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Geneva Cutlery Company

November 17th, 2022

By John Marks, Curator

Last month I wrote about the Geneva Shears Company that built the factory at 35 Lehigh Street. The company only lasted about 18 months. In January 1902 it was dissolved and reformed as the Geneva Cutlery Company.

1909 Map Footprint Of Cutlery Factory

1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company footprint map for Geneva Cutlery Company

Cutlery refers to knives for cutting food, but the company’s early product was straight razors. They made many different models of razors for every price range. Their success led to offices in London and Paris, and catalogues printed in French.

Back in Geneva, the factory was expanded to keep up with demand.  For the 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company footprint of the building, I’ve added the red stripes to indicate areas built since the previous map was issued. (You can see the first map of the building, drawn in 1903, in last month’s blog)

By 1915 the complex took up the whole block in two directions. Business was booming, but a change was coming in how men shaved.

1915 Map Of Footprint Of Cutlery Factory

1915 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company footprint map for Geneva Cutlery Company

In 1904 King Camp Gillette patented the disposable double edge razor blade.  Known as a safety razor, it could be used with little skill unlike a straight razor. The blades never needed sharpening since they were thrown away when dull.

During World War I the US military issued safety razor kits to its troops. Gas masks were necessary for surviving trench warfare. Soldiers need clean-shaven faces for the masks to form a tight seal. Once men were used to safety razors, straight razor sales declined. Geneva Cutlery made disposable blades for a time but it wasn’t enough to keep the razor business going.

The company eventually switched to making kitchen knives. The forging and finishing processes were the same as for razors. The business was successful enough to expand a third time.

1925 Map Cutlery Factory Footprint

1925 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company footprint map for Geneva Cutlery Company

The 1925 Sanborn map showed two major developments. The plant expanded to the entire block between Avenue E and Gates Avenue. The Market Basket grocery chain built its wholesale operations next door. From Geneva they made and packaged products for their stores in Western New York and Pennsylvania. There was a third floor bridge across Gates Avenue, connecting the two companies.

In 1934, Ekco bought Geneva Cutlery and changed the name to Geneva Forge. The factory expanded to making all kinds of kitchen utensils and tools. In 1939 there was a rumor that Ekco wanted to leave Geneva. Money was raised to keep them here in a new factory, but US entry into World War II postponed their plans.

1947 Cutlery Factory Footprint

1947 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company footprint map for Geneva Cutlery Company

In 1947 Ekco moved into a new plant on Forge Avenue. That is where the story of the company and the building separate. The Sanborn map drawn that year showed that Market Basket had taken over the north half of the cutlery building for dry storage.

The 1947 outline represents the building as it is today. Next month I’ll conclude the story of the building and its occupants.

 

2 responses to “Geneva Cutlery Company”

  1. Charlie Bauder says:

    John, Great story and a great amount of detailed information. Thanks for doing the research and sharing it.

  2. Jeffrey Barnes says:

    Thank you for this great information. I was born in Geneva, where my mother’s family lived while my Air Force father was on remote reconnaissance assignment in Turkey. After my father-in-law passed, I was given a cigar box of straight razors he had accumulated. To my pleasant surprise, two of them are from the Geneva Cutlery Company. Finding the article was great.

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