Published February 9, 2007


Greenfield and Life Saving Nets

Can you add anything to this story?

NOTE: I've received several pieces of input from visitors about this story. Here's what others have to say. February 13, 2007
  • As a little boy, I played all over Greenfield, stopping in to visit everyone in town on the way. I used to stop in at the shop where they were making the nets. In the 40's, the man making the nets was a volunteer fireman. Just one man making them. He let me stop and watch as long as I wanted to. Maybe if they had a big order for the nets, he got help, but I just remember one man doing all the work. They shipped them all over the country, which impressed me. The building was small - maybe 30 feet square.

    I thought Ned Woodmansee was the mayor, but all this has been 60 years ago, maybe I'm not remembering everything exactly correctly.

    It was the building that became my dad's furniture store where the original life-saving demonstration was conducted, but that was before my dad was around. He came to Greenfield in 1926. I appeared on the scene in 1934. What a great place to grow up! The entire village of Greenfield was my playground! I guess, indeed, the village did help to raise this one child. I remember coming home from school one day and Mrs. Ennis came out from her shoe store and stopped me and said, "Stop dragging your feet, and stand up straight!" Boonie Brizius


  • Bruce Woodmansee was Ned's son and was in my class at McClain until they moved away in his junior year. I use to ride the REA truck with Bobby Ralph and often had to make pickups at Ned's shop. It was usually the jump nets we picked up but also a new product he developed which was a chain and metal ladder that you could hang from a second or third story window to climb down if you had a fire. I seem to recall that its increasing popularity is why Ned and his family moved away. But I also have some memory that Ned died. I know that his product or versions thereof have had several runs at popularity over the years. Joe Chapman
  • If memory serves, the company that Ned worked for, or maybe owned part of, was the Cory Patterson Company. He and Al Canter were there, but I think Al did most of the sewing. I remember hanging around there a lot as a kid and Al made ruck sacks from the scrap for the neighborhood kids. There was a huge round table for assembly and some pretty impressive machines for sewing the heavy canvas. Bobby Everhart
  • My memory, maybe clouded by a few years!- The Woodmansee family lived at the corner of 5th & Mirabeau, (they moved to Indianapolis around 1960, then Jack, Janice, Susan and Sandi Collins moved into the house) I always thought that Ned Woodmansee did something with propane gas, his pick up truck was always filled with tanks and his daughter Debbie and I often played in the back of that truck. Ned was married to Pearl, (daughter of Mabel Jones) they had a daughter Debbie, (she would have been class of '68) and an older son Bruce (?) who would have been about the class of '63-65. They also had a cocker spaniel named Ginger! Many years later Pearl moved back to Greenfield and I think lived in the Bill/Iris Rowe, Cathy Daniels house on Mirabeau.  Sorry I don't have any memory of fire nets! But, thanks for taking me back to good childhood memories in Greenfield! Barbi Price Hendricks
  • Browder Life Saving Machine, is a net 9 to 9 ˝ feet in diameter. It was used to catch individuals unable to escape through regular means during a fire. People would jump from as far as three to four stories into the net to escape. Anonymous but they sent this photo of a Browder net.

Original Story

The following story recently appeared in the newsletter of the Greenfield Historical Society. Obviously we are all too young to have first hand memories of this product but I do remember that when I was a kid (either in the late 40s or early 50s) there was a man named Ned Woodmansee who had a shop in the alley next to the post office. I don't know what all went on in that shop but I have a vague memory that they were making life saving nets for fire departments. Can any of you expand on this vague memory? Email How about it Bill Collins, what do you know about this?

Help! Help! Help! Help! Help me! Those were the words heard from people trapped in burning buildings until--------Thomas F. Browder.

Thomas F. Browder, a Civil War Soldier and business man, was born in Greene County, Ohio June 14, 1847.

After attending school, he took one course at Forest Home College. In 1864 he enlisted in Company C, 60th Regiment Ohio volunteer infantry for three years or the war. On May 9th at Spottsylvania, he was shot through the hip and lay in the field hospital for three days. Later, he was taken to Washington D.C., and finally furloughed home. He spent time in a Columbus hospital until he received his final discharge from the service. He returned home, went to college and taught school. In 1876 he came to Greenfield, Ohio, where he established the first steam laundry in Greenfield. It was in 1887 that he began his work on his invention. He took out a patent that year on the Browder Life saving net.

In 1900 he added two other patents for improvements and later procured protection for his invention abroad. It was in 1900 that he invited the whole town of Greenfield to witness a demonstration on the Public Square. On the designated day the square and adjoining areas were packed with spectators. It was one of our trustee’s (Patsy Smith’s ) grandfather, Otis Long, who volunteered to leap from the top of the three-story Smart building into the outstretched Browder net. He did it with no apparent shock. The biggest test occurred in the great fire in New York City on May 7, 1901. Twenty persons leaped into the net and were saved from horrible deaths. Immediately, compliments flowed in to Mr. Browder. In 1907 he sold his patents to the Corey-Patterson Company, where it became known as The Browder Life Saving Machine.

According to the Browder Life-Saving Net booklet, “ the net is held shoulder high, almost at arms length with the palms of the hands turned up, keeping the elbows from touching the body. It is held by ten to twelve men. Made with hinges and automatic locks and can be gotten ready for use in 2 or 3 seconds. Persons leaping into it do not even receive a jar. The motion of the hangers and springs takes the jar off the persons jumping and the people holding the escape.”

The invention, The Browder Life Saving Machine, was welcomed everywhere as “a great boon to humanity.”


©Copyright Fall Creek Communications, 2007