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H. Gerstner & Son's 100th Anniversary

by Leon A. Frechette

In 2006 H. Gerstner & Son's celebrated their 100th Anniversary of handcrafting wooden chests and cases for individuals who appreciate high-quality products.

The photo below right is the 100-Year Anniversary Reproduction Chest (Style 18). This small (14" W x 9 1/2" H x 8 1/2") leatherette-covered chest is a copy of the earliest known machinist tool chest built by Harry Gerstner, founder of H. Gerstner & Sons. It was featured in brochures beginning as early as 1913.

H. Gerstner & Son's 100-Year Anniversary Reproduction Chest How does a company stay afloat for so long crafting wooden products that can be handed down from generation to generation? Maybe it's the simple fact that the company is family owned and run and their heirloom chests allow a place for everything and everything in its place.

It all started when founder Harry Gerstner was designing and building unique hardwood tool chests for his own tools. Friends and co-workers noticed the craftsmanship he put into the chests. It wasn't long before he was building small tool chests for Dayton area tool & die makers who needed to store and protect their precision hand tools. Incidentally, the company operates in the same area where Mr. Gerstner first founded it and has been in its present location since 1913.

Harry Gerstner's products were very popular because he lined each drawer with felt, which allowed individuals to lay out their tools in a neat and orderly fashion. Due to the moisture-absorbing characteristics of wood, tools stored in a Gerstner Chest basically remained free of rust.

Gerstner's wooden chestMr. Gerstner's goal was always to design and build top-quality wooden chests and cases for individuals who understand the meaning of true craftsmanship and who appreciate the value of a product that, with care, can last a lifetime. While many new designs and styles of wood chests have been produced throughout their 100 years, the craftsmanship has not changed. Workers still take pride in their handcrafted products.

The company tells me that the photo above right shows the oldest chest they know of; they suspect it's a Gerstner, but there are no markings on the unit. If it's a Gerstner, then it's probably from the teens. Unfortunately, they don't own it; the Dayton Historical Society does.

Harry Gerstner first started to work when he left high school at 17. He signed on as a woodworking apprentice to become a pattern maker at six cents an hour. Completing his four-year apprenticeship, he received a $100 bonus and pay raise to ten cents an hour. It took him a year to design and make his first prototype tool chest while working as a pattern maker. After building a few more chests that were better than and different from anything on the market, he used his $100 bonus to form his own company in 1906. His initial orders came out of evening door-to-door sales calls to many of his friends and acquaintances.

Harry decided to name the company H. Gerstner & Sons in honor of his father, Herman Gerstner, who introduced Harry to woodworking, and because the name sounded established. It was—and continues to be—a family business from its inception. Most of his original tools and machines were hand-built. His first electric-powered machine was a table saw he made with an old motor from a washing machine. He truly created a signature product that is recognized world wide.

I've been told that the name of the company has been a longstanding battle between family members—depending on who you talk to. The generally accepted facts are that the name resulted partly to honor his father and partly because it sounded established and he hoped to bring his own family into the business (when he had one). In fact, he employed two of his brothers and two of his sisters, and his father was on the books as a company officer too. As you can see, it truly was a family business from its inception.

There are many less expensive imitations of Gerstner's wooden chests on the market today. Recognizing this, H. Gerstner & Sons formed a new division, Gerstner International in 2004. This division seeks out manufacturing partners around the world which enables the company to offer customers economically priced wooden products built to a benchmark of quality that proudly upholds the Gerstner name. Gerstner is positioning itself to stay on top with its branded name by offering the best quality and economical chest to be found anywhere.

While their first chest was created exclusively for the tool and die trade in America, the company today is introducing wooden chests and other wooden products to accommodate hobbies, jewelry, valuables, and collectibles. Because of their unique design, they are often used as accent pieces in home décor and become heirlooms that can be handed down from generation to generation. It's safe to say that Gerstner Tool Chests and other wood products represent both the quality of fine woodworking craftsmanship and the proud tradition of true American heritage.

Gerstner's Restoration Division
Gerstner Chest

To uphold that pride, Gerstner's Restoration division can, in most cases, restore a Gerstner chest to heirloom conditions as you can see in the photos (above) of a 1940's chest. They also can provide a service to determine the age of older Gerstner Chests and offer an official Age of Chest Certificate suitable for framing.

Their present location is also their first building. Over the years they added on to accommodate the company's growth. For the last 100 years, their basic principles of hand craftsmanship haven't changed much. The actual processes have been refined and perfected over the years with numerous improvements within just the last 1520 years. As Kim Campbell Armstrong, Vice President of Marketing, puts it "I would say the craftsmanship has gotten quite a bit better with the advance of technology over the last 100 years."

To read a review of their classic hardwood tool chest, click here.


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Gerstner Classic 20-Inch American Cherry Wood Chest with Brass Hardware #C41D-B

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