Charles Thomas Allen was born in Syracuse on Jan. 26, 1887. His British father died when Allen was just an infant. Allen’s mother, Minnie Newman Allen, raised in Pompey, brought up her young son in Syracuse. Mrs. Allen would later marry Henry Keene and become a stepmother to Keene’s son, Leon Henry Keene.
Charles Allen began his long, industrial career as a toolmaker at the H.H. Franklin Manufacturing Company, makers of the air-cooled Franklin automobile in Syracuse, eight years after the company opened in 1902. Allen learned the craft of making automobile parts and worked his way up to become a master mechanic and tool foreman during World War I. At H.H. Franklin, he directed the retooling for Franklin’s role in producing Wright-Martin and Rolls-Royce airplane engines in the summer of 1918. Allen left H.H. Franklin Manufacturing in 1920 and joined Borgeson Tool & Machine Company, located at 501 E. Water St. in Syracuse. He soon became Borgenson’s VP and secretary, subsequently leaving in 1922 to form his own tool company.
At age 28, with $20,000 in capital, Charles Allen founded the Allen Tool Corporation at 211 Wyoming St. in Syracuse in October 1922. On the same day that Allen incorporated his company, the Lafayette Country Club and the Walker Dishwashing Corporation also received incorporation certificates. Allen Tool opened with seven employees and 14 machines. Some of the company’s first products included tools, jigs, dies, and specialty machinery. Allen believed in his employees training under the tutelage of experienced tool and die makers — hands-on training was his preferred form of education.
Allen invested in modern equipment and became a leader in fabricating machines that made diverse consumer products. In 1934, Allen Tool created a machine that made containers for dispensing table salt through an aluminum spout. The machine could make 52 containers per minute. At the time, Allen also was designing machines that could turn heels for women’s shoes and weigh packaged gelatin. During the prior year, the company made a machine that could make 19,000 yards of waterproof fishing line per day. Allen Tool also fabricated the original machinery that made milk cartons for Sealtest Dairy.
Under Allen’s guidance, Allen Tool Corporation expanded from a small shop with only a few employees in the 1920s, to about 20 in the 1930s, and to a larger business of over 100 employees by the early 1940s.
Angered by the Japanese surprise attack on the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941, Charles Allen offered a $200 cash reward to the first American flyer that would bomb the Japanese cities of Tokyo, Yokohama, or Osaka. His offer was the second cash offer sent to the Syracuse Herald Journal newspaper; the first $100 came from the Funda-Austin Construction Company in Syracuse. Allen Tool Corporation also joined many other local businesses in promoting buying defense bonds and stamps throughout World War II. Many employees regularly invested as much as 14 percent of their wages in buying the bonds and stamps to finance America’s war contributions. Donald W. Darrone, Allen’s son-in-law, and company VP and assistant treasurer, spearheaded the employee contribution program during the war.
Beginning as early as January 1942, orders for tools, dies, gauges, jigs, fixtures, and other small tools for defense production poured into Allen Tool. To fulfill the ever-increasing orders, the company employed 40 toolmakers who worked 60-hour weeks. The tools made by Allen Tool employees went toward making airplane-engine parts, machine guns, gun mounts, range finders, and other supplies. The company also played a vital role in retooling the Brown-Lipe-Chapin Company in Syracuse so that business could make airplane machine guns.
In November 1947, the Allen Tool Corporation moved into its own building at 308 Maltbie St. in Syracuse. The building was originally constructed for the Syracuse Supply Company about 20 years earlier. The 30,000-square-foot building was completely refurbished with new oil heating and air conditioning. The building also had its own railroad siding and sufficient parking for employees. Donald Darrone was handling much of the management and operational direction for the move. By then, 25 employees had been with the company since it began 25 years earlier.
By the early 1950s, the Allen Tool Corporation was a member of the National Tool and Die Manufacturers Association (NTDMA) along with several other local tool and die companies. The group expressed its pride in advancing the industrial capacity of Syracuse and announced to the public that the NTDMA was ready to answer the country’s call for defense contractors if the occasion arose.
