TIFFANY, ELI. The subject of this sketch was born in the little town of Horbury, not many miles from the city
of Leeds, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, on the 9th day of November, 1830. His father was a carder in
a woolen factory at that place and, in accordance with the customs of the country, placed his son at an early age
in the mill to learn the art of spinning. The opportunities of that period in that country for obtaining even a
limited education were very meager; but such as they were Eli made the most of them, and by his energy in later
life supplemented the deficiencies of his early experience.
It may be interesting to briefly sketch the condition of the schools which were then provided for the working people.
No such thing as a free school existed. Such facilities as were provided were maintained by private enterprise.
If parents were in circumstances to do so they sent their children to the "infant school" where they
were instructed from five to fourteen years of age. But this course seldom embraced more than the rudiments of
common English. Many were put into the factories to earn their own livelihood at eight or nine years of age. But
the law as it then stood prohibited any employer from working children between the ages of nine and twelve years
in any mill or factory, unless they allowed them half a day each day for school. Hence, many mill owners, to beat
the law, would maintain a school of their own, to which their juvenile help could be sent if their parent4 saw
fit to avail themselves of the opportunity. The schools of this character were usually conducted by some matron,
frequently the wife of one of the mill hands, who could read and write, and who carried on the school in addition
to her household duties, and thus aided to piece out the family income. The children of these" dummy"
schools seldom advanced beyond learning to read. If they wished to learn writing or arithmetic, they would have
to pay for it. As the working time was from twelve to fourteen hours per day, it can be judged what the mental
condition of the children would be for study each day after their task was done. At fourteen they usually graduated
from the school to the mill, where they then were expected to make "full time." Young Tiffany was employed
in this way until he was nineteen years old, when a circumstance occurred which gave a turn to the tide in his
affairs that ultimately "lead on to fortune."
In the year 1851 Josiah Dews, then representing the Waterbury Knitting Company, of Waterbury, Conn., went to England
for the purpose of procur ing certain machinery to be used in the works of the company. This being done be next
sought to obtain the services of experienced operators to accompany him back to America. in doing this he fell
in with Eli Tiffany, and a friend, Edwin Carter, and both having an eye to the main chance, accompanied Dews back
to America. Tiffany by trade was a spinner, and knew nothing of knitting, but relying on his native push and ingenuity,
took his chances and went into the employ of the company as an operator of knitting machines. Here he became familiar
with the knitting frames then in use for making flat ribs for shirts and drawers, and soon discovered their defects,
imperfect construction and general inaptitude for the work for which they were designed. He remained in the employ
of the Waterbury company for some six years, running the old "Powell" machines, and then went to Meriden,
Conn., where he operated rib machines for Powell & Parker, for two or three years.
Satisfied that the rib machines then in use could be greatly improved, he then went to Glastenbury, Conn., and
commenced to make drawings and experiments for an automatic power rib machine. After a year and a half of study
and experiment he succeeded in producing a successful machine which would knit ribs with welts and slack courses,
for which he filed a caveat in the Patent Office on the 7th of October, 1858. Soon after this he became associated
with George Cooper, and assigned to him a half interest in his invention, and accordingly the patent was issued
to Eli Tiffany as sole inventor, and George Cooper as assignee of an undivided half interest in the same. This
patent was dated May 1, 1860.
At this time all rib knitting frames were operated by hand, and the production of goods in this way was very expensive
to the manufacturers. But after the introduction of the new machine of Tiffany, which could be run by power, the
cost of production of ribbed cuffs was reduced from forty cents per dozen to three and four cents per dozen. Here
the inventor was confronted with the usual difficulty which all poor inventors have to contend against, lack of
capital with which to build and introduce the machines. But at this stage of affairs Mr. Medlicott, of Windsor
Locks, Conn., came to their assistance and they effected an arrangement with him to advance them capital to manufacture
and introduce the invention and take his pay in machines. At Mr. Med licott's request, Mr. Tiffany went to Windsor
Locks to operate these machines, and while so employed a knitting needle manufacturer from New Hampshire accidentally
became interested in their operation and was greatly pleased with their practicability and efficiency. He advised
Tiffany that he was hiding his light under a bushel, and urged him to "get out of that place," and seek
a wider field of operations. Accordingly two or three years later Tiffany & Cooper went to Cohoes, N. Y., and
there sold the right to build the invention in that State to Campbell & Clute, of Cohoes. A partnership was
also formed about the same time in which Eli Tiffany was a partner, under the name of William Woods & Co.,
for the manufacture of flat ribs at Cohoes. After residing about six years in Cohoes Mr. Tiffany became desirous
of enlarging the business of manufacturing the machines in his own interest, but on account of the objection urged
by Mr. Wood, that Mr. Tiffany could not under the existing arrangements build machines in the State of New York,
for sale outside of New York, without infringing the rights of Campbell & Clute, he determined to locate at
Bennington, to which place his family accordingly moved in the year 1870.
