skip to main content

History of Asquith Butler

William AsquithWilliam Asquith, a locally trained engineer, worked in the gold fields of British Columbia and California before returning to Halifax to found his company in 1865.

In common with most pioneer manufacturers, Asquith produced machine tools of all types during the early years but soon realised the need for specialisation and decided to concentrate on drilling and boring machines.

During the first World War the factory produced both machine tools and Munitions and later, in the difficult inter-war years, machines were exported world wide.

Amongst many interesting contracts was the provision of the entire drilling capacity for the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Although drilling and boring machines of all types were produced over a long period, the Asquith Company deservedly became world famous for two types of machine : the Radial drill and the Horizontal floor borer. Thousands of these machines are at work in every industrialised country in the world and are a testimony to the Company’s skills in both design and manufacture. The largest ram type borers weighed up to 300 tonnes.


James Ryder ButlerThe Butler Machine Tool Company was founded in Halifax in 1868 by James Ryder Butler, an ex Crossley Carpets apprentice. His first products were looms for the rapidly expanding textile industry but within a few years production had switched to machine tools.

Every type of machine tool was produced until the first World War, during which part of the factory produced Munitions.

With the end of hostilities, an agreement was made between the major manufacturers to specialise in order to end wasteful competition. Butler began to build reciprocating machine tools – Planers, Shapers and Slotters – and between the wars established a reputation as the preeminent manufacturer of these types which were exported to every industrialised country in the world. Many machines built during this period are still in operation today and are a fitting tribute to the integrity of their design and manufacture.

During the second World War and into the fifties world re equipment ensured full order books for the company but the sixties saw the beginning of fierce competition from abroad. At this time it also became apparent that the multi-point milling cutter was superior to the single point planning tool and production was switched to plano-millers – superb heavy duty machines with 70 to 100hp heads. In the mid sixties a new range of products was introduced. Most significant of these was the Elgamill, a versatile milling, boring and drilling machine which became the Company’s principal product around the world.