|William and his younger brother, Samuel, followed the traditional route of many of the Sheffield cutlers, they became apprentices in the trade to their father (James) and when he died in 1806, they transfered their apprenticeships to another cutler.
William and Samuel became partners in 1819, purchasing premises in Eyre Lane, on the south side of the city centre. By 1822 they were melting their own crucible steel and producing a variety of edge tools.
The 1830's were boom years for the American trade and Samuel acted as the firm's New York agent. They were supplying hoes, chisels, saws, hammers and complete tool chests. The firm made a speciality of crucible steel cutting irons for American woodworking planes and many New England manufactures proudly advertised their products as being made of W. and S. Butcher's Superior Refined Cast Steel. The firm upheld the famous Sheffield reputation for cut-throat razors and pen-knives.
In 1835 the brothers expanded their business by purchasing a tool and steel works in Furnival Street. By 1845 they were also occupying the Philadelphia Works on a site by the River Don. The Furnival site was extendee in 1856 by the addition of a grinding wheel.
During the 1850's and 60's they increased their trade and fortunes in America with the sale of the famous Bowie knife. They became the chief exporters of files to the American market.
To keep up with demand for these hand- produced files, William Butcher installed a file-cutting machine. The quality of these machine cut files could not equal that of the hand-crafted ones and after the workman violently opposed the mechanisation of their trade, Butcher abandoned the experiment. This did not stop the trouble. One night, someone threw a bomb through his bedroom window.
William Butcher was also involved in engineering projects and worked closely with the Pennsylvania Steel Co. in Harrisburg (U.S.A.). In 1865 the same firm employed him to supervise the installation of several Bessemer converters to produce bulk steel. Later in the same year William Butcher went to Philadelphia to set up his own steel works.
The works were opened in June 1867 under his name and produced the first steel castings made commercially in the U.S.A. Butcher's intention was to produce crucible steel using the same methods as were used by the Sheffield steelmen. To achieve this he used craftsmen from Sheffield to set up and run the works.
Unfortunately these works failed as they could not compete with the new methods of steel production used in the open-hearth process, now very popular with the Americans. The works were taken over by the American shareholders in 1871. Butcher moved his men to another ironworks near Lewistown, Pennsylvania where they continued their crucible techniques.
Samuel Butcher died on the 1st December 1869 in Sheffield and William died on the 8th November 1870, at the family home, Five Oaks on Glossop Road.
During his life, William Butcher had been a member of the Company of Cutlers, serving as the Master Cutler in 1845.