Here Charles Cooper purchased his brother George's interest in the patent, and the partnership of Tiffany &
Cooper was formed, which leased the south wing of Olin Scott's machine shop, and here in these contracted quarters,
with four or five hands, they commenced the building of the machines which have now displaced in this country all
other machines for the production of flat ribs for shirt cuffs and drawer bottoms.
Unbroken success seemed to attend all their efforts; and the concern went on enlarging the production of their
goods until they were obliged to find more room. They then took the second story of his office building, which
nearly doubled their accommodations. Their next enlargment consisted in the building of the large two-story building
which is now occupied with the business, and which has been recently added to. Other material additions to their
facilities have from time to time been made to meet the steadily increasing demands of the business.
In the year 1874 Mr. Tiffany's health became seriously impaired so that a surgical operation became necessary,
and he went to the city of Troy for treatment. As his patent on the machine was about to expire he applied for
an extension of the same, and it was while he was in the hands of the surgeon that, in conjunction with his counsel,
A. F. Park of Troy, he prepared the necessary proofs and arguments to obtain such extension. The proofs showed
that the use of Tiffany's invention had then effected a saving of about sixteen cents a dozen in the knitting of
ribbed cuffs, and that they had nearly superseded the use of the old hand frames as well as the best known English
power frames. Accordingly the patent was extended for a further term of seven years from the first day of May,
The additional protection thus obtained for his business afforded a warrant for devoting a greater share of his
time and attention to the improvement and perfection of the rib machine, and to the development of an entirely
new line of inventions for making full fashioned goods of the higher grades. Accordingiy.in the years immediately
following the extension, Mr. Tiffany took out several patents for fashioning machines which have been extensively
introduced, and enjoy.a reputation for making as perfect fashioned goods as any that are made in the world. In
1880 the firm of Tiffany Brothers was formed, with Eli Tiffany as the senior partner and general manager. New buildings
were erected for the new company which now employs about sixty hands, and is turning out an extensive line of first-class
hosiery, both cut and fashioned.
In 1886 the partnership of Tiffany & Cooper was dissolved, Mr. Tiffany having purchased the interest of Mr.
Cooper, and the present partnership of E Tiffany & Son was formed by the admission of Mr. Frank M. Tiffany
as the junior partner. Since the organization of the latter firm it has further extended its business by leasing
a shop at Amsterdam, N. Y., recently erected by Tiffany Brothers, where it carries on the manufacture and repairing
of knitting machinery for its western customers. In the two shops from forty to fifty hands are employed in the
manufacture of the vacious grades and kinds of knitting machines made by this firm.
During the past three years Mr. Tiffany has made a large number of improvements on his various machines for which
he has taken out recent patents. These improvements are of great value as improving the quality of goods made,
and also increasing the product of the machines. Other inventions for the improvement of the same are being constantly
Mr. Tiffany takes a lively interest in everything that relates to educational matters and for the last six years
has held the office of school trustees of the Bennington graded school, one of the leading educational institutions
in the State.
The foregoing record contains a brief review of the leading events of the life of Eli Tiffany, who came to this
country about thirty-eight years ago; possessing no means or capital of any sort, other than a thorough understanding
of his trade as a spinner. This record certainly proves something. and that is that Eli Tiffany is, in his special
field of labor, a man of remarkable capacity, and possesses all the rare qualifications that enable him to not
only understand the character in detail of all the various parts of the intricate and delicate machines he manufactures,
and how to successfully manipulate them so as to produce the best results, but also the executive ability to supervise
and control large interests. Mr. Tiffany is a man of retiring nature, brief of speech, but entirely capable of
clearly impressing his ideas upon all those with whom he comes in contact or competition. He readily wins friends
and remains staunch to those who earn his regard. He possesses a large store of sound common sense and good judgment
which seldom fail him in practical matters. He and his son, Frank M. Tiffany, have done much for their adopted
town, particularly as employers, and both are counted among the solid men of the village. It is no flattery to
say that in the whole town of Bennington there is not another family which exemplifies so much versatility of brilliant:
talent as that of Eli Tiffany. His wife, Mrs. Phebe E. Tiffany, is highly esteemed for her unbounded benevolence,
her active interest in church and village affairs, and for her natural musical talent. His son Frank ranks as one
of the leading young men in the town, and one of most promising rising young business men. He is a pianist of no
mean pretensions. The second son, Louis L., possesses rare ability as an inventor, musician and artist The youngest
son, William, although quite young, gives promise at no distant period of attaining eminence in musical composition.
With an honest heart and open hand, with nothing but brains and pluck to fall back upon, no citizen of the town
has done more to promote its prosperity than Eli Tiffany.