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Cheney Brothers Silk Manufacturing Company Records

 Collection
Identifier: 1984-0026

Scope and Content

The collection contains materials relevant to the production and sale of silk—administrative, financial, production and employee records, in addition to fabric samples, publications, reports and photographs.

The administrative files contain minutes, historical information on the founding of the company and its growth, company produced handbooks and manuals, employee publications, sales records and a variety of publications related to textiles and labor. These files also contain information pertaining to government contract work, wages, and inter-office communications.

Personnel records contain information about Pioneer Parachute Company, a subsidiary, and its efforts to recruit employees during World War II and the early 1950s. Other files concern the cafeteria arrangements of the company, reinstated union employees and the forgery case of Henry de Wald, a company employee. Monthly and yearly accident tabulations, reports and related documents are included in this series as are wages, hiring specifications and employee records. The specifications materials describes equipment, materials and duties connected with each position within the Ribbon, Spinning and Dressing departments and the Throwing mill. Each position description includes a black and white photograph (circa. 1920s) showing the appropriate machine and its operator. The employee records cards contain detailed personal information on all non-management employees (1900-1960).

The labor files contain materials relevant to the Mill and its interaction with Local 63 of the Textile Workers Union of America. Also included are publications and information pertaining to federal labor laws and newspaper clippings.

Dates

  • undated, 1734 - 1979

Access

The collection is open and available for research.

Restrictions on Use

Permission to publish from these Papers must be obtained in writing from the owner(s) of the copyright.

History

In 1838, six Cheney brothers established the Mount Nebo Silk Company in Manchester, CT. The company adopted the family name in 1843. Aided by booming national markets, a protective tariff, and innovative production methods, the company grew into the nation's largest and most profitable silk mill by the late 1880s. The company pioneered the waste-silk spinning method and the Grant's reel.

At the beginning of World War I, the company employed over 4,700 workers. One out of every four Manchester residents worked at the Cheney Mills in some capacity. The company was an integral part of the community, its domain taking in over 175 acres, including mills buildings, churches, houses, schools, recreation centers, utility companies, and even a railroad. The company was also known nationally for its benevolent system of welfare capitalism. It was one of the first textile mills to use Frederick Taylor's methods of scientific management.

In its early years, the company relied mostly on native-born American labor, but throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the company actively recruited both skilled and unskilled immigrant labor. By the 1920s, foreign worker dominated the labor force.

The company reached its peak in 1923, after which it quickly declined due to industry-wide overproduction and competition from new synthetic fibers such as rayon. During the Depression, the company was forced to borrow heavily to keep the mills running. In 1933, it sold its rail lines and utility companies. The 1930s was also a period of increased labor strife. The company successfully resisted unionization until 1934 when it was forced to accept the United Textile Workers as the bargaining representative of the workers. The company was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1937.

The Second World War brought a temporary recovery in the form of silk parachute production for the war effort; however, after the war, outmoded plant facilities, high labor costs, and strong competition from southern mills forced the Cheney family to sell the company to the textile giant, J. P. Stevens & Company in 1955. J. P. Stevens quickly sold off or destroyed most of the machinery and equipment which produced goods competitive with other Stevens-owned mills. Cheney Brothers was eventually sold to Gerli Incorporated of New York. In 1978, the mills and surrounding neighborhood were declared a National Historical Landmark District.

The mills lingered on in this truncated condition until 1984 when it was closed permanently. Most of the mill buildings were sold to developers who converted them into luxury apartments and offices.

Additional historical information is located in the collection file. Please contact a staff member for further information.

Extent

136.25 Linear Feet

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

In 1838, six Cheney brothers established the Mount Nebo Silk Company in Manchester, CT. The company adopted the family name in 1843. Aided by booming national markets, a protective tariff, and innovative production methods, the company grew into the nation's largest and most profitable silk mill by the late 1880s. The company pioneered the wastesilk spinning method and the Grant's reel. The company reached its peak in 1923, after which it quickly declined due to industry wide overproduction and competition from new synthetic fibers such as rayon. Although it revived slightly during World War II, the family sold the company to J. P. Stevens and Company in 1955. J. P. Stevens quickly liquidated the equipment and the remainder was sold to Gerli Incorporated of New York. In 1978, the mills and surrounding neighborhood were declared a National Historical Landmark District. The mill was permanently closed in 1984. Most of the mill buildings were sold to developers who converted them into luxury apartments and offices.

Arrangement

Series I: Administrative Records (undated, 1734-1979).

Subseries A: Minutes of Meetings of the Board of Directors (1854-1936).

Subseries B: History of the Cheney Brothers (1734-1955).

Subseries C: Employee Relations (undated, 1920-1970).

Subseries D: National and Regional War Labor Records (1942-1946).

Subseries E: Wage Stabilization Boards (1946-1952).

Subseries F: Government Contract Work (1937-1956).

Subseries G: Inter-Office Memoranda (1912-1924)

Subseries H: Sales Records (1950-1954).

Subseries I: Printed Material (1903-1979).

Series II: Personnel Records (1900-1962).

Subseries A: Subject Files (1942-1962).

Subseries B: Accidents (1920-1956).

Subseries C: Wages (1920-1962).

Subseries D: Hiring Specifications (circa 1925-1963).

Subseries E: Employee Record Cards (1860-1960).

Series III: Labor Relations Records (1930-1974, bulk dates 1938-1953).

Subseries A: Arbitration (1930-1974).

Subseries B: Agreements and Contracts (1934-1956).

Subseries C: Arbitration Cases/Awards (1930-1953).

Subseries D: Disputes (1920-1951).

Subseries E: Local 63 (1934-1955).

Subseries F: Supreme Court of errors (1951-1954).

Subseries G: Arbitration Local 63 (1938-1974).

Subseries H: Laws (undated, 1947-1954).

Series IV: Production samples (undated, 1925-1955).

Series V: General Accounts (1847-1927).

Series VI: Blueprints (undated, 1891-1959).

Custodial History

J. P. Stevens & Company deposited financial and executive records at the Connecticut Historical Society in 1964.

Acquisition Information

The employee records and other materials were donated by Gerli and Company to the University of Connecticut in April 1984. Included in this original donation were personnel records, employee record cards, union negotiations materials, fabric samples and photographs.

The Cheney Brothers Silk Manufacturing Company financial and executive records, including minutes of Director's meetings and account books, were donated by the Connecticut Historical Society in October 1984.

Existence and Location of Copies

Portions of the collection have been digitized and are available in the Library digital repository.

Title
Cheney Brothers Silk Manufacturing Company Records
Status
Published
Author
Archives & Special Collections staff
Date
1990 February
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Undetermined
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
English

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Library Repository

Contact:
University of Connecticut Library
405 Babbidge Road Unit 1205
Storrs Connecticut 06269-1205 USA US
860-486-2524