Monday, April 30, 2018

New England Pin Company, No. 5, "Yankee Ingenuity"

PHOTOGRAPHER’S JOURNAL: “Ingenuity,” an interesting word hovering between the ingenious, the ingenuous and the mad! Commonly ascribed to our Yankee ancestors of the late 18th and 19th centuries, Mark Twain gave it a distinctly Connecticut accent when he sent jack-of-all-trades Hank Morgan to King Arthur’s Court. 

Jack-of-all-trades hardly does justice to the wide-ranging endeavors of John Ireland Howe. Born in 1793 in Ridgefield, CT, he began studying medicine there; later graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in NYC with honors; practiced medicine and was appointed resident physician at the New York Alms House. For fourteen years he held a respected place in New York’s medical community.

What wave of genius or demons carried Dr. Howe away from the practice of medicine to making pins in Birmingham, Connecticut? It was India rubber that first washed over him; experimenting with compounds he sought one that would make rubber stable. Then, at age 36, his passions surged, and he moved with his wife and children upstate, out of NYC, to the tiny village of Salem, NY, where he poured his family’s savings into a factory building of his own design to produce a rubber compound of his own formulation and patent. Later he mused on possibly being the first to try to make rubber and said, “I just didn’t happen to find the right substance.”

In the failed rubber factory in 1830 he remembered the inmates at the alms house and the tedious process by which many of them made a bit of a living making pins by hand; he also remembered a device he had seen in England designed to make pins.