The Big Three

Story By Raechel Guest

Photographs From Scovill Bulletin, Pictorial History Of Waterbury

The neglected north gate of American Brass as it looks now.

   In the twentieth century, Waterbury’s brass industry was dominated by the “Big Three” — Scovill, Chase and Anaconda-American Brass. During the nineteenth century, the industry was largely comprised of small independent factories. Scovill was the first of the Big Three to become big, acquiring small specialized companies in order to diversify its product line and enhance its financial stability. Next came American Brass (later Anaconda-American Brass), which was created by the merger of several brass companies. Chase rounded out the trinity in 1913 with the consolidation of several companies owned by the Chase family.

   As the Big Three grew, their identities changed. Instead of being a local business, each became a national corporation with factories in various locations throughout the country. National and international economies shifted throughout the twentieth century. The Big Three, because of their size, were vulnerable to the effects of large-scale economic change after World War II. For a number of different reasons, the Big Three brass companies gradually shut down their Waterbury factories after the war ended. In 1976, The New York Times declared that the closing of the Scovill, Anaconda and Chase plants had made Waterbury “a ghost of its former self,” a “depressed old New England factory town” (23 October 1976). There were still many small factories which remained in business (and are still in business today), but they were unable to absorb the thousands of factory workers who lost their jobs when the Big Three left town.

Scovill Manufacturing
   Scovill traces its history to 1802, when Abel Porter & Company began making metal buttons in a shop on South Main Street. Brothers Lamson and William Scovill bought into the business in 1811, eventually taking it over entirely while continually expanding the product line to include all things made of brass. Several different branches of the company were consolidated in 1850, when the Scovill brothers incorporated their business as the Scovill Manufacturing Company.

   William Scovill’s son-in-law Frederick J. Kingsbury (who created the city’s motto, Quid aere perennius) became president of Scovill Manufacturing in 1868, but the driving force of the company was soon acknowledged to be two men hired as bookkeepers in 1862: Chauncey Porter Goss and Mark Leavenworth Sperry. Like the Scovill brothers before them, Goss and Sperry worked well as a team and were described later in a company history as representing “the drive, the true entrepreneurship” of Scovill Manufacturing. They quickly proved their worth to the company and became upper management in only a few years — Goss became treasurer in 1866 and Sperry became secretary in 1869, and both joined the board of directors in 1877. Kingsbury entrusted them with the daily operations and management of the company while he occupied himself largely with outside interests. Goss eventually succeeded him as president in 1900.

   Goss and Sperry made significant changes to the company’s operations, standardizing customer-related procedures, improving the bookkeeping procedures, and improving filing systems to keep up with both the growing number of files and changes to methodology and technology (the introduction of the telegraph required a new format to messages). They instituted monthly reports from department heads to monitor production efficiency. In short, Goss and Sperry sought to use the best methods available for running one of the largest brass companies in the country.

   At the start of the twentieth century, Scovill remained a family business, but now it was the Goss and Sperry families who ran the company. Four of Goss’s sons and three of Sperry’s sons eventually joined the company, after receiving advanced training in engineering and, in some cases, apprenticing in the Scovill shops. In 1934, Time magazine reported that Scovill was “completely dominated by the sons and grandsons of the late Chauncey Porter Goss.”

   Scovill grew rapidly during the 1920s, acquiring Hamilton Beach in Wisconsin, the Oakville Company, A. Schrader’s Son in Brooklyn, the American Pin Company in Waterville, the Gilchrist Company in New Jersey, and the Morency-Van Buren Manufacturing Company in Michigan. The company embraced new products and new technologies, taking the lead in cosmetics containers (Scovill was the first to invent and manufacture a lipstick holder that could be operated with one hand), and snap fasteners for machine-washable clothing.

Casting Shop at Scovill’s in the 1940s

   Scovill made a vital upgrade to its Waterbury casting shop after learning of Siegfried Junghan’s continuous casting machine in 1936. Two years later, German technicians arrived at Scovill to install a Junghan machine, but they left before completing the installation when England and France declared war with Germany. The installation was completed by Scovill engineers, who added a few improvements. It was the first continuous casting machine to be successfully used in the United States, producing close to four tons of brass billets (cylindrical or rectangular bars) every hour.

During WWII Jo Ann Foley worked in the Welding Department at Scovills.

