02/04/2008 The saw blade makers come home to roost
|A customer recently walked into our store and showed Jocko a package of Olson fret saw blades. Jocko got all excited and called everyone over to look at the package of blades. Nothing unusual in that. The kicker was that the guy said that he had bought those blades from Mr. Olson himself, before he retired and sold the company in the late '70's or early '80's, and the factory was located right here. By "here" he meant literally here, as in 32 33rd street Brooklyn NY. Our building!!!!! Wow, what a small world!!|
We carry Olsen fret saw blades and we all thought this was really cool. The blades are interesting too. This was an Olson invention - the last three teeth on the saw blade go the other way so that when you are on the upstroke with the backwards teeth, the blade cuts from the bottom and prevents tearout. These blades are pretty hefty, and when Mr. Olsen sold out, he told our customer, who was a puzzle maker, to buy a lot of blades. He did - 25 gross of blades. The package he showed us was the second to last package of blades left.
I don't know much about Olson brothers, other than that that Chuck Olson is still at Olson and that the company is now part of Blackstone Industries in Connecticut. So I gave Chuck a call for the straight dope.
Olson Bros. was founded by Chuck Olson's grandfather, Albert Olson, in 1918. Albert was originally a coal miner from Lance, PA and Chuck didn't know exactly why he ended up in Brooklyn making saw blades. Brooklyn was a pretty happening town in 1918, so it does make a little sense that a young man trying to start a company would easily find himself in Brooklyn. From 1918 to about 1960, the company was in the Maltz building on Flatbush Avenue (now part of Long Island University's Brooklyn campus)and then moved here to 32 33rd Street (on the fourth floor in the front; we're on the back part of the fifth floor). Our neighborhood is on the outskirts of Sunset Park, which, at that time had a large Swedish and Scandinavian population and was sometimes known as "Finn Town." The Olson family was Swedish, so that was presumably a draw to the neighborhood, though they didn't live in the area. Early on, Albert's other brothers joined the company, but the company was later run by Stanley Olson, Albert's son and Chuck's father. Chuck started helping out his dad in 1957 at age 12.
Bush Terminal Market was build as a warehouse complex for the docks, but with the invention of the pallet in the mid 1920's, multiple story warehouses made a lot less sense, and of course trucking became more important than railroads. So by the 1960's there was a lot of manufacturing going on in the complex, including a large cardboard box factory on the first and second floor of this building.
Things change. Sunset Park is now mostly Chinese, Mexican and Columbian. We have our own Chinatown and some of the best Chinese and South American restaurants in New York City. Olson Brothers sold to Blackstone Industries in 1976 and Stanley Olson retired. Chuck Olson moved to Connecticut with Blackstone and is still there running the show. The box factory is still downstairs and there is a cabinet shop on the fourth floor where Olson used to be.
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