The L.S. Starrett Company – 140 Years and Counting
It doesn’t take an incredible amount of observation to see how engrained measurement is in our society, though it’s easily unnoticed. Consider your morning routine: your to-go cup of coffee has a lid that fits just right, your seatbelt clicks into a buckle that holds it in place until you arrive at work, the wheels on your desk chair swivel to move at any angle. Anything that is built, from parts to the product as a whole, needs to be measured. The L.S. Starrett Company creates those measuring solutions.
Founder Laroy S. Starrett, a Maine native moved to Massachusetts, claimed he had “invention on the brain.” He grew up on a large farm with an even larger family; Laroy was one of twelve children. It was tough to make ends meet, his father slipping into debt threatened the farm’s existence. Laroy, 17 years old at the time, got a job on a nearby milk farm and funneled his earnings into the mortgage until it was paid off. This was an immense lesson in economics for young Laroy, one that cultivated a fascination in the system. He worked and saved until he was poised to rent land for a farm of his own. Neighbors shook their heads as Laroy, now in his mid-20s, settled in Newburyport, Massachusetts by what seemed like the seat of his pants. Against the advice of fellow farmers, he planted crops in areas they traditionally would not grow. It yielded profitable results, allowing him to purchase a mowing machine, which he paid off by mowing his neighbors’ land.
In the winter months, he sat in his barn workshop and mulled inventions. The convergence of his farming life and his craving for creation came in the form of “The Hasher,” a meat-chopping machine. Laroy was so excited at the idea of commercializing that once he perfected his prototype, he sold out his farming interests and turned to business. Once The Hasher began to turn a profit, he sought out an area to grow, one preferably with lots of space and waterpower. He set his sights on Athol.
Though The Hasher is what brought Laroy to Athol, it is not what solidified his life in manufacturing. Laroy famously experimented in creating a more approachable rule after using what he described as “clumsy, fixed-blade try squares” that offered only frustration. He envisioned a try square with a sliding blade that provided as much accuracy as it did versatility. He brought his idea to a local machinist so he could produce a prototype. “Well, what do you think of it?” Laroy asked him upon completion. The answer: “I would not give a damn for it.”
The words were fuel. Laroy fine-tuned his new creation until it reflected his dream: an incredibly precise and adaptable measuring tool called the Combination Square. He patented it immediately. In the next year, Laroy purchased a local machine shop to produce his invention on a large scale. As its popularity began to catch, Laroy founded the L.S. Starrett Company to encourage the tool’s success. The year was 1880.
Intent of global growth manifested early on. The company was not yet three years old when Laroy flew to London and Paris to establish selling connections. Locally, buildings were erected in triplicate to feed production. Laroy’s childhood dream to cultivate a life from invention was proving tangible. He said it best himself later in his career: “I have believed that I could do no greater good than help create a business that would give people employment and a chance to earn an honest living.” Laroy truly lived by example.
This year marks 140 years of business for the L.S. Starrett Company. Today, just like in the beginning, Starrett is a global company with small-town roots.
Corporate Headquarters remains in Athol, Massachusetts, and the company has 6 locations in the United States and 7 locations around the world. Joining the roster alongside precision tools are sawing solutions, jobsite tools, gage blocks, granite surface plates, force measurement and material testing systems, optical comparators, vision systems and laser measurement. Starrett offers certification programs for educators so students can learn the trade with the tools they’ll see in the field. If Laroy could look at his company now, he would see one working at an incredible capacity similar to the way he lived his life.
The next time you unscrew the cap from a tube of toothpaste, remove your phone case, or open a bag of chips, think about the precise measurements that went into its manufacturing. From research and design to production and quality inspection, the L.S. Starrett Company is there for the entire process.