Born in China, Maine, USA in 1836 one of twelve children, Laroy had a typical farm upbringing and had his roots in the soil. Clothed by the wool and flax raised on the farm; one of Laroy’s earliest memories was sitting under the loom and picking up the shuttle which his mother occasionally dropped as she was weaving cloth for their garments.
As he grew older, he joined the men in the fields and at fourteen was trusted to drive the oxen with cart loads of cordwood to Augusta, twelve miles away. It was a 17 hour round trip, often in zero-degree weather. Laroy recalled "It seems tough to think of it now, but I did not mind it then."
The Starretts being a large family found it a struggle to make ends meet. Laroy’s father had got into debt and the farm would have to be mortgaged as security, hearing this, Laroy at seventeen years old left home and hired himself out. For several years he paid his family his earnings until the mortgage was paid off. Saying that this gave him greater pleasure than putting the money in a bank.
His first job was on a milk farm but by the time he was twenty six he was able to rent his own 600-acre farm. Never one to follow tradition, his ideas of planting and cultivating often went against all his neighbours advice. But they brought him top prices and blue ribbons at the agricultural shows. He bought the first mowing machine in that part of the country and soon paid for it by mowing his neighbours hay after his own was in, finally convincing them he knew what he was doing it was expected he would soon have a farm of his own.But Laroy had different ideas, he had what he called "invention on the brain" and wasn't to be side tracked. In winter and stormy days, he spent his time in a room over the stable which was fitted out as a workshop. Here he developed his first invention, a meat chopping machine. The ‘Hasher’ he got the idea from the "walking beam" of the old Mississippi Side-Wheelers. Whilst without experience in manufacturing, Laroy had great faith in this chopper and his ability to succeed with it. When the working model was finally perfected, he sold out his farming interests and turned to business. Visitors to country auctions still come across the "Hasher" which, incidentally, is still a good machine.
Getting the ‘Hasher’ on the market was a struggle, everything was new and Laroy had to learn as he went along. Always ready to listen and absorb the knowledge and experience of others, Laroy watched his pattern maker and discovered what was needed to make a good casting. He hired a room, fitted it out and began turning out his choppers.
By bringing in a silent partner who invested money and by selling sales rights in different countries, Laroy was able to devote more time to manufacturing. The business grew and new premises was needed, a place with more capital and waterpower. He met a businessman from Athol, Massachusetts, who recommended his hometown.
Laroy visited Athol and was impressed by what it had to offer, he quickly moved there, and began working with the Athol Machine Company. Soon the meat chopper business was running smoothly, allowing him to turn his inventive genius to other products. Among the patents taken out by Laroy was a line of bench vices and a shoe hook-fastener. This alone was capable of bringing in an independent fortune had he developed it. Instead, regarding it as secondary importance, Laroy sold it for a few hundred dollars, choosing to concentrate his interest in the development of precision tools.
For the next few years Laroy was working harder than ever and his new products were selling satisfactorily. Nevertheless, as he approached forty he was unable to make a success in a business way that he wanted.
Misfortunes then befell Laroy. His wife died, leaving him with four small children to care for. He lost his hearing. His association with the Athol Machine Company had not been happy and through jealous rivalry he lost his position. To make matters worse, all the money he had was tied up in stocks, and the Athol Machine Company continued to capitalize on his inventions. Laroy saw no other way but to try to create a business for himself by inventing something useful that people would want.
He had worked at pattern making and used clumsy, fixed-blade try squares. Realising the need of a more handy instrument, he sat at the kitchen table night after night and drew up a design and made patterns of it. His combination square was born and patented in 1879.
Having mastered the art of an exacting steel blade, Laroy turned this knowledge into making steel rules and tapes, turning the phrase ‘if you use tapes with Starrett's name on them you will make no mistake.’In 1890, Laroy’s inventive genius turned to the Micrometer, a tool originated from France, but never satisfied with the slow adjustments of the screw, which required forty revolutions to open or close one inch. Laroy set about devising a micrometer that would be absolutely accurate and capable of being adjusted instantly, stating “It gave me much pleasure to accomplish this to my entire satisfaction."
In 1895 Laroy patented the divider with trammel.
In 1920, the company added its first gauge, designed to check the curvature in spectacles, to the product line and quickly became the world’s largest innovator and maker of precision calibrators.
Many others have had similar ideas, the difference here was the man. Laroy’s outstanding characteristic was confidence in himself; he was a man who in spite of one setback after another refused to admit defeat. He had unusual ability, vision and enterprise, but without his high courage this story of the foundation and growth of "the world's greatest toolmakers" could never have been written.
Click here to read the full Starrett story. Starrett - History