Wiley and Russell Tap & Die Co. – 1897
A Virtual Reality Project

Wiley & Russell Tap & DieWiley and Russell Tap & Die was formed in 1872, as one of the first two companies to manufacture John Grant’s new invention for cutting quality machine threads. Charles P. Russell acquired the site after his famous Uncle, John Russell, moved his historic cutlery to Turners Falls. W&R, along with Wells Bros. & Company, were both located a mere 1200 feet apart from each other and began a new, global industry. Both were fueled by the Massachusetts “Green River” hydro power.

Since the early 1700s, this industrial site has served the needs of the communities of Deerfield and Greenfield. The history, which occurred here, strongly affects life in our world today. As of this writing, the Wiley and Russell dam still survives, and may be visited within sight just north of the Meridian Street bridge, in Greenfield Massachusetts.


In 2014, we were offered access to a rare and fragile set of Associated Mutual Insurance maps. This find documents the evolution of the W&R site, from their first issue of 1889, until the company’s absorption into the newly formed “Greenfield Tap & Die (1912). Detailed views of the five contiguous maps may be visited here. They reveal a treasure of information, which describes the construction and layout of the plant. Every building has its physical appearance and purpose defined. This is what made our 1897 VR project possible.

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Even the building ages are noted. There are no photographs of the John Russell Cutlery (in Greenfield) known to exist, but buildings mentioned in the W&R maps as being built before 1870 may be presumed to also describe part of the Greenfield Russell Cutlery (1836-1872). This information could become part of an effort to make a VR model of this earlier historic industry, as a future project.


Other W&R details came from the few surviving photographs we were able to gather. All of the available information is then studied and compared. Imagine yourself trying to assembling a jigsaw puzzle, from several different and incomplete versions of the same scene! For example, our model depicts W&R, from 1897. Our only photograph, showing a northeast view, is from around 1914. Some of the buildings shown didn’t exist in 1897 and others did. All the pieces of our incomplete puzzle are gathered and assembled. Everything else must be historic conjecture or artistic license.

View the photo gallery, which compares the original to our own rendered model.

The non-profit community is blessed with an amazing, free software tool, called Blender. Blender is a full suite of professional quality computer modelling, animation, and gaming development tools. All of the models and animations represented here were produced with this wonderful program.


Full HD Video with new content now on YouTube!!!: VIEW HERE

Blender fans should really be sure and view the full HD video. The Cycles Render engine reveals some wonderful interactive reflections in the factory windows!

This is your history, and is, by no means, a finished project. The research is ongoing. If you believe you possess original photographs of  any early industries in our vicinity, PLEASE contact us. We can create high quality digital copies and share them with the future. Unfortunately, photography and other antique media continues to be lost. The old pictures are still fading.

We also welcome conversations from folks interested in how this production was created. Leave your comments below.

12 thoughts on “Wiley and Russell Tap & Die Co. – 1897
A Virtual Reality Project

  1. Outstanding!
    The staff and artists at the Museum of Our Industrial Heritage deserve high praise. Dedication to the task makes for an enjoyable virtual visit.
    By far the nicest website pertaining to the subject matter.
    My actual visits to the museum are always a pleasure.
    Ed G.

  2. Very impressive! Collecting the history from multiple sources and categories demonstrates the great devotion your group of historians have for our town.
    Informing citizens of today with their historical heritage is a mission well grounded in community. Thank you.

  3. I can’t imagine how you did that, but the virtual tour of the long-gone Wiley & Russell complex, along with the insurance maps, is just fascinating. It brings history heretofore lost to us, to life.

  4. This is a fantastic example of cooperation and ingenuity. What a great idea! I am looking at the renditions several times in order to absorb the details.

  5. Nicely done with blender, personally i would have done the ground a bit different but its okay from a distance, only in your later shot i saw the windows where real, before i thought it was just a texture. So you put lots of work into that. Perhaps you should have showed that better where your work went. The floor and sky line up a bit strange sometimes but overall you give a nice look here. besides the bird view its nice to have a walkview, as you can walk through it in another time frame. Overall i like it, i can see lots of time went into making it.

    • I admit that much more detail is needed. The main effort of this work was to reconstruct all the geometry described in the insurance maps to the most historically accurate degree possible. Our time and talent resources are limited, so this is what our priorities allowed. Hopefully we will find the time to add more realistic detail. The time required to add trees, grime, and personality increases exponentially as the desire for realism is pursued!

  6. Chris, what a wonderful opportunity to see such an important site as it was. A rare and important contribution to industrial history in the region and, ultimately, the world.

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