Chapman History

What do Microsoft and Chapman have in common? Both were started in garages!

  Chapman Manufacturing was established in 1936 in the garage of Old Man Chapman on Meeting House Hill Rd in the small town of Durham, Connecticut. In 1965, Bill and Doris LeVee bought the company and moved it right around the corner to its current location. Current owner, Tracy, was selected by the LeVees to carry Chapman into the next generation.

    Tracy, Mr. LeVee and Old Man Chapman, are all quality control sticklers, which explains the hundreds of glowing reviews from customers we've received over the past 80+ years attesting to the quality, durability and handiness of our tools. People use Chapman midget ratchets and insert bits to repair and service everything from firearms to appliances, computers to dental equipment, and to what was Mr. LeVee's delight, Apache helicopters!

     Chapman tools and parts are American made and assembled from American made materials. Everything from the gear inside our famous midget ratchet, to our steel and paper brochures are made in America, the way it has been since 1936.  


 Chapman's first two owners recorded the important dates and figures but not fun facts, trials, tribulations, or product details. Most of the information we've compiled has come from previous employees, anecdotes from townsfolk, John Chapman's extended family via e-mail and lucky finds around the shop. Our tools are particularly hard to date because they're essentially the same since 1936 and we don't have product release/change records. Since it's difficult to nail down most things to a specific year, we tend to describe our tool history in eras.


Chapman Manufacturing was established in the garage of Old Man Chapman on Meeting House Hill Rd in Durham, Connecticut.


Chapman tools were sold in eyeglass cases. They were deemed so important by the US. Government that they were marked with a price ceiling to prevent price gouging during the war.


As the business grew, Mr. Chapman started experimenting with many different cases.


A purchase order for 6 of our #1316 sets for the Nautilus sub, the first nuclear powered sub!


Second owner Bill LeVee purchases the company and moves it out of the garage to the current location. Mary starts her 50 year career at Chapman.

December 1967

Our tools were featured in a Popular Science Christmas gift preview article being called "A Jewel Among Tools". Owner Bill LeVee grows the business substantially


Bill expands the business with many sets and starts packing them in the iconic red case.

Fun Fact:

It's actually a jewelry box!


One of our sets seen in the movie "The Package" with Gene Hackman and Tommy Lee Jones. Around this time the yellow plastic cases we use today are phased in.

November 2010


Longtime Chapman fan Jay Leno invites Tracy to film a video about Chapman tools in his Big Dog Garage.

2012 - Present Day

Tracy purchases the business, modernizes production,and brings Chapman into the digital age.

Our '59 Chevy Apache | Chapman MFG 

May 2012 - August 2014

Our '59 Chevy Apache

We were looking for a truck to restore as a company project that could also be used for public relations at local car shows. We soon found a 1959 Chevy Apache 3600 long bed on Craigslist. Although the body was pretty beat, it was mostly intact and rock solid. As soon as we got her back to the shop, we started the sanding and disassembling process. Before we knew it, she was just a cab sitting on a rolling chassis. Exactly two years later under the expert supervision of our master fabricator and machinist Rich she was re-worked, re-chromed, re-painted and re-installed. Though many parts were purchased, some parts were impossible to find because the truck is a rare ¾ ton with 8 lug wheels. Luckily Rich custom fabricated many parts, including little brackets to screw the moon hubcaps to the wheels. We’ve taken her to 4 car shows (won three trophies),the Memorial Day parade, and many trips into town to get ice cream. She draws mega attention wherever she goes.

May 2021

Joel Discusses Chapman's history and future plans on The Made in America Podcast

This Made in America episode features Joel of Chapman Manufacturing, the story behind an iconic brand, and products that customers love! Joel chats with Ari about his personal manufacturing journey,learning things the hard way, listening to customers' ideas, and building a business from the ground up. Chapman has been able to keep their original traditions going and successfully expand!