Our new exhibit — Hard Work: Connecticut’s Laborers in the Industrial Age

Farrel Company workers, undated

 

This exhibit shows scenes of Connecticut’s workers doing Hard Work. Capital H, Capital W.  The kind of work where you surely need the brains but if you ain’t got the brawn it’s not gonna happen.  And we’ve got plenty of photographs in our business collections showing the men and women in the state in various depictions of work where some of the main job requirements are muscle and sweat.  I’m sure tears were there somewhere but the photographs don’t really show that.

In the late 19th and early 20th century — a time period in America known for big industry — Connecticut was one of the major players, producing brass, iron, steel, tools, textiles and more for the state, the country, and the world.  These products didn’t just happen.  It took a workforce of thousands, many of them new immigrants who flocked to Connecticut for these types of jobs, to produce, to make, to build, and to work.

The exhibit is currently up in the Dodd Research Center Gallery until the end of the year.  I’ll show photographs from the exhibit periodically through the next three months but if you can stop by (the building is open Mondays through Fridays, 8:30a.m. to 4:30p.m.) you’ll see them all in one fell swoop.

Tracking Down the Goods sold on Main Street USA

 

Kirin J. Makker is an Assistant Professor of Architectural Studies at Hobart William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, and the recipient of a 2014 Strochlitz Travel Grant.  Travel Grants are awarded bi-annually to scholars and students to support their travel to and research in Archives and Special Collections.  Part of the following essay also draws on materials at Winterthur Library, where this year Dr. Makker is also being supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities residential fellowship. To learn more about the book she is working on, please go here.

I went to Archives & Special Collections of the University of Connecticut Libraries to spend a couple of days sifting through the records of the E. Ingraham Company.  I’m working on a book about the history of small town development when it boomed around 1900 and a major part of my research methodology involves following the trail of company goods right at the moment big capitalism really spread its wings (see blog The Myths of Main Street).  My hope is to track where a handful of companies sold their goods in order to describe a product’s national distribution, and hence its availability across small town America.  I have found, and my research will argue, that one of the reasons that small town America is such a consistent idea in the nation’s cultural language is that the goods exchanged there had both local and national parameters. Some of this research has had to do with companies that literally produced small town America:  the storefronts, the brick-making machinery, the lamp posts.  But other parts of the research is about the everyday objects that were sold in small towns, and how most of them during the period of small town America’s boom were not made locally or even regionally.  The retailers were locals, but the items for sale on Main Street were typically sourced from manufactories or large distributors in cities.

For example, a $2 watch made by the E. Ingraham Company in 1898 was made in Bristol, Connecticut but was sold on several thousand Main Streets all across America in general stores or small jewelry shops.  Ingraham was after the mass market that the very successful company Robert H. Ingersoll had been selling to.  Ingersoll had shrewdly introduced a $1 pocket watch, the “Yankee,” in 1892, stumbling into an enormous mass market of working- and middle-class consumers interested in owning timepieces they could afford.

Although Ingraham couldn’t make a quality watch for that little (the Ingersoll watches, not surprisingly, were cheap but not known for quality), they did start making a $2 watch by 1900 and these sold quite well, judging by how long they produced this watch (until the 1950s).  Yet, when I dug around the Ingraham Company archives in Archives & Special Collections, I had some trouble finding records to support their efforts to take a share of the Ingersoll Yankee’s market.

As I said, I set out to spend all my time on the Ingraham Clock Company archive.  However, it turned out that what I was really hoping to find within my time period (1870-1930, Main Street’s ‘boom period,’ so to speak), wasn’t so easy to cull.  I had set out to identify names and locations of retailers who ordered Ingraham watches for their shops on Main Streets in towns all over the country.  Or possibly find advertising by the company that included testimonials from retailers in small towns.  I have found these types of testimonials for Elgin watches of the period, so I was hopeful.  However, most of the Ingraham Company’s order records in Archives & Special Collections show sales to large distributors in cities.  In addition, most of the records in the collection were from the 1940s and 50s (just the luck of what records survived, unfortunately).  I did find contract letters with Sears from the 1930s, in which the mega-retailer agreed to uniquely market Ingraham watches in their stores and catalogs.  But I needed letters with Sears or Montgomery Ward from around 1905 or more information about the distributors who bought $2 watches in large volume and then re-sold them in small batches to shopowners in the nation’s towns.  That information may or may not be available in any archives, so in the end, the Ingraham $2 pocket watch story might not make it into the book.