   Scovill’s production during the 1940s was largely dedicated to the war effort, creating a need for a larger workforce. After the war, Scovill returned to its normal production. In 1953, Scovill produced an estimated 250,000 different items for about 6,000 customers, ranging from coin blanks for the US Mint, paper clips, lipstick holders, metal dress fasteners, dime banks, diving helmets, vacuum cleaners, ice-cream scoops, refrigerator parts, and surgical goods.

American Brass
   The second of the Big Three, the American Brass Company, began as an ambitious consolidation scheme spearheaded by Ansonia’s Charles F. Brooker (1847-1926). The original plan was to combine nearly a dozen of the biggest Connecticut brass companies into a wealthy holding company. The dream of a Connecticut “Brass Trust”, as noted in the New York Times on April 4th, 1899, had been pursued by “New York adventurers and capitalists” for some time.

   An initial group was formed in 1893 to consolidate five companies: Benedict & Burnham Manufacturing, Coe Brass Manufacturing, Plume & Atwood Manufacturing, Scovill Manufacturing and Waterbury Brass Company. The different companies were unable to agree on a number of issues and the group dissolved.

   Brooker finally succeeded in his consolidation scheme by starting small, consolidating two companies under a state charter in 1899. The new holding company was named American Brass Company, headquartered in Waterbury, and comprised of Torrington’s Coe Brass Manufacturing, of which Brooker was president, and the Waterbury Brass Company, of which Brooker was vice-president. A third company, Ansonia Brass & Copper, joined later that same year.

Coe Brass rolling mill in Torrington, 1900. Coe Brass was a sub-division of American Brass in Waterbury. Photo is of Andrew Carsten Janssen,

   Brooker, now president of American Brass Co., continued to pursue his goal of acquiring as many brass companies as possible. American Brass bought out Benedict & Burnham in 1900, increasing its stock by $2 million for the purchase. The following year, in 1901, American Brass acquired Holmes, Booth & Haydens Company in a nearly-identical manner. The two companies, Benedict & Burnham and Holmes, Booth & Haydens, were giants of Waterbury’s brass industry in the 19th century. They were merged together a few years after their acquisition and continued on as a subsidiary of American Brass.

   The expansion of the American Brass company went beyond the Naugatuck Valley with the acquisition of the Chicago Brass Company in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1901. Shelton’s Birmingham Brass was added to the company’s holdings in 1903. By 1909 American Brass was the largest brass company in the world. William G. Lathrop’s book, The Brass Industry (1909), stated that American Brass produced more than two-thirds of all the brass used in the United States, in addition to other copper and alloy products, while using roughly one-third of all the copper consumed in the U.S.

   Brooker’s obituaries dubbed him a “Copper King” and “Copper Baron”, as he was believed to have purchased more copper (used in the production of brass) than anyone in the world. He was influential in multiple towns along the Naugatuck River and beyond, director of the Ansonia National Bank, Derby Gas Company, Torrington Savings Bank, Torrington Waterbury Company, Colonial Trust in Waterbury, the Ansonia Land & Water Power Company and the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railway. He served in both the State Legislature, was a member of the Republican National Committee, and belonged to some of the more prestigious New York City organizations. A short biography about Brooker published in The National magazine (1913) stated that “Few men have compressed more effective activity into a span of life.”

   Brooker’s ambitions, and those of his American Brass Company, made national news in 1911. Brooker and six of his associates were among 83 men in the steel and copper wire industry to be indicted for criminal conspiracy to violate the Sherman Antitrust Act, established in 1890 to limit monopolies. The defense pleaded no contest, and each defendant was fined between $1000 and $5000.

   To avoid further legal problems, Brooker reorganized American Brass as an operating company. Since it was no longer a holding company, each of the subsidiary companies became branches of American Brass. Operations continued uninterrupted even as the individual subsidiary corporations ceased to exist. The new American Brass Company was incorporated in January 1912, with Brooker continuing as president.

   The new American Brass Company needed a new headquarters, and plans were drawn up within months. An impressive curved brick office building was constructed opposite the Waterbury train station, a strategic location guaranteeing that visitors to the city would see American Brass before anything else. The company’s executive offices were located on the first floor, while the second floor housed general offices and a telephone exchange connecting 1,600 phones at all of the company’s factories in Connecticut.

