This year, General Tools & Instruments (General) is celebrating a remarkable milestone: the 90 anniversary of product innovation from its headquarters in New York City.
At the end of WWII, as the last American troops returned home from “over there,” the nation’s hardware industry was poised to fulfill the dreams of burgeoning young families eager to build their first homes. At that time, the “Hardware District” of lower Manhattan burst with small businesses producing hand tools and home furnishings. Today, only General remains.
The NYC hardware industry of the mid 1940s, while comprised largely of family-run businesses whose owners were friendly competitors, was in reality rather fragmented. Then, one pioneering member of this circle brainstormed what would become a monumental idea: Bring together hardware makers and sellers not only in the City, but throughout the nation, to showcase their products and the entire industry. That pioneer was Abe Rosenberg, founder of General Hardware Manufacturing Company (now General Tools & Instruments), and that showcase event was the first ever National Hardware Show.
The first NHS held at New York City’s Grand Central Palace in March 1946 attracted about 300 manufacturers including General, Stanley Tools, Hyde Tools, Disston, Camillus, Great Neck and Ace. Today, the show, which is held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, boasts more than 2,000 exhibitors and 20,000 attendees. Little did Abe know the legacy he would create with his astute vision to unite the hardware industry in a national trade fair more than 65 years ago. Nor could he have imagined the future growth and groundbreaking path his family’s business would embark on in the succeeding decades.
General Tools & Instruments began as General Hardware in 1922 as the brainchild of Abe and Lillian Rosenberg. In its inaugural year, General introduced what was then a revolutionary specialty item: the egg slicer. Who could have guessed that an egg slicer would hatch into an enduring, relentlessly innovative company for the 21st century? In its early days, the company developed numerous other “hard goods,” offering a full-range of domestic and professional items from clothesline pulleys and screen-door hardware, to specialty hand tools. With Lillian running the store, Abe took to the roads of New York and New England, searching for machine shops to manufacture his tools. By 1930 he had outsourced a small line of specialty items, including circle cutters, metal punches and pocket screwdrivers. By 1937, Abe and Lillian were selling their products exclusively at General Hardware.
For the next 40 years, Abe continually generated new product ideas for commercial and consumer use. His tireless creativity kept General at the forefront of the industry, eventually leading the company to be one of the first to create die-cast tools. Upon Abe’s death in 1977, his daughter Dorothy (Weinstein) took the reins and continued to augment the scope of General’s product offerings.
Today, General Tools & Instruments remains very much a family business, owned and operated by Dorothy’s two sons Gerald and Martin. Gerry maintains a more active hands-on role as General’s Chairman, and Martin is a contributing board member. Under their leadership, General has expanded its product line to include more than 1,500 specialty tools and instruments designed to meet the most demanding needs of professionals, technicians, craftsmen and DIYers in a wide variety of trades. Rooted strongly in a heritage of specialty, innovation, quality and customer service, General , all the while holding true to the vision of its founders 90 years ago.
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