However, as typically happens for me, as soon as I turn my attention away from one enticing collection, I find myself in the midst of a host of material that suits some other aspect of the book research.  (Nothing, I tell you, NOTHING beats the fun of serendipity in the archives!)

What did I find?  A glorious collection of ephemera and sales records for the E.E. Dickinson Witch Hazel Company of Essex, Connecticut.  One of the chapters I’m writing is on the variety of goods and services related to a townsperson’s health, all of which they could get on Main Street.  There was quite a bit of overlap between what was a “good”, a “service” and also a ways to participate in community life in the many shops and offices in downtown small town America between 1870-1930.  For example, one might go to the town druggist to purchase a prescription from a local doctor, a box of candy, or sit at the soda fountain and gab with friends over a strawberry fizz.  Barber and beauty shops were where one got one’s haircut or styled, but also where one socialized with a gendered group of residents.  Doctors were where one received diagnoses and health recommendations, but also where one might purchase a drug remedy (many physicians made their own drugs during the early part of my period of study).  I’m interested in looking at how Americans living in small towns attended to their health needs because understanding healthcare history before drug and health insurance, medical malpractice, and managed care may be valuable for understanding our contemporary struggles with the industry.  Or at the very least, this history offers an interesting comparison to the practices and standards the current day.

The story of Dickinson’s Witch Hazel fits right into this chapter because it was a factory-produced astringent that became an everyday remedy for minor ills.  It was sold all over the country in drugstores and used extensively in small town doctor’s offices.  And this time, I found records that show national distribution.  For example, during the mid-1920s there were many letters between Dickinson executives and the Druggist Supply Corporation (DSC).  The DSC was made up of retailers across America, many of which were located in small towns (Fresno, CA; Peoria, IL; Ottumwa, IA; Burlington, IA; Fort Wayne, IN; Rock Island, IL among many others).  By working with that organization, Dickinson assured that they would get their product into those shop owners’ hands.

There were also several large company scrapbooks with hundreds of ads, letters from happy vendors, testimonials, and the like.  For example, there was a letter from the owner of a drug store in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He was thanking the Dickinson Company for sending him a set of booklets to give out to his customers with their purchase of a bottle of Witch Hazel.  With his letter of thanks, he included a clipping from the local newspaper which documents his announcement of the Witch Hazel booklet’s availability.  He also noted that he gave a bunch of the booklets to a teacher at a nearby rural school for their students.

I could go on and on, but you’ll have to wait for the book.  Overall, my visit to Archives & Special Collections was a success, both in terms of clarifying the role of Ingraham in the book and adding to my health-related goods and services chapter.  [KJM]

 

 

A New Collection — the Somersville Manufacturing Company Records

The Somersville Manufacturing Company, maker of fine heavy woolen cloth, was established in 1879 in Somersville, a village in the town of Somers, Connecticut, by Rockwell Keeney. For the company’s entire 90 year history it was owned and run by Rockwell’s descendents.

Advertisement for woollens made by the Somersville Manufacturing Company in Somersville, Connecticut, ca. 1950s

Advertisement for woollens made by the Somersville Manufacturing Company in Somersville, Connecticut, ca. 1950s

Last year Mr. Timothy R.E. Keeney, Rockwell’s great great-grandson, contacted Archives & Special Collections to discuss the donation of the company’s records, which were stored in his home in Somersville.  We found the records to be unique, accounting for the entire history of the company from its founding in 1979 to the point where it shut its doors in 1969.  The documents themselves were a treasure trove, ranging from administrative and financial files and volumes to marketing material, photographs and scrapbooks, detailing not only the life cycle of the company but also the Keeney family.  Mr. Keeney graciously gave us plenty of details about his family’s extensive and affectionate family; one fascinating aspect of the collection includes hundreds of letters written in the late 1930s and World War II years by his grandfather Leland Keeney to various members of the family.

The records are now open for research and the finding aid is available here: http://doddcenter.uconn.edu/asc/findaids/somersville/MSS20130030.html.  We welcome all interested researchers to explore the legacy of this important Connecticut business.

A Letter from Thomas A. Edison

Letter from Thomas A. Edison to E.E. Dickinson & Co. of Essex, Connecticut, written on March 16, 1916, about a recommendation for Mr. V.L. King for work at the company.  E.E. Dickinson Co. Records, Archives & Special Collections, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Letter from Thomas A. Edison to E.E. Dickinson & Co. of Essex, Connecticut.

