Voices From the Hardware City

Jul 1, 2014

New Britain may lose its baseball team to Hartford, another blow to a city that, over the years, has lost many of its jobs, and many of the the iconic brands associated with the city.

In 1995, when the baseball team shed its identity as the New Britain Red Sox, it actually didn’t take the New Britain name at first. Instead, it identified with the city’s traditional nickname, and called the team the “Hardware City Rock Cats.”

What was Hardware City like in its heyday? Today, it’s hard to imagine: a packed downtown, with 35,000 factory workers, and life revolving around the factories.  

Through the mid-20th century, the city saw an influx of immigrants, many picked up in New York City after a long journey, and brought to New Britain to live with family or friends. I explored the history of the city that still thinks of itself as the Hardware City of the World, and the people who worked in the factories.

Listen to the story below:

The Nuts and Bolts exhibit at Gallery 66 in New Britain features photos and interviews with former factory workers, in collaboration with students at CCSU, and the New Britain Industrial Museum. The exhibit is on view until September 10, 2014.

Below, listen to a variety of interviews with former factory workers, such as Allen Nelson. He worked at Stanley for several years before becoming a fireman in New Britain.

Nelson painted ZIG ZAG rulers. "We had big factories," he said. "They could hold 6,000 and 7,000 people. When World War II came, oh my God. They were working night and day. It was really exctiing."

Listen to his Nelson talk about his memories:

Ed Prendergast spent two years at Stanley in the 1960s. Both of his parents worked in factories. "People have said that you could get laid off or fired from a job in the morning, walk down the street, and be hired after lunch," he said. "Jobs were plentiful and available." 

Listen below to Prendergast describing some of his story:

John Henninger worked at Stanley for 15 years, and was materials manager at Peter Paul electronics for 21 years. "New Britain had a downtown that was amazing," he said. "On a Thursday night you could walk through downtown and you had a hard time getting around there were so many people. Cars were bumper-to-bumper all night long."

Listen below to Henninger talking about his work and community:

Phil Pearson is a metallurgist. He worked on ball bearings at Fafnir for 50 years. Pearson said that when he and his wife were looking for their first house, they couldn't afford anything in New Britain, so they moved to an affordable suburb: Farmington.

Listen below to an interview with Pearson:

Tina Langevan worked at Stanley for almost 20 years. She reminisced, "I think we did a darn good job. Myself, the people that I worked with through the years. It means something to me. I know I made a difference, I did something. It was a great time in my life, I’ll always miss it."

Listen below to Langevan talk about her work in New Britain:

Henry Skonieczny got a scholarship out of college to work at Fafnir, and he worked there as an engineer until he retired.  He remembered, "All the factories were loaded with immigrants: Polish, Germans, Swedes, everybody."

Listen below to an interview with Skonieczny: