It all started with a letter from George Gengenbach asking for help finding the pelican mouth bolt cutter. He did not know the manufacturer of the wire cutter, but said, “In a country that has been able to put someone on the moon, there should be someone that can find what I'm looking for.”
We took that as a challenge. However, our many searches led nowhere.
We then asked for help from our readers and received many photos of wire cutters. Only one looked promising, however. Elgin McConnon of Clarksville, MI, drew of picture of a cutter that he said had been used in the army. The top of the cutter was shaped like a bird's beak, but Mr. McConnon did not know the name of the cutter's manufacturer.
Finally, a letter from Kevin Miller, Monticello, IA, broke open the case. Mr. Miller wrote:
I used a pelican mouth bolt cutter as a wire cutter. It's the best. The U.S. Army used them to cut barbwire in WWII. I lost mine and found it back in a plowed field 20 years later.
Mr. Miller sent us a photo of his old cutter, on which he had written “1941.” Sure enough, the cutting edge was shaped like a pelican's beak.
This time a search of “1941 wire cutters” on the Web produced a photo of the cutter with a description that included its name — M-1938 — and manufacturer — W. M. Schollhorn.
We found that the Schollhorn company had been sold to Sargent Tools, which was then sold to the Rostra Tool Company of Branford, CT (www.rostratool.com). We crossed our fingers and sent an e-mail to the Rostra Tool Company, asking if it still manufactured the M-1938. Mick Sunter, sales manager for the company, replied the same day. He wrote:
You are right. At one time our company did manufacture a series of products such as the bolt cutter you mention. Many, if not most, of these products, including wood planes…and other hand tools, are no longer available (including the bolt cutter). It's an interesting history of tools that have come and gone over the years. Aside from changes in applications through time that have made many tools obsolete, the industries' changing demands and opportunities led Sargent to concentrate their…production efforts in the past 30 years on markets such as electronics, CATV, electrical, plumbing, etc. The majority of products these days include crimp and cable preparation tools.
Glad to see you were able to track us down! Maybe not the answer you or your readers were hoping for, but nonetheless an answer.
So there you have it. Once considered an indispensable tool by soldiers during World War II, the pelican mouth bolt has been made obsolete by peacetime and progress.
We suggest that if you still want to find one, you should try eBay or another auction site offering antique tools.
There is an interesting footnote to this story. When we entered “M-1938 wire cutter” into an Internet search engine, it steered us to a site for toys and collectables (www.toychestandcollectables.com). It seems that a tiny pelican mouth bolt cutter is standard issue for the action figure G.I. Joe. The handles of the miniature cutter seem wrong, but the head certainly looks authentic. So perhaps if you have a very small farm…
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