Recently a researcher visited our reading room to look at the E. E. Dickinson Co. records and brought this letter to our attention.  Written on March 16, 1916, from Orange, New Jersey, it is a letter signed by inventor Thomas A. Edison about his recommendation of Mr. V.L. King, who was seeking employment at the E.E. Dickinson Company, a maker of witch hazel and birch oil in Durham and Essex, Connecticut.

The E.E. Dickinson Company was established by Alvin Whittemore, who owned a drug store in Essex.  By 1870, partners of Whittemore consolidated under the control of Rev. Thomas Dickinson and his family, including his son E.E. Dickinson, held the company as a family business until the 1980s.  By the 1920s the company produced half of all witch hazel produced in the United States.

Archivists and historians value primary sources for their content and context — how they contribute to our understanding of historical events or a historical time.  The value of a letter just because it has a famous person’s signature doesn’t usually fit in this category.  It has a different sort of value, one where anything that attaches us to a famous person is automatically valuable. In any event, we are happy to know about this letter in our collection and hope you enjoy it too.

Photographs from Archives & Special Collections part of an exhibit at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans

 

Employee of the New Britain Machine Company during World War II

 Several months ago I worked with Laura Blum, a student at E.O. Smith High School in Mansfield, Connecticut, who needed photographs from the Connecticut Business History Collections for a project she was working on for the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.  Laura was selected, with fifty other high school students in every state in the country and the District of Columbia, to provide images of how their states contributed to the challenges of World War II on the homefront.  Laura chose six photographs from our collections, all depicting Connecticut workers and the efforts they made on behalf of the war effort, and wrote an introduction.

The photographs that Laura chose are available in the Connecticut window of the Salute to Freedom website of the National World War II Museum, at http://salutetofreedom.org/.  We are happy that Laura used photographs from our collection for this national-oriented project and very impressed with the good work she did in highlighting and describing the photographs.

The museum blogged about the exhibit on December 31, 2012, available here: http://www.nww2m.com/2012/12/student-scholars-honor-local-contributions-to-wwii/

A Historical Comic Book of the Southern New England Telephone Company

In January 1878 George Coy founded the District Telephone Company of New Haven, Connecticut, less than one year after telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his invention at Skiff’s Opera House in that city.  Coy’s new company was the first commercial telephone company in the world.

Seventy-five years later, in 1953, the company now known as the Southern New England Telphone Company produced a charming comic book — Pioneering the Telephone in Connecticut — to celebrate its history.  In 1998 the company records were donated to Archives & Special Collections of the UConn Libraries, and the comic book was among the materials.

Here are just a few cells of the comic book, a captivating way to learn about this important company’s history.

The Time is Right for a new digital resource — watch and clock catalogs of the E. Ingraham Company of Bristol, Connecticut

Page from a 1918 catalog of the E. Ingraham Company of Bristol, Connecticut, now available online through the Internet Archive

For many years now Archives & Special Collections has been working to get more and more of our archival collections online, available to researchers off-campus and across the globe.  One of the ways we are doing this is by participating in the collaborative network of the Internet Archive, which provides access for the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format.  We recently put up a set of product catalogs from the historical records of the E. Ingraham Company, which produced clocks and watches for well over a century in Bristol, Connecticut.

Researchers can access the catalogs directly from this link: http://archive.org/search.php?query=collection%3Auconn_libraries+AND+E.+Ingraham+Co and will see catalogs of the clocks and watches sold by the company from 1881 to 1940.  I want to extend my thanks to Tom Koenig, Catalog and Metadata Librarian, for cataloging the items prior to the scanning and to Michael J. Bennett, Digital Projects Librarian, and his assistants Allison Hale and Kathleen Deep, for their expert scanning and work to get the items on the Internet Archive.  This project is a great example of the ways the UConn Libraries staff collaborates on projects and I am grateful for everyone’s efforts.

More information about the E. Ingraham Company, and the historical records that are in Archives & Special Collections, can be found in the finding aid at http://doddcenter.uconn.edu/asc/findaids/Ingraham/MSS19800034.html.

Laura Smith, Curator for the Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

Sunday, July 29, 2-4 p.m. — A reception for the summer exhibit series!

Southern New England Telephone Company women’s basketball team, 1927

Come visit the exhibit Workers at Play: Baseball Teams, Basketball Competitions and Company Picnics, this weekend, on Sunday, July 29, between 2 and 4, and meet the exhibits curators Kyle Lynes and Laura Smith!  We’ve had a great response to the exhibit and we’re looking forward to more opportunities to show it off.

