The Bullard Vertical Turret Lathe was and still is the backbone of many industries, most notably Oil & Gas production. Many of the vertical turret lathes originally built by Bullard are still turning precision parts in thousands of shops around the world. The oldest Bullard VTL that Bourn & Koch has provided parts for dates back to 1912. Though the last Bullard was produced in 1989, these machines will likely be around for decades longer due to the quality of their original craftsmanship and engineering.
Bullard was started by Edward Payson (E.P.) Bullard as Bridgeport Machine Tool Works in a rented loft on Broad Street in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The first product built by Bridgeport Machine Tool Works was an engine lathe. As the small company rapidly grew, they added space to fill the numerous orders they were receiving. While the engine lathe they built was a quality machine tool, it would not be what he was remembered for.
E.P. observed that almost every machine tool was designed horizontally, making it difficult to machine large parts due to their weight. Bullard designed and engineered a new boring mill to use the weight of the workpiece to its advantage and orienting the spindle and tool vertically, thus innovating the first vertical boring mill. By 1883, he had developed the first vertical boring mill with a capacity of 37″. Less than a decade later, they would add a second head to the machine and increase the capacity to 51″. At the turn of the century, the first Vertical Turret Lathe, would be developed by Bullard. The development of the vertical turret lathe and vertical boring mill would carry his legacy nearly a century, making the Bullard VTL the machine by which all others would be measured for some time to come.
In 1906, E.P. Bullard died and was succeeded by his son, E.P. Bullard Jr., who would lead the company to ultimately develop the New Era VTL in 1911, the precursor to the Spiral Drive VTL. The New Era and Spiral Drive Vertical Turret Lathes were highly similar in function and form, with both machines having fully manual gearboxes and transmissions. Often referred to as a “Kicker Bullard”, these machines had a lever down by your foot for engaging the machine. The New Era ultimately became the Spiral Drive in 1927 due to the incorporation of a spiral bevel gear and pinion to drive the table.
E.P. Jr. would see the company through both World Wars and the development of two of their most well known products. In the next section, we’ll learn about the Cutmaster and the VTLs that followed.