Resources in the Archives about the Cheney Brothers Silk Manufacturing Company

 

In 1838, six brothers of the Cheney family founded a silk manufacturing company in Manchester, Connecticut. Utilizing innovative silk production methods and new spinning technology, the company became the largest and wealthiest silk mill in the country by the late 1880s. Its success particularly shaped the developing community of Manchester. By the early 1920s, Cheney Mills employed twenty-five percent of all Manchester residents, including many immigrant workers. The company’s domain stretched over 175 acres, including mill buildings, houses, schools, churches, recreation centers, and even a railroad. The company became known for its progressive stance toward its employees, and practiced a form of welfare capitalism.

However, the prosperity of Cheney Mills was not to last. Overproduction in the silk industry and competition from the production of new synthetic fibers led to the company’s decline by the mid-1920s. During the Great Depression, the company had to take out loans to keep the mills in operation. Increased labor conflict in the 1930s eventually forced the company to accept the unionization of its workers under the United Textile Workers in 1934. By 1937, Cheney Mills declared bankruptcy. The company’s prospects improved slightly during World War II when it converted to wartime manufacturing to make silk parachutes for the military. However, the company could not keep up with the high labor costs and competition in the post-war years, and the Cheney family was forced to sell the company to J.P. Stevens & Company in 1955. The mills closed permanently in 1984.

The company records available in Archives & Special Collections allow us to trace the rise and decline of this great Connecticut company. Specifically, how the company’s history reflected its place in American life and culture are included in the collection:

  • Records concerning the general management of the company over time. These include an assortment of documents detailing the company’s earliest history, as well as Board of Directors’ minutes, by-laws, policy letters, information about pay and protocol, and company correspondence.
  • Documents showing Cheney’s marketing strategies. In particular, the collection holds an assortment of Cheney advertisements, particularly from the 1920s. This includes a Cheney publication on the history of fabrics and clothing styles, as well as many advertisements from newspapers and magazines.
  • Information related to silk production in the United States in the early twentieth century. Included in the collection are publications gathered by the company about silk production, Board of Director’s minutes that detail company decisions on directing the course of business, and purchasing ledgers including dealings with suppliers from Japan and China in last half of the nineteenth century.
  • Reports on strikes and the company’s efforts to subvert the unionization of their workers, including records on labor relations stretching from 1930 to 1974. The collection contains reports on strikes, documents from court cases, financial reports, and union contracts.
  • Information about Cheney employees from a collection of personnel files and workers’ cards. These cards contain not only work-related information, such as position held and department, but also personal information, such as ethnicity, country of origin, family size, and if relatives were in the company’s employ. Available in our digital repository are employee record cards: https://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3AMS19840026.
  • Evidence for Cheney Mills’ practice of welfare capitalism, which involved providing housing, amenities, services, and recreational activities for their employees. Documents include a pamphlet intended to attract immigrants to work for Cheney Mills, titled “The Miracle Workers.”
  • The collection has records as one of the first textile mills to use Frederick Taylor’s methods of scientific management. Taylorism involved applying the scientific method to the management of workers in order to maximize productivity and profit.
  • “Hiring Specifications” scrapbooks from the mid-1920s, which describe each job that workers did for the company from weavers to bobbin boys, and a list required skills and previous training.

The finding aid for the Cheney Brothers can be found in our digital repository at https://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002:860133921

We invite you to view these collections in the reading room in Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center if you need resources about the Cheney Brothers Silk Manufacturing Company. Our staff is happy to assist you in accessing these and other collections in the archives.

This post was written by Alexandra Borkowski, a UConn PhD student and student assistant in Archives & Special Collections.

Resources in the Archives about Connecticut Labor History, post World War II to the 1970s

 

Many imagine the years after World War II as a period of warm relations between labor and management in the United States. Building on the victories of the New Deal and adjusting to the demands of the Cold War, workers and their bosses, so the story goes, reached a steady accord across a range of industries. But labor-management relations in the United States have waxed and waned since the late nineteenth century, and the decades after 1945 were no different.

