Westfield - The Whip City

There's a whip hanging in my office in the State House.

And one in our guest room at home. Another in my husband's office. And each of my kids has a whip--Cathy, a ladylike horsetail whip that looks like it always needs brushing; Chris, a bullwhip that looks like it could tame the meanest critter.

One of my father's most prized possessions was the biggest bullwhip Westfield Whip Manufacturing Company made. My brother took it to Texas, I believe.

Now, if you've lived in Westfield for longer than a week, you know we're known as "The Whip City," because Westfield has been the center of the whip industry for almost two centuries--since 1801.

Last time I checked with the Martin family, Westfield Whip was still the leader in the business, with most whips being shipped overseas.

The industry has always fascinated me. I loved to watch the man sitting in the second floor window of the factory weaving the braided handles, for example, and visit just to talk to the Martins and see the variety of whips hanging on the first floor walls.

Recently, a friend gave me a small pamphlet, printed about the time Digital Equipment came to town. Ironic, isn't it, that Digital is gone and Westfield Whip still here?

Harold Martin wrote the piece, commenting on the diversity of this community's industry and recalling at time when whips and cigars and little else were made here.

Giving full credit to Harold Martin, because I'm no Patricia Smith (the ex-Boston Globe columnist), the booklet begins:

"For as long as anyone can remember Westfield has been The Whip City. The chances are it always will be. When the whip industry was waning and L. B. Allyn's investigations into food impurities made him a national figure, the town fathers tried calling Westfield 'The Pure Food Town.'

"Later, the Chamber of Commerce set out roadside markers calling it 'The Friendly City.' From time to time inventive souls have coined nicknames involving bicycles or boilers or sweetness and light.

"None of them took."

According to Martin, Titus Pease and Thomas Rosse came first, affixing buckskin thongs to tapered hickory poles and selling and bartering them.

Soon, Yankee ingenuity transformed whalebone and rattan and water buffalo hides from around the world into whips made in 40 factories in this town.

Martin points out that a true Westfield whip--a rawhide center in meticulously fitted strips of rattan, shaped to be flexible and strong--can only be made in Westfield, and only by Westfield Whip, although he admitted 25 years ago that the company had adjusted, to use fiberglass, and even nylon, on occasion. He claimed that anyone could make a bullwhip if they knew how to braid leather.

The pamphlet makes you want to learn more, because Martin touched on the fact that the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City was held together with rawhide, how whipmaker Emil Grubert worked over a long vat of hot glue or how Liverus Hull invented a gadget to bring mass production to whipmaking, and the demise of competitors like Cargill Cleveland, New England Whip, Windsor Whip, Duggan Whip, American Whip, U. S. Whip, the Van Deusen Company, and his prediction that Westfield will always be "The Whip City of the World."

Now, have I told you about the cigar industry? The bicycle industry? That Columbia Bicycle is coming out with a collector's edition of their 1941 bike?

Or how proud I am to represent Westfield, and all of its businesses and people?

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