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The Early Industrial Complex Along the Farmington River and Its Tributaries in Connecticut and Massachusetts

The industrial complex along the Farmington River was important to the development of the United States

One of the most important things that had to be considered by the early manufacturers was the availability of water power to power their machines. This need was amply met by the Farmington River that has its beginnings in the highlands of Otis Massachusetts and proceeds south through Berkshire County, and when it crosses into Connecticut it passes through two counties in the western part of the state Litchfield and Hartford. Although many of these early manufacturers were small in size there were a few that grew into leading manufacturers some of which are still in business to this day.

One good example is the Ensign Bickford Company in Simsbury, Connecticut that you might say blasted its way into history. The company got its founding’s in far away Tuckingmill Cornwell England When William Bickford while working as a leather merchant invented the miners safety fuse in 1831. His invention was not made for any material gain, but rather in the spirit of saving lives.

The company’s founder Joseph Toy in 1836 built a business that laid the foundations for a company that would come to dominate the modern fuse industry. The company has always been a family owned business, but unlike many family owned businesses it transferred itself from family ownership to being managed by a thoroughly professional team. It also branched out into making a highly diversified and technical business. This diversification ranges from its Ordnance products used by the military and aerospace industry for initiation of explosive charges to pet food manufactured in St. Charles, Missouri. The company is also an emerging power in the biomass energy industry. The company also owns several other divisions including Ensign-Bickford Realty a company based in Simsbury that builds office and industrial parks.

The Collins Axe Company is no more, but its product line was bought by the Stanley Works in New Britain, Connecticut along with the riparian rights to the waterpower of the whole Farmington River and its tributaries. The author has always had a relationship with the Collins Axe Company one of hid great uncles was killed there when a grinding wheel he was straddling exploded under him, killing him. The author was also there when the land and property in Collinsville was sold to Tom Perry who owned the T. M. Perry Company of Canton Center that made specialized gears and gearing.

There were many other companies that used to be dotted along the Farmington River and its tributaries, but one of them stands out as the birthplace of the American Steel Industry. This plant was owned by an English entrepreneur named Richard Smith. The plant he established in Robertsville, Connecticut was a finery producing wrought iron and crucible steel from pig iron produced by the furnace at Salisbury, Connecticut. It was this steel that was the Americans secret weapon during the Revolutionary War allowing the Americans to bore the cannon that were cast at Salisbury.

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Comments (4)
Ranked #96 in History

Interesting article. Something I may have written!

Ranked #12 in History

One of my hobbies is industrial archaeology, but for 30 years it was part of my environmental consulting business.

Ranked #1 in History

Brilliant discussion of industrial history and archaeology.

Excellent and interesting write-up.......thanks