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Litchfield Shuttle Works, Southbridge, Mass.
TitleLitchfield Shuttle Works, Southbridge, Mass.
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SubjectLitchfield Shuttle Company--history; Litchfield Shuttle Works--Southbridge (Mass. Southbridge (Mass.)--history; Textile industry--Massachusetts--Southbridge; Factories--New England--pictorial works; Mills and mill work--New England--pictorial works; Historic buildings--New England; Historic buildings--Massachusetts--Southbridge; Textile workers--Massachusetts--Southbridge
DescriptionLitchfield Shuttle Company located in the Shuttleville district (off South Street) in Southbridge, Massachusetts. View taken from the upper road way, looking down on the plant. The brick building has three levels including a tower. Workers shown in the foreground working on an exterior vent or water tower, on a flat roof. The Litchfield Shuttle Company was formed in 1843 by Pliny, Festus C. and Leroy Litchfield. In 1844, they were joined by their brother-in-law, S. S. Whitney in a partnership. Initially known as the L.O.P. Litchfield and Company, later incorporating in 1878 as the Litchfield Shuttle Company, with a capital investment of $21, 000. The company manufactured shuttles and shuttle-irons for woolen, cotton, silk, jute and linen. According to The Southbridge Press, July 2, 1904 the Litchfield Shuttle Company is the largest company in the industry. The following subsequent article by Ralph Minard, appeared on the day of the auction of the plant and the equipment "One of Southbridge's oldest industrial firms came to the end of a 00 year old career Thursday amid the ring of the auctioneer's hammer and the eager bidding of some 200 buyers, The Litchfield Shuttle Co., on the Westville rd., was the scene. Operated by three generations of the Litchfield family since 1843, the company was at one time the largest in the world, supplying shuttle to thousands of textile mills throughout the country. In recent years it had struck harder going, and had passed out of control of the Litchfields. A month ago, the last of the 30 remaining employees were paid off and a liquidation sale was arranged. Bidders milled through the interior of the factory from 10 o clock Thursday morning, when the sale began, until 9 o clock that night. Representatives of engineering and tool firms, shuttle companies and textile mills came from many parts of the country. One bidder was on hand from the Dominion Shuttle Co., in Canada. Others came from as far away as South Carolina. Up for sale were the property, water rights, good will, persimmon and dogwood blocks, woodworking machinery, machine tools, punch presses, belt drop hammers, motors, generators, 170, 000 pounds of round, flat bar and sheet steel and office furniture. Auctioneers from Samuel T. Freeman & Co., of Boston found the bidding voracious. Battle To Buy Eight bidders battled vocally for possession of the lathe worth in normal time about $350. They ran the price up to $1200, reaching a stalemate, and cut cards to decide who was to get it. The same spirit attended the sale of a majority of the equipment. Milton Werby, of the Werby Motor Co., of Boston, buyer and dealer in second hand electric motors, bid in the building for $25, 000. It is believed possible that he will rent or sell the property to some local manufacturer who can use it. Simonds Machine Co., of Southbridge bought belting, shafting and some machinery. Southbridge Tool Co., a war plant operated by three youthful graduates of Cole Trade school, purchased the good will, and the tools, dies and fixtures necessary for making shuttles. American Optical Co. purchased the bulk of the office equipment. Various junk dealers, including local men, bought scrap metal and other salvageable material. Added Incentive Adding impetus to the bidding was the act that small manufacturers, unable to obtain equipment and materials because of priorities, flocked to the sale to pick up machinery they could not otherwise obtain. Shapes worth $100 in a normal market were bid off for prices ranging up to $425. Piles of steel acquired by the company as war raw material for shuttles, were snapped up by buyers, under government supervision. A man familiar with the history of the shuttle company said today that the business reached its peak around 1925, when such firms as Cannon Mills were buying as much as $450, 000 worth of shuttles a year. A total of 125 employees, many of them veteran craftsmen who had never known any other trade, were kept busy on orders. Decline It was this man's opinion that the company's subsequent decline resulted from too much emphasis on custom designing, on failure to standardize the product, and on the lack of application of new production methods. An output of 50 shuttles a week, he said, was considered good production for one shuttle maker. The company was said to have served a wide clientele, all of them asking for different shuttle designs, with the result that a huge stock had to be carried and designing equipment had to be kept available for as long as five years. As much as 100 operations was into the making of a single shuttle it was explained. Veteran employees who made their last shuttles at time worn benches in the shop in the last six months, have found place in other industry. It is estimated that half of the men who remained have been placed in American Optical Co., and in Russell Harrington Cutlery Co., where they can be employed in skills related to shuttle making. Some 30, 000 semi finished shuttles are still stored at the plant. Future Indefinite Approximately 10 years ago, management of the company came into the hands of Albert Leon, of Edwards St., who has been operating it up to recent months. For the past five months two mortgages have taken active roles in the company's activities. One is Joseph Beal of Boston, a machinery operator, the other is Fred Firstenberg, who operates the First Machinery Corp., of New York City. The future of the structure is indefinite today, but one man familiar with the business pointed out that there is still a market for shuttles, and that it is possible that the factory will be making shuttles again after the war ends. The use of duplicating machinery, simplification of manufacturing technique, restriction of model and concentration of design for a few important customers rather than for a wide range of consumers, plus the hiring of women for some of the processes, might make it possible to revive the shuttle industry in Southbridge, he said. In the meantime, the materials and equipment which once made Litchfield the world's largest shuttle factory are on the move today, to plants in many sections of the country where they can play their part in war production.
RelationIs part of a photographic collection at Jacob Edwards Library, Southbridge, Massachusetts. Donated by Stella (White)Anderson and Susan (Anderson)Chaplin, November 10, 2001
Coverage42 degrees 04' N 72 degrees 02' W
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