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The curious case of Millers Falls

I recently finished reading Christopher Schwarz’s book, The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, available from Lost Art Press.  The book is simply the best beginner’s guide to buying woodworking tools that I have found.  Among Chris’ suggestions, he exhorts the reader to buy vintage tools.  Pre-WWII tools that were manufactured in the United States were built to last and worked extremely well.  I heeded this clarion call and began searching vintage tool dealers for a Millers Falls hand drill.  I found a well-maintained Millers falls No. 77A on the Jim Bode Tools Website.  Here is the tool as pictured on Jim’s site:

 After buying the drill, I began to wonder what happened to The Millers Falls Tool Company.

My research told me that, unlike Stanley which still sells many hand tools, Millers Falls (the United States company) stopped selling tools some years back.  For some reason, I thought it would be interesting to determine what happened to the Millers Falls trademarks, one of which is shown below:

According to the Patent and Trademark Office Assignment Register, the original trademark “Millers Falls” was last owned by the THE GORILLA GLUE COMPANY, until the trademark expired in 2006.  But that is not the end of the story.

A new registrant swooped in, in 2009, to register the old “Millers Falls” trademark.  And that new registrant is . . . HANGZHOU GREAT STAR INDUSTRIAL CO., LTD of Hangzhou Zhejiang Province, China.  HANGZHOU GREAT STAR INDUSTRIAL claims, on their LinkedIn Page, to be “the world-leading tools manufacturer.”  Yes, probably why I have never heard of them.  Regardless, this Chinese company claims to have been selling hand tools under the Millers Falls trademark since 2002.  Here is a picture of a saw that they sold under the Millers Falls name:


I called the people at THE GORILLA GLUE COMPANY, and they seemed sincerely shocked by the Chinese company registering the “Millers Falls” trademark.  Now, this reaction by the Gorilla Glue people does not mean that the trademark rights were not sold to HANGZHOU GREAT STAR INDUSTRIAL CO., but it sure seems odd.

I told this story to a friend recently, and he had a very provocative question: “Can you name a major Chinese brand name, like Disney® or Coke®?”  Frankly, I had no reply.  The innumerable products manufactured in China are routinely being sold under other trademarks or other brands.  I cannot think of another country that has entered the U.S. market in the same manner.  I can name Korean brands, Japanese brands, European brands, etc.  So then the question becomes why would HANGZHOU GREAT STAR INDUSTRIAL CO. want to use the old Millers Falls trademarks?  Whatever your answer to this question, I urge you to be wary of buying new Millers Falls tools — these are not the same tools as those hardy and well-made products once produced in Millers Falls, Massachusetts.

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