Alloy Artifacts  

Chicago Manufacturing & Distributing

Table of Contents


The Chicago Manufacturing & Distributing Company (CMD) operated primarily as a distributor, but occasionally was the maker of tools, including wrenches and socket sets. In its early years CMD was notable for offering ratchets and socket sets made of malleable iron castings.

Company History

The Chicago Manufacturing & Distributing Company was a maker of ratchets, socket sets, and other metal products based in Chicago, Illinois. The company is believed to have commenced operations in 1911, based on a 1913 Report [External Link] by the State of Illinois that lists the incorporation date as March 1, 1911.

A listing on page 178 [External Link] of the 1920 Certified List of Domestic and Foreign Corporations, published by the State of Illinois, shows the company address as 2602 West 26th Street in Chicago. Based on various published references, the company appears to have remained in business until at least the 1940s or possibly later.

Chicago Manufacturing & Distributing was notable for making sockets and drive tools of malleable iron, a less common construction method at a time when pressed-steel sockets were the dominant technology. Only a few other companies are known to have produced malleable iron socket sets, in particular the Syracuse Wrench Company and the Charles Miller Company.

The socket sets produced by CMD were based on a distinctive ratchet described by patent #1,089,737, filed by G.K. Wright in 1913 and issued on March 10, 1914.

The patent describes a ratchet of simple construction, with parts that can be made as malleable iron castings without the need for machining, thereby keeping the cost low.

[1915 Advertisement for CMD]
Fig. 1. 1915 Advertisement for CMD Wright Ratchet Wrench. [External Link]

Fig. 1 shows an advertisement illustrating the company's "Wright Ratchet Wrench" product, as published on page 266 of the February 2, 1915 issue of Brick and Clay Record.

[1915 Notice for CMD]
Fig. 2. 1915 Notice for CMD Ratchet Wrench. [External Link]

Fig. 2 shows a notice for a CMD ratchet wrench and drill, as published on page 1108 of the June 3, 1915 issue of the Iron Trade Review.

Distribution by Sears Roebuck

By 1919 the company's socket sets were being offered by Sears Roebuck, giving them a national footprint for sales.

[1919 Listing for CMD Socket Set]
Fig. 3. 1919 Listing for CMD Socket Set.

The scan in Fig. 3 shows a listing for a "Socket Wrench Set" found on page 13 of the 1919 Justice Tires Sales catalog published by Sears.

The illustration shows a set of seven sockets in a box, with a ratchet handle, universal, and extension displayed in front.

The distinctive design of the tools allows the maker to be identified as CMD, and the illustrated set is very similar to the CMD No. 60 Socket Set.

Note in particular that the illustration shows the "A1" model number on the ratchet handle and the "A25" model on the extension. The socket sizes in the catalog listing differ somewhat from the sizes in the No. 60 set, but this may be confusion arising from differences in actual and nominal sizes.

The Sears catalogs offered socket sets by CMD from 1919 (or earlier) until at least the mid 1920s.

Socket sets by Chicago Manufacturing & Distributing were also offered in the Western Auto Supply catalogs, although inexplicably under a "Miller" brand.

[1919 Listing for Miller Socket Set]
Fig. 4. 1919 Listing for "Miller" Socket Set.

The scan in Fig. 4 shows a listing for a "Miller Socket Set" found on page 115 of the 1919 Ford Owners' Supply Book (Eastern edition) catalog.

The illustration shows a set of seven sockets in a box, with a ratchet handle, universal, and extension displayed in front.

The distinctive design of the tools identifies the maker as Chicago Manufacturing & Distributing, and the "A1" and "A10" model numbers on the ratchet and universal visible in the illustration confirm the identification.

The set contents and socket sizes identify the set specifically as the CMD No. 60 Socket Set.

We're unsure of why Western Auto came up with the "Miller" moniker for this set. When we first found this listing, we thought that it was a set by the Charles Miller Company, one of the few other makers to use malleable iron castings for sockets. (No catalog listings are known for the Charles Miller Company, so finding one would be significant.) However, careful examination of the illustration and text made it clear that the set was by Chicago Manufacturing.

The Second Third Life of the Speednut Wrench

In 1928 CMD is believed to have taken over production of the "Speednut" quick-adjusting wrench following the failure of Larco Wrench & Manufacturing, the previous owner.

Speednut wrenches had been produced as early as 1914 by Cochran Pipe Wrench and were loosely based on the 1916 Eifel patent #1,181,654. However, the Cochran design was quite a bit different than the plier-wrench tool described by the patent, as it had only one handle and relied on reaction force against the nut for gripping power. Cochran registered the "SPEEDNUT" trademark in 1914.

