ROCKFORD — An early 20th century woodworking machine with Rockford roots is headed for the Smithsonian-affiliated National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

But first, the 4,230-pound Variety Woodworker manufactured by Rockford-based Greenlee Brothers is being restored to its original glory.

Heading up the project is the machine's owner, Steve Williams, 72, of Kalispell, Montana, who has been refurbishing vintage woodworking machinery for three decades.

“This is the only Greenlee Variety Woodworker of its type and vintage in existence,” Williams said. “Thousands of early 20th century machines were sent to the smelter to support the World War II effort.”

Brothers Ralph and Robert Greenlee founded the company that bears their name in Chicago in 1862. The company relocated to Rockford in 1904 and is now known as Greenlee Tool Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Emerson.

Greenlee Brothers’ sold its Variety Woodworker to the Anaconda Copper Co. in Great Falls, Montana, in 1910. Skilled tradesmen operated the woodworker to make precision wood parts used to construct the patterns for massive cast-iron gears used in mining operations around the world.

The woodworker remained in use until 1979, when Anaconda Copper went out of business and liquidated its assets.

A cabinetmaker from northern Montana acquired the woodworker but quickly realized it was too large for his shop. The contraption was then stored on a farm in northeast Montana for nearly 40 years until the owner saw Williams’ ad on Craigslist for “vintage machinery wanted” in 2018.

The two got in touch, and Williams drove 250 miles to the farm for a firsthand look at the rust-free woodworker in almost ready-to-use condition.

It was love at first sight.

“The machine was never damaged in any respect,” Williams said. “Thus no repairs were ever made.”

In November, Williams received a letter from the National Museum of Industrial History that said “the museum is pleased to accept this artifact in our permanent collection to preserve and tell its story.”

While the Variety Woodworker is in relatively good condition, restoring the machine will cost an estimated $40,000 and take about nine months to complete.

Greenlee Tool Inc. is receptive to supporting the restoration project, said Lloyd Everard, vice president of human resources for Professional Tools, a division of Greenlee parent Emerson.

“I think it just represents the heritage of Greenlee,” Everard said. “Throughout our building, if you come tour you’ll see we still have pictures of the Greenlee brothers on the wall. We have a lot of their antique tools and some of their early products on display. So, it’s just kind of a way of remaining connected with the long and honorable tradition of Greenlee.”

The woodworker will be restored to factory-new condition using exacting standards of mechanical and cosmetic restoration. Moving parts will be recalibrated so they operate smoothly.

It’s unclear when the woodworker will move to its new home at the National Museum of Industrial History. When it does, it will mark a significant milestone for the iconic manufacturer, Williams said.

“Americans know Greenlee as a producer of world-class electrical tools and equipment,” he said. “But very few know the rich history of the company that made such a profound contribution to the American industrial revolution in both the 19th and 20th centuries.”

Ken DeCoster: 815-987-1391; kdecoster@rrstar.com; @DeCosterKen