   By the end of World War I, American Brass was undisputed as the world’s largest consumer of copper, controlling 40% of the industry and melting down as much as 600,000,000 pounds of copper and zinc (the two main components of brass) annually. Brooker retired as president of American Brass in 1920, becoming Chairman of the company’s Board of Directors. Soon after, he was in negotiations with the Anaconda Copper Mining Company to sell American Brass. Rumors about the proposed buy-out kept Wall Street buzzing for months.

   Anaconda was a Montana-based company established in 1895. With mines in Butte, Montana and in Chile, they were the largest producer of copper in the world. By acquiring the manufacturing and fabricating plants of American Brass, the largest consumer of copper in the world, Anaconda could guarantee an outlet for their refined copper and zinc.

   When the negotiations were completed and presented to the American Brass shareholders in December 1921, Anaconda took over by purchasing the company’s stock at approximately $300 per share (specifically $150 in cash and three shares of Anaconda for each share of American Brass). The contract had called for a minimum 51% of the shares to be voluntarily offered to Anaconda by the end of January 1922. When the merger was finalized, just over 98% of the shares were sold.

   Following the Anaconda merger, Charles Brooker remained on the board of his American Brass Company and also joined the boards of directors of Anaconda, Chile Copper, Chile Exploration and United States Smelting and Refining. His connections to these companies were the American Brass Company’s connections. Brooker had taken a handful of the Waterbury region’s best brass factories and made them an important part of a multi-national corporation. American Brass retained its individual identity until 1960, when it became Anaconda-American Brass.

Chase Companies
   Like Scovill, Chase was a family-run company at the start of the twentieth century. Augustus Sabin Chase arrived in Waterbury in 1850, taking a job as cashier at the Waterbury Bank. Fourteen years later, he was president of the bank and was connected to many of the brass manufacturing companies, becoming president of the Waterbury Manufacturing Company (which eventually became part of the Chase Companies), the Waterbury Watch Company, Benedict & Burnham Manufacturing Company and the Waterbury Buckle Company. Chase died in 1896 and was succeeded as president of Waterbury Manufacturing by his son Henry Sabin Chase.

Henry Sabin Chase

   The Waterbury Manufacturing Company was incorporated in 1876 from the assets of the bankrupt U.S. Button Company. Waterbury Manufacturing produced small metal goods, including buttons, umbrella parts and upholstery trim. By the 1890s, the company employed four or five hundred workers. The company had a casting shop for making brass ingots, but had to take the ingots to other companies for rolling into sheets or forming into wire, both of which were essential for producing finished consumer goods. In 1900, to remove its dependence on other companies, Waterbury Manufacturing established its own rolling mill, the Chase Rolling Mill Company, producing sheet brass and wire.

   As the company flourished, their consumption of brass increased and a second mill was needed. Around 1910, Henry Chase purchased 25 acres of flat land in Waterville along the Naugatuck River, an ideal location for a new brass mill. The Chase Metal Works factory was constructed there and began operations in 1912. It was connected to the Chase Rolling Mill by a private railway line. The Metal Works facility grew quickly. The Naugatuck River was moved to make room for an expansion of the factory in 1914.

Inside the Chase Rolling Mill

   One symbol of Chase during this era, and something of a tourist attraction in Waterbury, was its team of Percheron horses used for hauling cordwood from forests in Kent, coal from the Freight Street railway station, and heavy loads from the Waterville plant to the mill on North Main Street. At their height of use, Chase had close to 350 horses, typically used in eight-horse hitches, but they also had a 24-horse team and a 40-horse team. In 1913, after a trolley railway for freight and passenger service connected the Waterville Chase Metal Works to the mill on North Main Street, the horses were sold to the Barnum & Bailey circus. At least one of Chase’s horse team drivers, Jim Thomas, joined Barnum & Bailey to drive the horse teams for the circus.

   The different companies owned and operated by the Chase family were merged in 1913 to form the Chase Companies, Incorporated. Chase took full control of the Noera Manufacturing Company, maker of oil cans, tire pumps and grease guns, in 1924. Chase had purchased Noera in 1909, but the company’s founder, Frank D. Noera “king of the oil can”, remained in charge until his retirement.

