active in Monett at least through 1914.  Real estate records show that on April 29, 1914, the board of directors met and authorized the sale of company's original, now-unused factory building at 600 Front street; in August, 1914, T. C. Barnsley chose the Monett newspaper to publish his accounts of his travels in Europe; and in March, 1915, the newspaper reported that the family of U. S. Barnsley had just left for a new home in Iowa.  On April 8, 1915, The Iron Age magazine reported that Barnsley Brothers of Monett was planning a move to Billings, Montana.  The company had previously floated the idea of moves to Jopin in 1904 and Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1909, without moving, and there is no evidence that the Montana move was carried out, but the report at least seems to suggest that the company was still a going concern in Monett.  Exactly when the company left Monett and what happened to it is currently unknown.  All we can say for sure is that it left or ceased business sometime between the spring of 1914 and the spring of 1917.

For more information on Barnsley Brothers and U. S. Barnsley, see these pages and photographs:

1909 Barnsley Brothers Stock Prospectus.  From the Monett Times of July 13, 1909.  Lists the current stockholders of the Barnsley Brothers Cutlery Company and solicits new investors.
The Holbrook/DeChenne Aeroplane.  Transcribed newspaper articles and photographs relating to the efforts of U. S. Barnsley and others to build an airplane.
Hay Press Solicitation.  In June, 1909, U. S. Barnsley tried to raise money for a company to build hay balers in Monett.  Appeals for investors appeared in the Monett Times on June 11, 14 and 22, 1909.  Here is the appeal from June 14, a good example of Barnsley's salesmanship at work.
A Barnesley Brothers letterhead from August, 1905.  Sometime between 1905 and 1907, the family changed the spelling of its name to Barnsley.  Photo courtesy of James Barnsley.  Click on the image for a larger view.
A Barnsley Brothers advertising ink blotter.  Note that the spelling of the Barnsley name has changed so this is presumably after 1905.  Photo courtesy of James Barnsley.
U. S. Barnsley later in life.  He was born in Indiana on February 20, 1868, and died in Johnson County, Arkansas, on June 26, 1955, at age 87.  After leaving Monett about 1913-14, he eventually settled in Ozone, Arkansas, where he sold real estate for many years.  As late as November, 1946, he was advertising Arkansas realty in small classified ads in Popular Mechanics.  Photo courtesy of James Barnsley.
Barnsley Brothers office.  Photo courtesy of James Barnsley.
This is the photo at the top of this page, but click the image at left for an enlarged view (358 KB).  This Barnsely building sat at the northeast corner of Front & 6th streets, with the view here looking east.  The grain bin on the extreme right of the photograph is still standing on Front street.  This photograph apparently shows the installation of Monett's sewer system, dating the photo to 1907 or early 1908.  No later than 1909, however, the company moved a block north to 600 Broadway.  Note the earlier spelling of Barnesley on the building.  This photograph is marked "Jenks," who was an early Monett photographer.  Photo courtesy of James Barnsley.
A closer view of the Barnesley factory and road work, also marked "Jenks."  Note the photographer's shadow at the bottom of the photo.  Photo courtesy of James Barnsley.

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James Barnsley would be interested in hearing from anyone with additional information about the Barnsley family or firm.

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