As Armistice Day officially became Veterans Day on Nov. 11, 1954, Charles Thomas Allen suddenly passed away at his home at 300 Strathmore Drive in Syracuse at the age of 68. Always an early riser, Allen had spoken with his wife, Ethel, at 6 a.m., before he collapsed and died. His death came as a shock to his family, friends, and employees who fully expected him to show up at work that Thursday. Noting his early arrival at work each day, Allen previously said, “[T]he boss gets here in time to sweep out in the morning.” That day it was not to be. Allen was survived by his wife, along with two daughters, Doris (who was married to Donald Darrone) and Mrs. Virginia Doolittle, nine grandchildren, and his brother, Frank. He was buried in Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Syracuse.
Charles T. Allen was praised as an industrial genius who could design and produce specialty jigs, tools, and sophisticated machines for diverse industries. He also was recognized as a leader in improving working efficiency and plant conditions, and earned wide admiration from fellow industrialists. Personally, Allen was described as a quiet and reserved man who had a keen sense of humor. He loved to hunt and fish and was a member of the Konosioni Lodge 950 of the Free and Associated Masons, as well as the Tigris Shrine Temple.
Upon Charles Allen’s death, his son-in-law, Donald Darrone, was elevated to company president and treasurer, and Allen’s widow, Ethel, became company VP and secretary.
The early 1960s was a busy time at Allen Tool Corporation. In 1962, Allen Tool acquired the Syracuse Special Machine Company and operated that company as a division. L. Edward Potter, founder and former president of Syracuse Special Machine Company, became sales manager of the newly established division.
That same year, Allen Tool began to work with the Florida Research and Development Center of Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, a division of United Aircraft Corporation, to construct a fuel injector for the new RL10 liquid hydrogen engine that propelled the Centaur space vehicle into space. NASA successfully launched the Centaur in late November 1963 using the RL10 engine, utilizing Allen’s fuel injector. The RL10 engine also propelled the later Saturn IV rocket into outer space. The RL10 engine was later used in the Pioneer-Jupiter Explorer and the Mariner-Mars Orbiter space probe missions.
Allen Tool had existed for 44 years by 1966 and was still going strong with 120 employees. The company served the needs of the electronic, electrical, automotive, aviation, aerospace, appliance, dairy, transportation, and nuclear-power industries. The company served both local clients such as Carrier, Crouse-Hinds, General Electric, General Motors, and Chrysler, as well as national industrial clients. Two employees had worked for the company for 30 years and four had worked for 25 years. The average length of employment was nine years, and company officials touted that the longer an Allen Tool employee stayed at the company, the more proficient that employee became. The company offered a four-year apprenticeship program that combined classroom education with hands-on experience. Throughout the 1960s, Allen Tool officials routinely placed ads in the Syracuse newspapers praising their employees for being a valuable asset to the company’s success.
With Darrone at the company helm, Allen Tool continued to succeed and hire lathe operators, horizontal boring mill operators, grinders, toolmakers, machinists, and machine designers to continue creating the tools, dies, and specialty machines needed to keep American industry humming along. By the early 1980s, Allen Tool made machines to produce candles, vehicle mechanisms, jet engine components, razor blades, and countless other products. Along with continuing to serve their local clients, Allen’s client list grew to include IBM, Ford Motor Company, Kodak, and Xerox. “We’re in the business of increasing manufacturing productivity and we see this as one of our country’s top priorities this decade,” Richard Darrone, company VP and Charles Allen’s grandson, said in the Skaneateles Press newspaper in 1981.
However, a positive manufacturing outlook began to fade in the early 1980s, as the U.S. experienced two recessions in three years, and manufacturing output suffered. By March 1983, Allen Tool was struck with lagging sales and intense competition in the tool manufacturing industry. The company laid off seven of its 90 to 100 employees that January and reduced the remaining employees to a 32-hour work week.
In March 1984, Donald Darrone became the chairman of the board at Allen Tool Corporation and Richard became company president and CEO. Richard was a 1963 graduate of Syracuse University and chairman of the Factory Management Council of the Manufacturers Association of Central New York (MACNY). Also that year, Ethel Allen retired as secretary, and her daughter, Doris, succeeded her mother in that position.
Business improved for Allen Tool Corporation again in the mid-1980s and the business began hiring wirers, toolmakers, and machinists.
By August 1989, Allen Tool had merged with Mac-Law Tool & Aircraft Parts Corporation, manufacturers of aerospace parts from prototype to production to become Mac-Law and Allen, Inc. Raymond Ryan was the newly merged corporation’s president, which was located at 1860 Erie Boulevard E. in Syracuse. It combined Mac-Law’s ability to make aerospace parts with Allen’s ability to make tools, jigs, fixtures, and specialty machinery.