Parking on campus is easy on the weekend and all attendees should be able to park near the Dodd Research Center, on Whitney Road or close by.  We’ll have some lovely refreshments, plus the opportunity to see the other exhibits that the UConn Libraries has put up, available in Homer Babbidge Library.  For more information about the summer exhibits please visit at http://www.lib.uconn.edu/about/exhibits/.

Email me at laura.smith@lib.uconn.edu if you have questions about the reception or about the exhibit.  We’re going to start the traveling schedule soon so let me know if you want your archives, library or school to host it.

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

A New Exhibit in the Dodd Center Gallery — “Workers at Play” showing photographs from the Connecticut Business History Collections

Winners of a rolling pin throwing contest at a Bristol Brass Company picnic, 1950

An exhibit now in the Dodd Center Gallery — “Workers at Play: Baseball Teams, Basketball Competitions and Company Picnics” — shows photographs from the Connecticut Business History Collections of workers around the state participating on all types of company-sponsored sports teams and enjoying company picnics, parties and outings.  You’ll see photographs of operators from the Southern New England Telephone Company at a beach outing in 1913, workers of the Thermos Company in Norwich enjoying a movie at Christmastime in 1954, and the men’s bowling team of the Hartford Electric Light Company in the 1950s, among many dozens of other fascinating historical images.  Companies represented include the New Haven Railroad, Cheney Brothers Silk Company of Manchester, New Britain Machine Company of New Britain, and Wauregan-Quinebaug Textile Company, all companies for which we hold historical records.

Sports teams and recreational activities were encouraged in companies around the United States in the early to mid-1900s because the companies believed it engendered worker loyalty, reduced worker discontent, and improved productivity.  Employees participated to reduce the monotony of work on the factory floor, to bond with coworkers, and to develop athletic skills for fun and fitness.  It was a win-win situation for all involved!

We’re having a reception for the exhibit on Sunday, July 29, from 2:00 to 4:00p.m. The exhibit will be up in the gallery until October 19, available when the building is open 8:30a.m. to 4:30p.m., Mondays through Fridays.  For more information about the exhibit please contact me at laura.smith@lib.uconn.edu or 860-486-2516.  After October this exhibit will be a traveling exhibit and we will be happy to loan it out to facilities around the state, so let me know if you’re interested in hosting it.

UConn Today, the campus magazine, featured the exhibit in their July 6 issue!  See the article here: http://today.uconn.edu/blog/2012/07/photo-exhibit-documents-history-of-%E2%80%98workers-at-play%E2%80%99/.

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

Celebrate the first day of summer!

Who wouldn’t want to spend the first day of summer at the beach?  Surely these telephone operators from Norwich were enjoying just that as this photograph, from the Southern New England Telephone Company records, from 1913, shows us.  These ladies, dressed all in white down to their stockings and shoes, seem happy to be on such a pleasant outing that briefly took them from their switchboards for sun and sand.

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

Tariffville Dam on the Farmington River

Tariffville Dam on the Farmington River, ca. 1915

The last two posts of this week showed some photographs of Walter Atkin, an employee at the Tariffville Dam, who went fishing from an open window at the hydroelectric station.  Those photographs were just three of many interesting images of the dam that we find in the Hartford Electric Light Company Records, one of which includes this beautiful wide angled shot of the dam, taken circa 1915.  

The  Tariffville Dam hydroelectric station was built in 1899 on the Farmington River in Simsbury, Connecticut, by the Hartford Electric Light Company.  It provided electricity to the Hartford area until at least August 1955, when it was destroyed by flooding caused by back to back hurricanes in August 1955. 
 
Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

The Man With the Fish — Here’s the scoop

Here’s the deal about the man with the fish. 

This gentleman is identified on the photograph as Walter Atkin who presumably worked at the Tariffville Dam hydroelectric station on the Farmington River in Simsbury, Connecticut.  The date of the photograph is 1948.  This photograph is from the Hartford Electric Light Company Records, a collection of business records of this company that we have here at the Dodd Research Center. 

The collection has these photos of Mr. Atkin fishing directly from a window in the power station, something I personally think is hilarious.  I wonder if his employers were aware that he was spending his time in this manner while on the job.  Hmmm…I wonder if my supervisors would approve my fishing in Mirror Lake during work time. 

Hey, it worked for Walter…

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections