Elementor #4524

Connecticut as a Maker State: The Smith and Winchester Company of South Windham, Part III

by Jamie Eves

This blog concludes our examination of A Century of Pioneering in the Paper Industry. Published in 1928, the book is a short, illustrated history of the Smith and Winchester Manufacturing Company of South Windham, CT, published by the company itself. The book was a gift to the Museum from Pat Abbe, whose family had once been involved with the Company. Unfortunately, Smith and Winchester, founded in 1828, closed later in the 20th century. Yet for a hundred years it was a pioneer in manufacturing paper, a history worth remembering. Typically, the story of Smith and Winchester began with the invention of new technology in Europe, the transplantation of that technology to Connecticut, the application of Yankee ingenuity and Connecticut waterpower, and proximity to New York and Boston markets. Here are some more excerpts from the book. We pick up in 1876, as a new generation prepares to take over control of the Company, new products were being created, and electricity was being installed.

“A catalog published in 1876 states … that ‘Smith, Winchester & Company, Manufacturers of paper Machinery of Every Description, oldest and most extensive establishment of the kind on this continent,’ had developed ‘Many NEW AND VALUABLE IMPROVEMENTS, making the most complete and extensive variety of machinery produced by any manufactory in our line of business.'”

“Charles Smith’s son, Guilford, was now fast becoming a force in the concern. Many years before, as a young man of nineteen, he had entered the employ of Smith, Winchester & Company as a clerk. Gradually working his way up, he was winning, in his own right, the ability and judgment which would fit him for future leadership.”

“Arthur S. Winchester, son of Harvey Winchester, had also become associated with the concern and had risen to a position of great responsibility in connection with the financial side of the firm’s interests.”

“Nor was progress at Smith, Winchester & Company entirely a matter of personnel. Electricity had come to take the place of flickering lamps, turbines supplanted older types of water wheels. Things moved faster and faster through the world in general and (it seemed) at South Windham in particular.”

“Excellence in one line of work suggests ability in another. When laundry machines came into prominence, Smith, Winchester & Company were called upon to produce the necessary machinery for their work. The result was the Annihilator mangle (the annihilation referring to difficulties, not to clothes). This mangle, first produced in 1891, was an efficient single-cylinder machine for the ironing of flat work.”

“Subsequently this Company produced the Royal Calendar, an improved two-cylinder dryer which, with improvements in design, is now functioning efficiently in laundries throughout the country….”

“On April 6, 1896, the death of Charles Smith, long the guiding genius of the Company, necessitated a readjustment of the concern’s affairs. … The organization, which had been known since 1893 as the Smith & Winchester Company, went forward….”

“In 1899, Smith & Winchester Company absorbed an organization of high standards, devoted to the manufacture of paper cutters and paper-bag-making machinery.”

“In this purchase of the bag-making machine business of the Frank A. Jones Company of New York, Smith & Winchester Company gained control of important patents covering the inventions of the Jones Company’s former owner, Mr. Charles Cranston….”

“In 1905 the Company was incorporated as The Smith & Winchester Manufacturing Company, as at this time Guilford Smith bought out the interest of his partner and assumed control of the Company’s affairs.”

This concludes our examination of the history of Smith & Winchester, a company that flourished in an era when Connecticut was a maker state. There is, however, more in the book, which the Mill Museum will place in its library for access by the general public.

Elementor #4516

Connecticut as a Maker State: The Smith and Winchester Company of South Windham, Part II

by Jamie Eves

As I wrote in a previous blog, a package arrived at the Mill Museum recently, containing a historical treasure: a copy of A Century of Pioneering in the Paper Industry. Published in 1928, it is a short, illustrated history of the Smith and Winchester Manufacturing Company of South Windham, CT, published by the company itself. The book was a gift from Pat Abbe, whose family had once been involved with the Company. Unfortunately, Smith and Winchester, founded in 1828, closed later in the 20th century, yet for a hundred years it was a pioneer in manufacturing paper, a history worth remembering. Typically, it begins with the invention of new technology in Europe, the transplantation of that technology to Connecticut, the application of Yankee ingenuity and Connecticut waterpower, and proximity to New York and Boston markets. Here are some more excerpts from the book. We pick up in 1830, shortly after the Company’s founders, James Phelps and George Spafford (the Company was originally called Phelps and Spafford), along with their foreman Charles Smith and a crew of workers, built and sold the first Fourdrinier paper-making machine manufactured in America. They quickly assembled and sold more machines, making technological improvements as they went along.

“A second machine, equally successful, was completed and sold, two years later, to Henry Hudson of East Hartford, and a third, built for the mill of W. I. C. Baldwin, near Bloomfield, N. J., was soon to add to the fame of Phelps and Spafford.”

“In 1830 George Spafford invented the first cylinder dryers, which performed, in a few minutes, work which had previously taken hours, even days. he was was first, too, to devise cutters which divided the continuous web into sheets of uniform size.”

“These improvements made possible the first complete paper-making machine in history, built by young Charles Smith and his men. The machine comprised the Fourdrinier part press rolls, steam-drying cylinder, reels, and cutters, operating as a unit. It was now possible for the pulp to be taken in at one end of the machine, the manufacturing process completed, and the sheets in the desired sizes, ready for finishing or packing, turned out at the other end of the machine.”

Phelps and Spafford thus prospered for several years, manufacturing Fourdrinier machines in their little factory in South Windham, Connecticut. Then, in 1837, disaster struck, in the form of America’s first industrial age depression, the Panic of 1837. Sales dropped, and Phelps and Spafford closed their factory. It would be left to their overseer, Charles Smith, to rescue it.