In 1920 the Cochran Pipe Wrench business was acquired by Larco Wrench & Manufacturing, whose owner John V. Larson apparently took a keen interest in the Speednut wrench. Larson made an improvement to the Speednut design by adding a spring to bias the wrench head, and even went so far as to establish a Speednut Wrench Corporation to promote the improved wrench.

In 1924 and 1925 notices and advertisements for the Speednut Wrench Corporation appeared in various trade publications, and in 1926 Larson received patent #1,602,620 for the wrench improvement. Interest in the wrench proved to be short-lived though, and by 1928 Larco Wrench was bankrupt.

The assets of Larco Wrench (including patents) were sold at auction on March 2, 1928, and CMD is presumed to have been the buyer. We can offer strong evidence of the business succession, including an example of a Speednut Wrench manufactured by CMD in the 1930s, as well as a later directory listing showing CMD as the maker of "Larco" pipe wrenches and "Speednut" adjustable wrenches.

After the bankruptcy of Larco Wrench, published notices indicate that the Speednut Wrench Corporation continued to operate for at least a few more years. This suggests a degree of cooperation between John V. Larson and the new owners of the former Larco factory — presumably CMD would have acted as the contract maker for sales through the Speednut Wrench Corporation.

In addition, John V. Larson received patent 1,830,033 for improvements to the Speednut wrench in 1931. This patent was really a codification of the Speednut design, which differed substantially from the original Eifel patent. Since the Eifel patent was due to expire soon, Larson likely felt the need to maintain patent coverage for the wrench.

The 1931 Larson patent is marked on CMD's later production of the Speednut wrench, again indicating cooperation between the two parties.

Later Operations

A directory dated July 25, 1940 from Hardware Age lists CMD with the "Speednut" brand under "Adjustable Wrenches" on page 655 [External Link], and lists CMD with the "Larco" brand under "Pipe Wrenches" on page 657 [External Link]. Both listings show the company address as 1958 West 46th Street in Chicago.

A snippet from Standard & Poor's in 1940 listed the company as a subsidiary of the Chicago Ry. [Railway?] Equipment Company.

[1941 Advertisement for CMD Centers]
Fig. 5. 1941 Advertisement for CMD Lathe Centers.

Fig. 5 shows an ad for CMD lathe centers and lubricants, as published on page 101 [External Link] of the July, 1941 issue of The Tool Engineer.

In looking over the history of Chicago Manufacturing & Distributing, we can see that the company offered only a few products of its own and apparently spent very little effort on advertising. This suggests that the company was primarily a distributor and only occasionally offered a "house brand" product.


In addition to the Wright patent, other patents issued to the company include the McKee 1922 patent #1,437,602 for a track-bolt wrench, and the Sultemeyer 1923 patent #1,452,535 for making bearing rings.

Chicago Manufacturing: Issued and Licensed Patents
Patent No.InventorFiledIssuedNotes and Examples
1,089,737 G.K. Wright03/19/191303/10/1914 Ratchet Wrench
Chicago Manufacturing A1 Ratchet
1,437,602 R.J. McKee08/19/192112/05/1922 Track-bolt Wrench
1,602,620 J.V. Larson08/30/192410/12/1926 Automatic Nut Wrench
Chicago Manufacturing Speednut Wrench
1,830,033 J.V. Larson03/26/193111/03/1931 Automatic Nut Wrench
No assignment noted, but marked on later production by CMD.
Chicago Manufacturing Speednut Wrench


We have not yet found any trademarks for Chicago Manufacturing and Distributing.

Cochran Pipe Wrench registered the "SPEEDNUT" trademark in 1914, and the rights to this trademark would probably have been included in the assets of Larco Wrench purchased at bankruptcy auction.

Tool Identification

Ratchets from CMD were usually marked with the company name, but sockets and drive tools were typically unmarked except for cast-in "A"-series model numbers. These other tools are best identified by their malleable iron construction and cast-in model numbers.

Ratchets (and sometimes other tools) may be marked with a forge or foundry mark resembling "CH", with the "H" overstriking the "C", which will be referred to as the CH-Logo in the text. The CH-Logo has been identified as the foundry mark for the Cleveland Hardware & Forging Company, a merchant drop-forger and foundry operator.

References and Resources

Photographs and observations of particular tools are based on items in the Alloy Artifacts collection.

Catalog Resources

Currently we don't have any catalogs for Chicago Manufacturing.

Selected Tools

CMD No. 60 Socket Set

[CMD No. 60 Socket Set]
Fig. 6. CMD No. 60 Socket Set, ca. 1915-1925.

