The Stanley Tool Co. and Defiance Line

The Stanley Tool Co. Defiance Farm and Home tool line brought quality tools for a reasonable price to farms across the country.

| August 2012

With a history as long and storied as that of many manufacturers of American farm equipment, Stanley tools are familiar to farmers across the U.S. Stanley Tool Co. has been making tools since 1843, starting as A. Stanley Co. in New Britain, Conn., and becoming Stanley Rule & Level Co. in about 1858. In 1919, Stanley Rule & Level merged with the Stanley Works hardware company to form the largest tool and hardware company in the world at the time, Stanley Works, with Stanley Tools as a division.

Stanley has manufactured just about every hand and power tool ever invented. The company started out making rules in the 1840s and progressed over the years to making a complete line of hand tools. Stanley has made tools for carpenters, mechanics, hobbyists, cabinetmakers, repairmen, homeowners and farmers.

Birth of the Defiance tool line

In 1929, Stanley introduced the Defiance tool line. Marked by less expensive, quality tools, the line included all the customary tools, braces, drills, hammers, levels, screwdrivers, squares and planes. By 1939, the line expanded to include awls, bevels, wood and metal chisels, a crowbar, drill bits and bit extensions, files, a hatchet, an ice pick, nail sets, pliers, punches, saw sets, tape measures, tin snips, vises, wrenches, zigzag folding rules and, by 1952, even a wedge vise. With the onset of the Great Depression, company officials sensed a large market of farmers and homeowners who wanted to do their own work with a cheaper, quality set of tools.

The Defiance name was acquired in the 1880 purchase of Bailey Wringer Machine Co. That company made planes with the Defiance name and a battle-axe trademark. Stanley Rule & Level Co. first used the Defiance name on a cheaper screwdriver line in 1904. In March 1923, Stanley included the Defiance name in the patent office’s book of product names for future use on a general line of tools.

By 1926, the Defiance name was being used on a line of cheaper planes marketed by Stanley. The planes became more standard and other tools were added to the line. The Defiance line was marketed from 1929 until the summer of 1953, when the name was changed to Handyman. Many of the same tools were remarked and continued in the Handyman line. Handyman was a relatively new name acquired with the purchase of North Brothers Mfg. Co. in 1946.

The farm and home line grew until 1938, when 135 tools were offered. The Defiance line was rarely listed in the regular Stanley No. 34 catalogs, but was included in the smaller Defiance Tools catalogs available by mail and in stores. The 1940 catalog offered 138 tools in 12 pages; the 1952 catalog expanded to 14 pages showing 136 tools. One of the extra pages in the 1952 catalog highlights store displays; the other features Yankee Handyman spiral ratchet screwdrivers. Otherwise, there was a lot of overlap in the two catalogs. The line’s colors were red and black.

Eric Bauer
2/22/2014 11:43:29 AM

Good article. I found a Defiance utility knife in the trash at work and wanted to know more about it. I don't think much has changed regarding basic tools. I own a lot of tools, but still reach for a hammer, screwdriver, or pliers before moving on to more specific tools.