Monday, March 26, 2018

Stanley Works

Photographs of Emery Roth and Lazlo Gyorsok
will be among images used in an upcoming CPTV documentary on

The History of

Stanley Works in New Britain

the program will air Thursday evening
CPTV, 8 PM, May 17

Friday, March 16, 2018

New England Pin Company, No. 3 - "Imposing Frontage"

Gallery Opening - Saturday, March 24, 6-8 PM
The Cornwall Library, Cornwall, CT
Brazen Grit: Images of Brass Valley
photographs of Lazlo Gyorsok & Emery Roth
The exhibition will be on view through April 4 during regular library hours

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL:  In “Winsted—The Development of an Ideal Town” Robert Hulbert wrote in 1903-4:

“One of the most conspicuous buildings that the visitor notes on his arrival in Winsted, is the magnificent plant of the New England Pin Company, situated on Bridge Street immediately opposite the Naugatuck railroad station. With an imposing frontage of over 100 feet on Bridge Street, the handsome new building, five stories in height, erected in 1901, is a testimonial to progressive industry in Winsted. . . . The product of this industry is pins of many varieties, and the output is enormous, the modern machinery of the plant turning out from 12,000,000 to 15,000,000 pins per day, equal in weight to about one ton of solid metal. . . . About 125 skilled operatives are busily engaged in the manufacture of the shining product of the company that has a market not only in this country but abroad.”

How the New England Pin Company building came to stand on that prestigious site opposite the railroad station in 1901 has taken me back to 1852 and one more tale of the diversity of influences through which Anson Phelps fanned the furnaces of his metal trading. For those who have forgotten, Phelps was the founder of Phelps Dodge. His early success came trading Southern Cotton for English Metal. It’s hard to find a spot along the Naugatuck his entrepreneurship didn’t touch. He founded the first brass mill in Torrington in the early 1830s. At the same time he was engaging with Sheldon Smith to build a canal and an industrial village called Birmingham along the Naugatuck in Derby. Phelps promised a reliable flow of water for power and a reliable flow of metal for manufacturing to leaders with energy and ideas for making things with it. Among those persuaded by Phelps to make things in Birmingham was John Ireland Howe, who moved his business from New York in 1841 as he received his final patent for his pin-making machine. 

In 1841 there was still no railroad, but pins had long been a staple of Yankee peddlers serving homespun needs. They fanned out in wagons through the the South and West carrying Connecticut pins, buttons, cloth, clocks,, kettles, tools and household trinkets and necessities. The Phelps shipping agency had been transporting peddlers since the 1820s on a fleet of schooners that brought them up the Mississippi and opened new markets inland as the nation added new states. 

Phelps would have been part of plans that brought the railroad up the Naugatuck Valley in 1849; they ended the era of Yankee peddlers. It was no accident that Phelps owned the prestigious site with water privileges and frontage on Bridge Street where track would be laid and the Winsted station would be built. There was an old woolen mill on the site, and in 1852 Anson Phelps would sell the mill and property to the Hartford Pin Company which would outfit it with the latest pin-making machines to reach an expanding market. However, they would be stopped by a breach of patent lawsuit from the Howe Pin Company. It was not the pin-making machines of the Hartford Pin Company that violated Howe’s patent, but the machines Hartford Pin used to stick the pins in paper. Loose pins without papers were unsellable. Howe’s most valuable patent was for  the pin-sticker.

By 1854 or 1857, depending on whose history we trust, the land, water rights and two buildings, one outfitted for making pins, became the property of J. Wetmore who began the New England Pin Company. Not quite a half century later New England Pin would tear down the old woolen mill to create their  "imposing frontage of over 100 feet on Bridge Street.” 

The station and the railroad are gone, and the streets meet awkwardly in front of the Pin Company Building. We drive automobiles now and drivers aren’t always sure how to navigate the intersection, but there’s no rush here either. There is nothing left to suggest the prominence claimed except the handsome building itself, humanly proportioned and built from bricks, each one imprinted with the hand of a Winsted brick layer in 1901.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

New England Pin Co., No. 2 "On Pins & Needles"


[Working Title] Work in Progress

postponed due to snow
NEW DATE: Apr. 9
Charter Oak Photographic Society
Elmwood Community Church
26 Newington Road, West Hartford

This variation on my usual “Finding Brass Valley” talk will explore issues I faced and strategies I found as a photographer and how writing and photographing Brass Valley: The Fall of an American Industry changed my photography.

The talk is free and open to the public.

The photo below was taken last week at the former New England Pin Co.

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: The point is that although needles need eyes where pins need heads, one might think the manufacturing technologies were similar. However, pins may be needed by the dozens, and before machine-made pins, they were hammered out by tinkers; yet one good needle, properly sized for the task at hand, will finish the suit or the saddle; it must be as slender as possible and it must not bend under pressure; it must be highly polished and hard but not brittle. Before manufacturing, the best needles were jeweler-made, and a fine needle might be made of silver and passed down through generations. While there is extensive history on pin-making in Connecticut, I have found few references to needle making here.

From the 16th to the 20th century the best needles were said to come from Redditch, England, but over eighty percent of common pins in America came from Connecticut.  Around 1870 Redditch needle factories were producing 3,500 million needles per year. Not too much later the New England Pin Company, one of many pin-makers in Connecticut, was turning out 3,900 million pins per year. In spite of Redditch fame, Yankee inventors in Brass Valley transformed the manufacturing of both pins and needles. 

Brass Valley is the birthplace of modern pin manufacturing. John Ireland Howe famously patented technology that mechanized pin-making and opened his factory with land and water rights he bought from Anson Phelps along the Birmingham Canal in Derby in 1841. Soon there were pin-makers throughout the Valley. New England Pin Company founded on the Mad River in Winsted in 1854 was among them.

Brass Valley is also where the critical technologies were put in place to make the needles for the first sewing machines that Elias Howe (no relation to John Howe) was making in Bridgeport. In 1841 Howe had invented a machine that would sew but not the needles that would let it stitch. Needles at the time were too crude and failed. It would be 1866 before Orrin Hopson and Herman Brooks developed the "cold swaging” process of pointing and working the metal. The Excelsior Needle Company opened its factory along the West Branch of the Naugatuck in Wolcottville in 1866 to manufacture needles by cold swaging. Excelsior Needle would soon make all kinds of needles and bicycle spokes and would eventually become the Torrington Company with operations around the world. 

Too my knowledge, Howe’s pin-making machine was never used for needles and Hopson's & Brook’s cold swaging process was never used for pins. Despite the success of Torrington’s needles, Connecticut's fame is for pins, and the histories of the two industries seem oddly disconnected. What is it I’m missing?