Archives & Special Collections holds a range of materials that shed light on this important topic through the history of trade unionism in Connecticut. Among our relevant collections are:

  • The Henry Stieg Collection of the Pratt & Whitney Company. The collection comprises material gathered by Henry L. Stieg, a master gauge inspector at the Pratt & Whitney Division of the Niles-Bement-Pond Company from 1940 to 1973 and shop steward in the Unity Lodge Local 251 of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America. Chief among the collection is a wealth of materials chronicling a strike by Pratt & Whitney workers in 1946, including flyers, newsletters, fact sheets, and company correspondence. The finding aid can be found at https://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A860129469
  • Diocesan Labor Institute Records. The collection comprises material from the Diocesan Labor Institute, an organization founded in 1942 by Father Joseph Francis Donnelly to help educate Connecticut workers on the social teachings of the Catholic Church. Especially useful for researchers is a series of interviews with workers across the state conducted by members of the institute. The finding aid can be found at https://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A860133880
  • The University of Connecticut, Labor Education Center Records. The collection comprises material from a program founded at the University of Connecticut in 1946 to educate Connecticut’s unionized workforce and promote greater understanding about trade unionism among business leaders, government officials, and the general public. Useful materials included educational materials, workshop materials, and reports on labor issues in Connecticut. The finding aid can be found at https://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A860134460
  • The Nicholas J. Tomassetti Papers. The collection comprises the personal papers of Nicholas J. Tomassetti, a labor organizer and leader associated with the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers Union, as well as a Democratic representative to the Connecticut General Assembly. Tomassetti’s papers span a wide range of labor history (1916-1978) and contain a wealth of materials, including correspondence, reports, administrative and legal records, strike and negotiation materials, minutes, publications, and newspaper clippings. The finding aid can be found at https://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A860133876
  • Additional materials on trade unionism in Connecticut held by Archives & Special Collections include the records of many Connecticut labor unions, like the AFSCME, Council 4 Records, the state’s largest AFL-CIO union, as well as many publications on labor and labor issues contain in our extensive Alternative Press Collection.

We invite you to view these collections in the reading room at Archives & Special Collections in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. Our staff is happy to assist you in accessing these and other collections in the archives.

This post was written by Shaine Scarminach, a UConn History Ph.D candidate who is a student assistant in Archives & Special Collections. 

Resources in the Archives about Communism and the Red Scare of the 1940s-1950s

 

After World War II the United States faced a widespread fear of the rise of Communism referred to as the Red Scare, which generally lasted between the late 1940s to the mid-1950s. Led by Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, this fear revolved around the apprehension that Communists would infiltrate and subvert society, academia, the workplace and the federal government. Accusations of subversion and treason were made to thousands of citizens and many lost their jobs or were put on trial for perceived sympathy with Communists or for membership in the Communist Party. Many were prosecuted for violating the Smith Act, whereby penalties were imposed for those who advocated for the overthrow of the government.

Archives & Special Collections has many resources that illustrate the fear and paranoia of this period in history. They include:

  • Records of the University of Connecticut’s “Committee of Five.” In March 1953 a standing committee of the University Senate was appointed to investigate charges that four members of the faculty were Communists. The collection consists of transcripts of interviews with the faculty members, correspondence and meeting minutes of the determinations of the committee. The finding aid to this small but powerful collection can be found in our digital repository at https://collections.ctdigitalarchive.org/islandora/object/20002%3A860138593
  • The papers of UConn President Albert Jorgensen also include a small amount of information about the accusations of UConn faculty in the 1950s.
  • Jack Goldring of Trumbull, Connecticut, served in the National Guard and as a serviceman in the Air Force during World War II but was a longtime member and official with the Connecticut Communist Party. In May 1954 he was arrested by the F.B.I. and charged under the Smith Act for pursuing subversive activities. His papers, consisting of court documents, newsletters of Communist groups and other publications, and writings, tell the story of his trial and his beliefs and activities as a member of the Communist Party. The finding aid to his collection is available at https://collections.ctdigitalarchive.org/islandora/object/20002%3A860132174. Available in our digital repository are transcripts of interviews conducted by UConn’s Center for Oral History of Goldring (https://collections.ctdigitalarchive.org/islandora/object/20002%3A860320454#page/1/mode/2up) and his wife Harriet (https://collections.ctdigitalarchive.org/islandora/object/20002%3A860320141#page/1/mode/2up)
  • The Sargent Company of New Haven was a manufacturer of locks and hardware. In the late 1940s the management of the company actively tried to prevent the workers’ union from infiltration by Communists. They collected and studied publications of the Communist Party of America and monitored workers protests around the city. The files they compiled are included in the Sargent Company Records; the finding aid to the collection can be found here: https://collections.ctdigitalarchive.org/islandora/object/20002%3A860134544
  • The Labor History Archives has information about Communism scattered across many collections, and the Alternative Press Collection can also provide resources. Please ask at the reference desk for more information.

The collections also include many contemporary published sources, mostly pamphlets and flyers, from the Alternative Press Collection, about the Red Scare. They include the pamphlet “Why Negroes are Joining the  Communist Party,” from 1946.

We invite you to view these collections in the reading room in Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center if you need resources about the Red Scare, McCarthyism, the Smith Act, or the general climate of the United States in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Our staff is happy to assist you in accessing these and other collections in the archives.