Mystery Photo #65: Diamonds are Forever … Except in Duluth!

This old photo seems to show striking workers at the Diamond Tool and Horseshoe Company in West Duluth. Or are the workers protesting the closing of the plant? What year was the photo taken? Who is the guy in the foreground crossing the street? There are plenty of questions to be answered in this Perfect Duluth Day Mystery Photo.

Oh, and there are some alternate shots from that day, shown below.

A little history …

Diamond Tool and Horseshoe Co. began as a horseshoe manufacturing company operating on South Lake Avenue in Duluth’s Canal Park. It was founded on Otto Swanstrom’s invention of the drive-calk horseshoe, but later became one of the world’s largest manufacturers of wrenches and pliers.

Swanstrom was a Duluth blacksmith. His invention was a shoe that could be hammered onto the hooves of horses or mules. Previously, screw-calks had been used, which were prone to slipping off.

Diamond Calk Horseshoe Company was incorporated in 1907 with a capital stock of $250,000. It began manufacturing horseshoes in 1908, revolutionizing the industry.

In 1912 the firm built a factory at 4702 Grand Ave. in West Duluth. With the advent of the tractor and automobile, the use of horses for work decreased, but Diamond Tool changed with the times, becoming a manufacturer of more than 350 varieties of pliers, snips, nippers and wrenches. A full line of horseshoes and farrier tools, as well as pitching horseshoes remained a large part of the business.

At its peak the mill had more than 800 employees and produced 3,500 adjustable wrenches a day.

Triangle Corporation of Connecticut bought Diamond Tool in 1981 with $20 million in industrial revenue bonds issued by the city of Duluth, which wanted to avoid closure of the plant. The city’s financing helped Triangle nudge out a bid by the company’s president, John Edward “Jack” Swanstrom, a Duluth native.

Triangle eventually began dismantling key equipment and shipping it to another of its plants. In 1993, Trangle sold the company to Cooper Tools, which shut down the West Duluth plant on Oct. 28, 1994. Cooper Tools later merged with another tool manufacturer to become Apex Tool Group. The Diamond Tool building at 47th Avenue West and Grand Avenue was razed in 1996. The Denfeld Retail Center and St. Luke’s Denfeld Medical Clinic were built in its place.

Jack Swanstrom left Diamond Tool after the sale to Triangle. He went on to open Swanstrom Tools USA Inc. in 1983. That company, a manufacturer of technically advanced electronic cutters and pliers forged from high chromium and high carbon alloy steel, moved to Superior in 1985. Swanstrom died in 2002 when his Cirrus SR20 plane crashed and burned on a northern New Mexico mountain. He was 58.

And the final photo, below, is from the Northeast Minnesota Historical Collections in the Kathryn A. Martin Library at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The “Date Created” on the item is listed as 1972.


Paul Lundgren

about 6 years ago

The May 16, 1988 Chicago Tribune article "Cities Strike Back At Closings" offers a bit more detail on the move to pull the company out of Duluth:

Communities angered by plant shutdowns are starting to take bold legal steps that could significantly raise the cost of corporate decisions to close facilities. While Congress and President Reagan continued to lock horns last week over workers' need for advance notice of shutdowns, lawyers for the City of Duluth, Minn., were preparing final arguments in a suit against Triangle Corp., based in Stamford, Conn. The suit could establish a major precedent for communities fighting plant closings. Duluth, which sold $10 million of tax-exempt industrial revenue bonds to help Triangle buy the locally owned Diamond Tool & Horseshoe Co. in 1981, alleges the hand tool manufacturer is violating the terms of that agreement by moving machinery to another plant out of state, costing Minnesotans jobs. The city in February won a temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court in Duluth halting further movement of machinery. Final arguments in the case are scheduled for May 27. "All we're saying is bring back the equipment and use it for the original purpose for which it was purchased and financed," said David Sebok, director of planning and development for Duluth. "They're not living up to their end of the (1981 bond) agreement." According to local newspaper accounts, the city in late March introduced evidence of a secret plan to move production from Duluth to Triangle's other toolmaking plant in Orangeburg, S.C. Employment at the Duluth plant has dropped to 320 from more than 700 in 1981. The plant's union, concerned about the job bloodletting that has affected its members, has joined in the lawsuit, said Tom Stillman, president of Direct Affiliated Local Union 18650. Triangle officials refused to comment on the specifics of the case. However, Vice President Don R. Gifford did say, "We don't intend to close the plant, and we've told them that many times."


about 6 years ago

Alloy Artifacts: Museum of Tool History has a nice history of Diamond Tool and the variety of tools it produced.

Paul Lundgren

about 6 years ago

So far the response on Facebook has been all over the place.

Robert Larson says 1982: "They are protesting. The company that bought Diamond Tools was in the process of moving the company to South Carolina."

Elizabeth Smieja thinks early 1990s: "I remember this, my dad worked for the company and I remember this was when they were shutting down. I want to say early 1990s - like 1994."

Tracey Ellingsen agrees with Smieja: "My dad worked here. We're trying to pinpoint an exact date, but it was spring or summer of 1994."

Heather Lowe Williams wrote: "From the casual shirt and pocket object I’d say 1960s?"

Michael Valentine writes simply "1965."

Tony D.

about 6 years ago

Yesterday I was visiting Zenith Bookstore and saw a slim book published in 2014 written in part by Dick Hudelson, coauthor of "Down By the Ore Docks," which covers the city's early labor history. I don't recall the title. While leafing through the book I recall seeing a photo of Diamond Tool workers. I should have bought a copy then and there. Paul, I'm guessing there's a pretty good chance the answer is in that book.

Julie Swanstrom Mellum

about 6 years ago

This wonderful article and photos brought back many fond memories of the Diamond when my brother and I were kids. Later, when it was sold to Triangle Tool, Jack and my dad were at the helm. When they then formed Swanstrom Tools USA in Superior, it went on to new heights by supplying the medical, aerospace and other industries with high quality precision tools to enhance their businesses. John Swanstrom and his wife, Erin, have had great success keeping their manufacturing at top performance. They even received an award from the Governor of Wisconsin one year. Diamonds never die, but can morph into other fine things!

Tony D.

about 6 years ago

Julie, would that have made founder Otto Swanstrom, shown below in a sketch ca. 1910, your grandfather or great-grandfather?

Leave a Comment

Only registered members can post a comment , Login / Register Here

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Read previous post:
Winter Adventures Video by Tanner Bjorlie.