“Charles Smith, however, had faith in the future of the business, and with Harvey Winchester bought out the concern and reorganized as The Smith, Winchester, & Company. The new concern, guided by the maturing mechanical genius of Charles Smith, .. weathered the financial depression….”

“By 1840 the new company had developed a line of stuff pumps and beaters, and in 1854 obtaining the patents of Joseph Jordan and Thomas Eustice, introduced the Jordan and Eustice refining engine…. This machine has been adopted by the paper industry and is in universal use throughout the country….”

“By 1853 the fame of Smith, Winchester & Company had, literally, spread from Maine to California. Oxen had hauled one of the earliest Smith, Winchester & Company machines to Maine. Shortly after, the gold fever … attracted thousands to … San Francisco … and the Pioneer Paper Mill of the west coast came into being.”

“[A] machine went by boat to the Isthmus of Panama and was shipped on skids across the Isthmus. Then schooners took it to [California].”

“Demand for Smith, Winchester & Company machines grew and grew. they were installed in England, Cuba, Mexico, and South America.”

“[By the time of the Civil War], Charles Smith and Harvey Winchester looked back over the years. their bustling plant was somewhat different from the little schoolhouse where they had begun their enterprise, thirty years before.”

In a future blog, I’ll continue the story of Smith and Winchester into the next generation, continuing the story of how Connecticut became a “maker state.”

Elementor #4476

Connecticut as a Maker State: The Smith and Winchester Company of South Windham, Part I

by Jamie Eves

A package arrived in the mail recently, containing a historical treasure: a copy of A Century of Pioneering in the Paper Industry. Published in 1928, it is a short, illustrated history of the Smith and Winchester Manufacturing Company of South Windham, CT, published by the company itself. The book was a gift from Pat Abbe, whose family had once been involved with the Company. Unfortunately, Smith and Winchester, founded in 1828, closed later in the 20th century. Like so many Connecticut manufacturers, it fell victim to globalization, unable to compete with larger, overseas corporations that hired cheap labor. Yet, for a hundred years, Connecticut was a pioneer in manufacturing paper, a history worth remembering. Typically, it begins with the invention of new technology in Europe, the transplantation of that technology to Connecticut, the application of Yankee ingenuity and Connecticut waterpower, and proximity to New York and Boston markets. Here are some excerpts from the book.

“The greatest discovery in the history of paper making … was in 1799, at the mill of St. Leger Didot at Essonnes, France, that an ingeniuous workman, Nicolas Louis Robert, made the first successful attempt to produce paper in an endless web, instead of making it a sheet at a time.”

“Messrs. Henry & Sealy Fourdrinier, wealthy stationers and paper manufacturers of London, purchased the patents of the machine, and it was because of their improvements and extensive manufacture (the first machine was made in 1804) that this type of machine has come to bear their name.”

“The first Fourdrinier to come to America was imported in December, 1827, by one Joseph Pickering. It was to be set up the next month in his shops at North Windham, Conn., under the direction of George Spafford of South Windham, know throughout the countryside as a machinist ‘of great mechanical insight.'”

“George Spafford arrived at the Pickering Mills. The tedious task of making necessary changes in the shop’s layout was at last complete. Then came the fascinating work of setting up the new machine and putting it into operation. And, for Spafford, this great machine from across the sea was a revelation — putting it into action was an adventure.”

“It was with regret that Spafford left the Pickering Mills.”

“And as he drove slowly back to Windham through the winter’s night, looking up at the clear stars through the black umbrage of the drooping Connecticut elms, he was pondering the things he had seen, and wondering.”

“‘It is a wonderful machine, this Fourdrinier,’ thought Spafford. ‘It is certain to supersede the inadequate paper-making process now in use. yet few people will import these machines. The distance is too great. The business arrangements are too difficult to establish.'”

“‘But if a similar machine — a better machine, were made in America….'”

“Thought was turned into action. Spafford, with an experienced paper-mill builder, James Phelps, formed the firm of Phelps & Spafford to build, in America, an improved Fourdrinier machine. Associated with them, and in charge of their working force, was Charles Smith, a boy of nineteen, whose mechanical talent and executive ability had already marked him for leadership in the great task which was to be undertaken.”

“There was, in South Windham, a considerable stream of water, falling rapidly over the ledges of a rocky glen. Near this stream a site was selected, and an old building, originally a country schoolhouse, was moved from its foundation to a position below a small dam erected to conserve the flow of the stream. Here was installed a single crude power lathe which, with hand tools, formed the total of the shop’s equipment.”

“And here, in secrecy, beneath the flickering light of fish-oil lamps, the first Fourdrinier in America was designed and built. Measurements of parts were made with simple calipers. Drawings, made on smoothed pine boards, were pland away, as soon as the pattern was complete, that there might be room on the same board for the next drawing.”

“Cold rolled steel was unknown. Every shaft had to be forged and turned on the lathe.”

“Castings formed a momentous problem. The nearest foundry of any size was at Stafford, some twenty miles away, and there the patterns were cast and then hauled, by ox team, back to South Windham.”

“But ingenuity triumphed over obstacles, and the completed machine proved an excellent performer, a vast improvement over the original Fourdrinier. It was sold to Amos D. Hunnard and put into successful operation in May, 1829, at his mill at Norwich Falls, Conn., a plant famous as the first paper mill in Connecticut, founded in Colonial days by the distinguished Christopher Leffingwell.”

For how this small operation evolved into the successful Smith and Winchester Company, see the next installment of the Mill Museum’s blog.