Sunday, March 13, 2011

21st Century Manufacturing

A great new exhibit, Innovations for a World Market: Manufacturing in the Naugatuck Valley, opened Friday at the Mattatuck Museum, highlighting three manufacturers currently active here today. The Republican-American has some photos of the reception on their website.

This is a little piece of my work--I am the guest curator of the exhibit. The idea came together while I was at the museum researching the history of the brass industry for a series of articles I'm publishing in The Observer.

What I hear over and over is that manufacturing is gone. While it's true that many of the brass manufacturers, most noticeably the Big Three, have left Waterbury, manufacturing is still the third largest industry in Waterbury (after health care and retail) and is the largest industry in the smaller Naugatuck Valley towns.

The Republican-American ran a photo of the exhibit opening reception in today's paper with the caption "Look What the Valley Made," perhaps an instinctive mistake thanks to the misconception that manufacturing is gone. The exhibit actually shows what the Valley makes today, right now, as you read this.

So what is made here today?  The list is huge. Platt Brothers, in Waterbury, uses zinc in amazing ways. Bridges are coated with zinc to protect against corrosion, and the protective layer lasts 40 years (much better than paint!). Pipelines are often run below high voltage lines, and Plattline zinc ribbon anodes are used to prevent interference. Platt also makes zinc strips for terrazzo floors. Another major component (pun intended) of their production are eyelets and deep drawn parts for aerospace, automotive, medical, electrical and other industries.

Stewart EFI, in Thomaston, is another producer of eyelets and deep drawn parts. You might be wondering, what exactly are eyelets and deep drawn parts? A few sample products include lipstick cases, battery cases, jar lids, light bulb screw shells, automotive air bag initiators, and aerosol mounting caps. The two companies also make products like the little metal piece on EKG electrodes pads--they make the component parts that are used on pretty much everything!

The third company highlighted in the exhibit is Naugatuck's The Eastern Co., whose divisions make a huge variety of locks, coin slots (the ones you see on washing machines at laundromats), mine anchors (that hold up ceilings in mines), the latch/handle used by the driver to open the school bus door, lightweight composite panels used primarily for sleeper cabs on trucks, hinges and latches on fire engines, and pretty much any cast iron product desired. Although their factories are no longer in the Valley, Eastern's corporate headquarters are still in their beautiful brick building in Naugatuck.

 There's a ton more information, and a lot to see, at the exhibit. There will also be a lunchtime History Bites Lecture on May 12 at the museum. Contact the Mattatuck Museum for more details or to register for the lecture (call 203-753-0381 x 10).

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