Fig. 6 shows a CMD No. 60 socket set in a wooden box, consisting of an A1 ratchet, A25 extension, A10 universal, and seven hex sockets arranged in front of the box.

The tools in the set have a nominal 5/8-drive size, with a 5/8 female connection on the drive tools and a 5/8 male drive tang on the sockets.

The paper label on the lid is marked with "No. 60 Tool Box Wrench Kit" across the top, with "Chicago Manufacturing & Distributing Co." and "26th & Rockwell Sts, Chicago Ill." across the bottom. The middle part of the label lists the contents of the set with the socket sizes (always a helpful addition), and the center has a circular logo for the company.

The socket models and sizes are, from the left, A24 (17/32), A23 (9/16), A22 (19/32), A21 (23/32), A20 (25/32), A19 (29/32), and A18 (31/32). The sockets are marked with the fractional size cast into one face (not shown), and with the model number cast into the drive tang.

Some of our readers may have been wondering whether all of those tools actually fit in such a small box.

[CMD No. 60 Socket Set]
Fig. 7. CMD No. 60 Socket Set Packed in Box, ca. 1915-1925.

Fig. 7 shows the No. 60 socket set packed into its wooden box, with several of the sockets nested in order to reduce the space required.

The wooden box holding the tools has dimensions 9.6 inches wide by 3.0 inches deep by 3.0 inches high.

The sockets and tools are finished with black paint.

One interesting aspect of this set is that the sockets and tools are constructed of malleable steel castings, the construction method also used for the early sockets sets from the Charles Miller Company and Syracuse Wrench Company. Apart from the similarities of construction though, no connection is known between Chicago Manufacturing and these other companies.

CMD A1 5/8-Drive Ratchet

[CMD A1 5/8-Drive Ratchet]
Fig. 8. CMD A1 5/8-Drive Ratchet, with Insets for Back Side and Side View, ca. 1915-1925.

Fig. 8 shows the CMD A1 5/8-drive ratchet from the No. 60 socket set, marked with "Patented March 10 1914" cast into the handle, with "Chicago Mfg & Distributing Co" and "Chicago" cast into the back side.

The overall length is 8.9 inches, and the finish is black paint.

The patent date refers to patent #1,089,737, filed by G.K. Wright in 1913 and issued on the noted date.

The handle of the ratchet is also marked with a forge (or foundry) mark resembling "CH" with the "H" overstriking the "C", referred to as the CH-Logo. This mark is believed to indicate the contract foundry used for production.

CMD A10 5/8-Drive Universal

[CMD A10 5/8-Drive Universal]
Fig. 9. CMD A10 5/8-Drive Universal, ca. 1915-1925.

Fig. 9 shows the CMD A10 5/8-drive universal from the No. 60 socket set, marked with the model number cast into one part.

The overall length is 8.9 inches, and the finish is black paint.

The interior of the female end is equipped with a spring clip (not shown) to help secure a socket.

CMD A25 5/8-Drive 9 Inch Extension

[CMD A25 5/8-Drive 9 Inch Extension]
Fig. 10. CMD A25 5/8-Drive 9 Inch Extension, with Inset for Construction Detail, ca. 1915-1925.

Fig. 10 shows the CMD A25 5/8-drive 9 inch extension from the No. 60 socket set, marked with the model number cast into the shank.

The overall length is 8.9 inches, and the finish is black paint.

The inset shows the interior of the female end, with a spring clip riveted to the wall to help secure a socket.

CMD "Speednut" 8 Inch Quick-Adjusting Wrench

[CMD 8 Inch Speednut Wrench]
Fig. 11. CMD 8 Inch Speednut Wrench, with Insets for Edge View and Back Side Detail, ca. 1931+.

Fig. 11 shows a CMD 8 inch "Speednut" self-adjusting wrench, marked with "Speednut" and "Forged Steel" forged into the shank, with "Mfg. By Chicago Mfg. and Dist'g Co." and "Chicago, U.S.A." forged into the back side.

The shank also has a patent notice "Pat. 1602620 1830033" forged in near the hanging hole.

The overall length is 8.1 inches, and the finish is plain steel.

The first patent #1,602,620 was filed by J.V. Larson in 1924 and issued in 1926. It describes an "automatic nut wrench" with a spring-loading mechanism and closely resembles this tool.

The second patent #1,830,033 was filed by J.V. Larson in 1931 and issued later that year, and describes improvements to the design in the first patent. The marking for this second patent indicates production in 1931 or later.

The "Speednut" brand had been used as early as 1914 by the Cochran Pipe Wrench Manufacturing Company of Chicago, and their Cochran Speednut Wrench looked quite similar to the later production by Chicago Manufacturing & Distributing.

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