Brings Change to
by Lois C. Flesche
essentially an agricultural and shipping community until
the mid to late 1800’s, was transformed forever with the
coming of the industrial age.
Iron Fittings Company (MIF), the Stony creek quarries,
the Branford Lock Shop, Atlantic Wire Company, and a
little later the Nutmeg Crucible Steel Company, were
among the industries founded here in the 1800s, bringing
about not only growth in the towns population, but a
shift in its ethnic population, that until then had been
almost exclusively English.
and Benjamin H. Hoadley founded the Totoket Company (the
forerunner of the MIF) on oct.2, 1854 at Page’s Point on
the Branford River, the former site of a ship building
industry. The founders were descendants of two of the
earliest families to be engaged in other than
agriculture or commerce. They reportedly produced a fine
grade of malleable iron when they sold out.
later, in 1864, the Totoket company was purchased by a
group of men; James J. Walworth, Joseph Nason, and Emil
and Thorvald F. Hammer, all of Boston. The name of the
incorporation was changed to Malleable Iron Fittings.
The company prospered, becoming in later years one of
Branford’s largest taxpayers. Its success is attributed
in large part to what has been described as an
“outstanding example of successful management and
original Totoket building and one and a half acres of
land, MIF grew to include 31 acres of land, 10 acres of
floor space in 59 buildings, and 2,700 feet of wharf
along the Branford River. The company also had six
warehouses across the country and at its height, prior
to World War II, had a workforce of 1,200.
and inexpensive transportation by ship and rail was made
possible by the company’s location between the Branford
River on the south and the railroad along Meadow Street
side, spur tracks ran from the railroad line directly to
the plant. Its location between New York and Boston,
with easy access to markets, was another plus factor in
the firm’s success.
loyalty at MIF was almost unprecedented. The company had
what had been described as an “astonishing” number of
employees who spent the better part of a lifetime in the
service of the concern. Two and three generations spent
their working lives at MIF and many workers stayed 50
and 60 years with the company. One man, Lester J.
Nichols, who was 17 years of age when he started
employment with MIF, stayed 80 years. He started as a
shipping clerk and rose through the ranks to become
secretary and assistant treasurer. His service to the
company was the subject of a “Believe It or Not” sketch
by Robert Ripley and set a record for singleness of
service. He died in 1947 at age 98.
encouraged longevity of service. Many employees’
families were located in their own homes by company
policy in the “interest of mutual success.” During the
Depression years in the 1930’s, the company did not lay
off workers; instead hours were cut back and inventories
Finns, Italians, Irish, and Eastern Europeans were among
the immigrants who worked at MIF. Descendants of some of
these early workers explain that the new arrivals were
often met at the docks in New York by agents of the
company who promised work in Branford if they would
locate here. Work opportunities and the town’s location
on the Long Island shore made Branford attractive to
many immigrant families.
Each of the
four MIF founders had his own special talents. Walworth
and Nason, who were brother-in-laws, were among the
pioneers in the steam heating business in the U.S. they
were the first in the country to heat buildings with
steam. The Hammers, Emil and Thorvald had keen
management skills; Emil was considered an able policy
maker and administrator; Thorvald was an inventor whose
inventions enabled the production of the entire finished
pipe fitting at the plant. Before that it was necessary
to send the fitting to Boston to be threaded and
operated its own chemical control and research
laboratory, the first of its kind in the country,
started in 1875 by Alfred Hammer, son of founder
Hammer, Forrester L. Hammer, grandson of th founder
Thorvald, designed and developed the Branford Oil Burner
in the 1930’s. The newly designed burner dispelled the
public’s concern about oil burners (there had been
numerous mishaps with other oil burners) and it became a
standard product of the company. Burners for domestic,
commercial and industrial heating were built at MIF.
by the company, in addition to pipe fittings and oil
burners, included pole hardware, marine hardware, sewing
machine parts, rails for subways, mortar shells, rocket
warheads, ground missiles and numerous other metal
parts. They sold to Bath Iron Works in Maine, Bethlehem
Steel, and utility companies.
Golden Gate Bridge was built across the San Francisco
Bay in 1937, toggles on the vertical supporting cables
were steel castings made at the MIF steel foundry.
For more than
a century MIF flourished. But as the company’s second
century started so did its decline begin.
contributed to the company’s downfall, not least of
which was the decline in the use of iron as a piping
material (iron fittings represented more than 50 percent
of MIF’s business). Then too, the company was unable to
compete with the low labor costs in Japan, which had
begun in the 1950’s to flood the U.S. markets with its
And so the
decline had started when in 1968, the company was sold
by the Hammers to the Canaan Corporation, which in turn
sold it, in 1969 to Waltham Industries for $4.5 million
In 1970 the
company announced plans to layoff 375 employees and on
Dec.23 that year, pink slips were given to the
approximate 160 remaining workers, who were told the
company was closing down all operations. The company
continued to operate for a short time as a distribution
center, but in 1971 it closed completely.
property was sold at auction to the Walter E. Heller co.
for $550,000 in 1971; and in 1973, BranPark Associates
bought it for $1 million.
the company buildings, which had deteriorated
substantially, was started in 1993 but was halted
shortly after by the State Historical Commission,
because it is listed on the National Registry of
Historic Places and cannot be destroyed without state
approval. The owners site safety concerns as a reason
for their decision to raze the buildings.
1993, Branford started foreclosure proceedings because
more than $122,000 in back taxes are owed the town.
is currently on the market for $7 million. In days ahead
the choice riverfront property that once served as the
perfect location for a thriving business, may once again
be a Branford asset.