In an effort to consolidate its operation at its Erie Boulevard location, Mac-Law sold the Allen Tool building at 308 Maltbie St. to Pioneer Development Company for $325,000. Pioneer Development planned to renovate the building and convert it into office space. Until the renovation project commenced, Mac-Law officials leased the building to finish a project previously undertaken by Allen, and then moved about 60 employees to its main building on Erie Boulevard. In 1989, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded Mac-Law and Allen Tool $1.3 million in defense contracts. Defense contracts comprised 75 percent of the company’s business.
According to Raymond Ryan, Mac-Law and Allen continued to face stiff competition from other tool and machine making companies and coped with cuts in defense spending. Also, when Mac-Law took over Allen Tool, Allen was about two years behind in fulfilling its contracts. The company was incurring exorbitant overtime costs and its debts mounted.
Mac-Law and Allen, Inc. failed to pay the Internal Revenue Service $468,937 in taxes, Social Security payments, and unemployment insurance in 1990. In turn, the IRS filed liens against the company in February and March 1991 to try to collect the owed money. In addition to the IRS, Merchants National Bank & Trust Company, a major creditor, foreclosed on a loan and seized the company’s bank account of about $110,000. Mac-Law and Allen officials tried to sell the company in January 1991 without success and Merchants Bank foreclosed the business. At the beginning of 1991, the company still employed about 70 workers; however, that April almost all of those employees were laid off when Merchants Bank foreclosed. Allen closed its doors in June 1991 and Merchants Bank filed a judgment against the company for more than $2.2 million.
But the story of Allen Tool Corporation does not end there. Reminiscent of the mythical Phoenix that rose from its own ashes in Greek mythology as a symbol of renewal and rebirth, Allen Tool Phoenix, Inc. emerged from the ashes of the bankrupt Mac-Law and Allen, Inc. Cheryl Maines, current president of Allen Tool Phoenix, Inc., witnessed the decimation of Mac-Law and Allen. She and her co-worker, Richard Dick Cook, struck out on their own to create the new company the day after Mac-Law and Allen closed in 1991. It was not an easy task for Maines and Cook; Maines said it was unnerving. Looking back on that time, Maines said in 1999, “[I]t becomes your entire life. For seven days a week, you have to stay right with it.” A few days after dedicating themselves to creating Allen Tool Phoenix, Maines and Cook hired their first two employees, formerly employed by Mac-Law and Allen, and established the new business. They convinced several Mac-Law and Allen customers to keep sending their parts orders to Allen Tool Phoenix, including Pratt & Whitney Aircraft. Maines’ husband, Ken, joined the company in 1993 as its controller. Allen Tool Phoenix leased space at 6057 Corporate Drive in DeWitt and purchased some used machinery, including some from the former Allen Tool Corporation. They tirelessly worked long weeks and re-established the long legacy of the original Allen Tool Corporation.
Sometime in 1996, Allen Tool Phoenix moved from 6057 Corporate Drive in DeWitt to its present location at 6821 Ellicott Drive in DeWitt, and company officials continued to advertise for toolmakers for the revived business. Cheryl Maines, newly minted owner and company president with Cook’s retirement in 1997, was looking that year to augment her staff with “top-shelf, competent employees.”
Allen Tool Phoenix was well on its way to not only surviving its first few years of redeveloping the company, but also thriving in a highly competitive industry by the end of the 20th century, and the company’s success continues today.
Allen Tool Phoenix is a flourishing company in 2023, and this year celebrates its 32nd anniversary. It is an AS9100D / ISO 9001:2015 certified, precision machine shop specializing in CNC machining, fabricating, thread rolling, assembly, and prototyping, serving the aerospace, defense, and commercial markets. It is a woman-owned business with Cheryl Maines continuing to direct it. Hearkening back to the days of Charles Allen’s apprenticeship program, Allen Tool Phoenix offers its own apprenticeship program. In addition to daily on-the-job training, the firm’s apprentices attend Onondaga Community College for their related classroom instruction. Recognizing that its employees strongly contribute to the success of the company, Allen Tool Phoenix will undoubtedly continue to prosper well into the 21st century.
Thomas Hunter is curator of collections at the Onondaga Historical Association (OHA) (www.cnyhistory.org), located at 321 Montgomery St. in Syracuse.