William T. Nicholson (1834-1893) was the founder of the Nicholson File Company of Providence, the originator of machine-made files in America, the largest company of its kind in the world, and one of Providence’s “five industrial wonders” of the nineteenth century.
Nicholson was born on March 22, 1834 in the village of Pawtucket, then in the town of North Providence. His father, a machinist, moved the family to Whitinsville, Massachusetts where young William was raised and educated. At age fourteen, he became an apprentice machinist in Whitinsville, but moved to Providence when seventeen to seek better job opportunities. He found them at Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company where he rose to the position of shop manager by 1856, and supervised the production of that firm’s precision instruments.
In 1858 Nicholson opened his own machine company in partnership with Isaac Brownell. By 1860, he bought Brownell out and moved to a larger facility and eventually turned his skill and attention to developing a machine for making files. In 1864, after patenting his invention, he formed the Nicholson File Company. Eventually this enterprise became world-renowned for the quality of its specialized product and brought Nicholson great wealth.
In his later years Nicholson traveled widely and supported a number of civic projects, including the establishment of the Providence Public Library in 1877.
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