   The Chase Companies prospered in the 1920s. In 1921, they opened warehouses in strategic cities around the country for national distribution of their brass and copper products. In 1927, Chase acquired the U.T. Hungerford Brass & Copper Company of New York. Construction of a new factory in Cleveland, Ohio began in 1928. The new brass factory, Chase’s third, served the mid-west market, producing a general line of brass and copper rod and tube.

   In May 1929, Chase was acquired by Kennecott Corporation, the largest copper producer in the world. The Chase family retained control of their company, which had an estimated value of about $40 million. Kennecott’s value at the time of the merger was about $750 million. Their consolidation was heralded as creating a strong competitor of Anaconda. Like Anaconda, Kennecott sought to secure a fabricator of their copper. In 1929, Kennecott was producing about 80,000,000 pounds of copper every month, while Chase was consuming about 5,000,000 pounds of copper every month, with plans to double production in 1930, following the construction of the new factory in Cleveland. The Wall Street Journal (May 23, 1929) speculated that Kennecott would need to either increase Chase’s production or acquire additional subsidiaries for a consumption of at least 40,000,000 pounds of their copper every month. In 1933, Chase and Kennecott acquired the Erskine Copper Radiator Corporation.

   In the early 1930s, Chase developed a new product line without acquiring any new equipment. The Chase Specialties line of art deco house wares was produced using existing machinery, challenging the designers hired by the company. The art deco products were showcased on two floors of Chase’s New York office and were featured in etiquette-maven Emily Post’s How to Give a Buffet Supper. The Chase Specialty line was introduced by Rodney Chase, son of Henry Sabin Chase and manager of the company’s advertising and publicity. Rodney Chase had previously developed the company’s centaur logo in 1928. The popular line remained in production until about 1943, when the company was obligated to switch exclusively to the war effort. They are highly sought-after collectibles today.

   The Chase family was one of the most prominent in the city and was involved in numerous activities that had a lasting impact on Waterbury, starting with the three sons of Augustus Chase. Henry Chase was active not only in running the Chase Companies, but also as a director of the Waterbury National Bank, Waterbury Hospital and the Waterbury Industrial School. He was a friend of architect Cass Gilbert, hiring him to design several buildings downtown. Henry Chase died of appendicitis in 1918, before he was able to see many of his projects completed. Henry’s brother Frederick and daughter Edith took over the Cass Gilbert projects after his death. Those projects including construction of the Chase company headquarters, the Waterbury National Bank, the Lincoln House (used for charitable organizations), the Henry S. Chase Memorial Dispensary, and Library Park.

   Frederick Starkweather Chase also took over his brother’s role as president of the Chase family businesses until 1942. When Chase and Kennecott merged in 1929, Frederick joined Kennecott’s board of directors Frederick Chase was also president of Waterbury Hospital, Waterbury Boys Club and the Silas Bronson Library. His wife, Elsie Rowland Chase, was a talented artist whose work can be seen at the Mattatuck Museum. Waterbury’s Rowland Park, on West Main Street, was donated by the Chases and named for Elsie’s family (who were not related to former Governor John Rowland). They also donated Chase Park and Parkway, and Waterville Park.

   The third brother, Irving Hall Chase, was president and treasurer of the Waterbury Clock Company, remaining on the board of directors after that company became U.S. Time (later Timex) in 1944. Irving was State Senator for the 15th District early in the twentieth century, president of the Waterbury National Bank and the Morris Plan Bank of Waterbury. He was also actively involved with St. Margaret’s School, as were many members of the Chase family.

   The family’s activities in the next generation extended far beyond Waterbury, even while they maintained close ties to their hometown. Henry Chase’s daughter Edith, who had spent many years on the board of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, left her 511-acre estate in Litchfield (“Topsmead”) as a state park after her death in 1972. Irving Chase’s daughter Lucia was co-founder of the American Ballet Theatre, considered to be one of the world’s great dance companies, in 1940. Another of Irving’s daughters, Eleanor, married the son of former President William H. Taft. Cousin Justine, daughter of Frederick Chase, was a playwright and Broadway actress. She starred with Basil Rathbone in the 1935 movie Kind Lady. Sabin Chase, son of Frederick, was U.S. Consul at Shanghai and other locations in China during the 1930s and ‘40s, closely involved in a variety of official political missions, including some negotiations for the release of American prisoners and some escapades with Shanghai’s Triad gangs.