The “Brass City”: New England’s Forgotten Brass Foundries (1802–2013)

An article in The New York Times on February 3, 1957 ran with the headline “Brass Industry Hits Rough Road,” and detailed the problems facing the industry. Among the problems, such as the highest copper prices since the Civil War, was competition from other countries. England, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Japan were all exporting brass and copper products to the U.S. and selling them for as much as 20% less than the American-made versions. The average brass mill worker in the U.S. earned $4.07 an hour (including fringe benefits) while brass workers in Great Britain earned $1.16 an hour. The hourly wage in West Germany was $1.15 an hour, in France it was 69 cents an hour, in Japan it was 63 cents an hour, and in Yugoslavia it was 30 cents an hour. The U.S. brass industry cited foreign government subsidies as giving their competition an unfair advantage, as well as U.S. regulations unfairly penalizing them. — Waterbury Observer (5/22/2011)

American Brass (1834–2013)

American Brass Company plant in Ansonia, Connecticut that once housed over 10,000 workers.

“In the 19th century brass entrepreneurs and inventors made this an important industrial center for the country. It was the 19th-century version of today’s Silicon Valley.” — New York Times (3/06/1985)

“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.” — Waterbury Observer (5/22/2011)

“Ansonia Copper & Brass Co. will lay off about half of its workers in the next few months, the company president, Ray McGee, announced. McGee said 84 employees would be laid off.” — Hartford Courant (2/04/2007)

“Ansonia Specialty Metals continues to be a poster child for the Buy America clause. The reason Ansonia needs TAA assistance is because they’ve lost defense contracts to foreign companies.” — Senator Chris Murphy (7/25/2013)

“Any foreign competitor can come in, use predatory pricing and dump their products here and there’s nothing an American company can do.” — CEO John Barto

Ansonia Copper & Brass, photographed by Raechel Guest in 2009 before it was demolished.

“When I was growing up, back in the 1960s and ’70s, everyone I knew assumed that the factory jobs would always be there. I didn’t bother going to college, because I knew I could get a good-paying job at a brass factory.” — Carmen D. Palumbo (Former Worker 2014 Statement)

Chase Brass (1876–1977)

The Thomaston Avenue Chase rolling mill which once housed 3600 workers pictured in 1914.

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. —Waterbury Observer (5/22/2011)

“We are not closing this plant because we are on strike. We are not washing 60 years of sweat and tears down the drain after a 12-day strike. We are closing down the plant because we are losing money and we see no reasonable prospect of changing that circumstance.” — CEO Glenn Bakken (8/20/1975)

“My financial backers decided to pull out after the plant union refused to accept a five-year contract. The backers required a five year contract because of the plant’s financial difficulties.” — George Ward (Hartford Courant 11/13/1975)

The day workers showed up to the factory to find the front gates locked and workforce laid off.
The Thomaston Avenue Plant in Waterbury, CT shown sitting abandoned, photographed in 2022.

“No one seems to be interested in it. The site has been mentioned as a possible location for a dogtrack” — Richard Berman (Waterbury Assistant Director of Economic Development 1977 statement)

Scovill Brass (1802–1988)

“On Sunday, union members at Scovill rejected a new contract by proposed buyers of Scovill’s brass works and the president of the company said the rejection could mean the closing of the brassworks and the loss of 1,800 jobs.” — Hartford Courant (12/16/1975)

‘SCS and Corps Of Engineers said they could do nothing with flood control at this time. Mr Chapin’s proposal to lower the dam to help with flood waters was rejected by the engineers who said the back up came from the Lover’s Leap gorge and not the dam. — Bridgeport Post (9/09/1977)

“We’ve tried to better balance the company, so that in any economic downturn we would offset a decline by pickups in the other parts of the business. That strategy was not proven misguided by the events of the past year, because autos, housing, and capital goods have not traditionally slumped all at the same time.” — President Will Andrews (12/13/1980)

“I’ve got 22 years in here. I was expecting to retire this year. I think they had planned on doing this (liquidating the company) all along. That is what’s got us all upset. — Connie Chiero (22 year worker)

“If these companies had been allowed to operate without ever increasing government taxes, and regulation, perhaps they would have operated at a substantial profit, and their employees would not be in the unemployment lines toady.”- Donald L. McCollum (Waterbury Resident)

“Earlier Monday, about 1,000 strikers picketed the company’s 13 entrances. Union officials charged that Kenneth P. Rubenstein, son of the company’s board president, Charles Rubenstein, hit three pickets with his car.” — Hartford Courant (8/04/1981)

UAW workers of Century Brass wait outside Crosby High School for results of final offer vote in 1984.

“We’re going. It’s about time everybody stayed together and fought for our piece instead of cowering to the big boss.” — Jim Cavalari (Plumber @ Century Brass)

“The UAW doesn’t normally do this, but they don’t normally have to deal with a company like Century Brass. Even if Century doesn’t appreciate them, the UAW does.” — Patricia Albino (LOCAL 1604 UAW Vice President)

“Certainly we want to save jobs in the state of Connecticut. I’m not sure of the route we’re going to take to do that at this moment.”- Governor William A. O’Neill (2/28/1985)

“The ax fell quickly Monday at Century Brass products Inc. as the company delivered on its promise to close the metals division and laid off hundreds of employees. As the former employees in Waterbury trooped into the snow outside, state officials in Hartford had no plans to offer assistance.” — Hartford Courant (3/5/1985)

“The Scovill’s were gentlemen. These people are sharks. They’re outlaws.- Larry Bernier (40 year worker)

“They’re asking me to work for less than when I started as an apprentice. They’re offering no kind of future for me. — Kurt Herbert (Environmental Systems Specialist)

“I’ve given them 30 years of my life and for them to pull this. Any kind of job is better than Century even not having a job.”- Charlie Howell (30 year worker)

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