•COMING IN SEPTEMBER, 2015•

Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry

by Emery Roth

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Hook


PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNAL, "Farrel":

I've been shooting recently at what's left of the old Farrel works in Ansonia. In 1848, the year the railroad went into operation, Almon Farrel, who had engineered construction of Ansonia and the Ansonia Canal for Anson Phelps, went out on his own. He founded Almon Farrel & Company to manufacture things for manufacturing and to supply heavy machinery to manufacturers throughout the Naugatuck Valley. By the 1850s Farrel also had a factory in Waterbury.

At the time Charles Goodyear had recently patented his process using sulphor to harden rubber and called it, "vulcanization." His brother Henry Goodyear had built a rubber factory upstream in Naugatuck, the town that eventually made Naugahyde. Charles Goodyear famously died penniless (You can read about him here.) but vulcanization made rubber useful for seals, shoes, tires, gaskets, elastic bands, bumpers and balloons. It was the first, plastic "plastic." It fired imaginations, changed how simple things were done, provided much work and added a robust, sulfurous mix of seasonings to the Naugatuck River brew.

Both Birmingham Corporation and Farrel Corporation began manufacturing the equipment to manufacture rubber, and the entire Naugatuck Valley was becoming a powerhouse of industry in time for the Civil War.

In the 1870s under Almon's son Franklin Farrel, Farrel Corporation began manufacturing machines for grinding sugar cane. A single machine filled 80 freight cars on its way down to Bridgeport where it filled an entire ship bound for Cuba, and Franklin Farrel bought sugar estates in Santo Domingo and Cuba as inexpensive sugar became available to the middle classes in the U.S., and uprisings were managed in the Caribbean and, especially in 1919 and 1920, at home. During both World Wars Farrel works was running round-the-clock shifts.

The Farrel Corporation long ago merged with the Anson Phelps copper and brass works and with the old Birmingham Foundry. On May 6, 1981, Franklin Farrel IV resigned as assistant secretary of the Farrel Machinery Group ending family participation in the business. Today Farrel has offices in more than 30 countries, but the worldwide headquarters and the old hook in this photograph are still in Ansonia.