Mill Record Berlin

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Complex Name (Common)
G.E. Prentice Mfg. Co.
Complex Name (Historic)
  • G.E. Prentice Mfg. Co.
Address or Location
319 New Britain Road, Kensington, Berlin
County
Hartford
Historic Designation
Associated Mill Community
n/a
Historic Information

Companies Associated w/Complex

  • G.E. Prentice Mfg. Co. 1912-1982

Use (Historic)

Largest Documented Workforce

600 (ca. 1940)

Historic Narrative

The G.E. Prentice Manufacturing Company was established in 1912 by George E. Prentice, an English immigrant who immigrated to the United States in 1884 at the age of 15. Trained as a printer, upon arrival in New Britain, Connecticut, Prentice found work at the New Britain Herald yet after just one day decided to pursue a different trade. He next entered the jewelry business with the firm of Churchill and Lewis, where he remained until 1892 when the company moved to New York City. Prentice was offered a job at the company’s new location; however, he turned it down in order to remain in New Britain. After applying to and having his appeal accepted by the Russell and Erwin Company, Corbin Cabinet Lock Company, Corbin Screw Corporation, and the Traut and Hine Company, Prentice chose the latter, where he was met with immediate success. Just two years later, at the age of 24, Prentice was named superintendent of the firm. Prentice’s mechanical and organizational prowess helped the Traut and Hine Company rise to prominence during the late-1890s and early-1900s, however, in 1912, he resigned from the firm in order to pursue his own venture. He rented a small shop on New Britain Road from Louis Lanza, a local real estate speculator, and with two assistants began production of a variety of small metal items of his own design including suspender, garter, and arm band buckles. Although things started slowly for the G.E. Prentice Manufacturing Company, the outbreak of the First World War ensured its future after it was the first company to be approached by the United States government to produce hardware for military clothing. During the course of the war, the firm reportedly manufactured over 100 million pieces of hardware without having a single item rejected by the government. Following the conclusion of hostilities, Prentice began experimenting with a somewhat recently-developed piece of clothing hardware, the slide fastener or “zipper.” Functional designs for the slide fastener had only been around since the late-1910s, and it was not until 1923 that the B.F. Goodrich Company coined the term zipper for a slide fastener used on a type of its rubber boots, and 1925 that the Schott Company had first applied the technology for use on clothing. In 1928, however, Prentice perfected his own design for a slide fastener and was granted a patent by the United States government. By 1930, zippers comprised 50% of Prentice’s output, which increased to 75% the following year, making it the second largest producer of slide fasteners in the world at the time. The company employed a peak of approximately 600 employees during the Second World War and during peacetime supplemented its zipper production with various other lines of metal goods and novelties. George E. Prentice died in a car accident in 1943, by which time he was credited with holding 175 of his company’s 200 patents. Despite the loss of its founder, however, the G.E. Prentice Manufacturing Company continued to operate throughout the majority second half of the 20th century. The end finally came in 1982 when the company closed its doors and the plant fell vacant.

Architectural Information

Number of Existing Buildings

Roughly eleven (11) blocks.

Dates of Construction

1914, 1917, 1925, 1928, 1970, 1982.

Architect

n/a

Builder

n/a

Building Type

Architectural Description

The former G.E. Prentice Manufacturing Company plant is comprised of roughly eleven adjoining primary blocks located on the east side of New Britain Road and west side of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad line, and roughly 550’ north of New Britain Road’s intersection with Vincent Drive. The earliest portion of the plant consists of a two-and-a-half-story, 28’ x 65’ red brick factory building that was originally constructed ca. 1904 as a one-and-a-half-story structure. In 1914, the building was raised to its present height and a two-and-a-half-story, 40’ x 85’ red brick manufacturing block erected adjoining its eastern (rear) elevation. Further additions to the plant were completed during the 1910s and 1920s. These include a one-story, 60’ x 42’ red brick plating block built on the north side of the 1914 building in 1917, and a one-story, 41’ x 71’ red brick shipping and storage block erected on the east side of the plating building in 1925. A substantial building project was completed in 1928, when the façade of the ca. 1904 block was redesigned in order to stylistically match a two-block addition that was at that point erected on its northern elevation. The addition consisted of two two-and-a-half-story red brick blocks measuring 82’ x 24’ and 40’ x 102’, respectively. A one-and-a-half-story, 34’ x 30’ red brick powerplant was also constructed on the east side of the plant at this time. The 1928 work presents the plant’s facade as a ten-bay block flanked by slightly-projecting three-bay wings. The central block has a centered entry with semi-elliptical brick opening and fanlight, concrete keystone, and a wood and glass door flanked by multi-pane sidelights. Fenestration throughout the 1928 portions of the building consists of rectangular window openings with concrete sills. Earlier sections of the plant, however, have segmental-arched openings with stone sills. Replacement windows are present throughout the plant. A stepped and pedimented parapet with concrete coping is centered over the central 1928 block, while corbelled brick cornices span the facades of the flanking wings. Two three-story red brick ells were constructed on the north and south sides of the former G.E. Prentice Manufacturing Company plant ca. 1940. These are similar in styling to the 1928 blocks and measure 40’ x 90’ and 44’ x 126’, respectively. In 1951, a one-story, 44’ x 112’ manufacturing block was build to the west of the southern of the two ca. 1940 block, this extending towards New Britain Road. The last major addition to the factory was completed in 1969, when a two-and-a-half-story infill block was erected within the C-shaped footprint created by the 1928 work.

Exterior Material(s)

Structural System(s)

Roof Form

Roof Material

Power Source

Condition

Good

Condition Notes

The factory complex is in good condition and was recently rehabilitated for residential use.

Property Information

Specific Location

One 3.38-acre parcel (319 New Britain Road) on the east side of New Britain Road and west side of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad line, roughly 550’ north of New Britain Road’s intersection with Vincent Drive.

Adjacent To

Exterior Visible from Public Road?

Yes

Parcel ID / Assessor Record Link

Acreage

3.38

Use (Present)

Sources

Form Completed By

Lucas A. Karmazinas

Date

02/18/2015

Bibliography

  1. List of Connecticut Manufacturers, 1922, 1924, 1930, 1932.
  2. Directory of Connecticut State Manufacturers, 1936, 1939.
  3. Industrial Directory of Connecticut, 1947.
  4. Register of War Production Facilities in Connecticut, 1951.
  5. Map of Hartford County, H & C.T. Smith, 1855.
  6. Atlas of Hartford County, Beers, Baker & Tilden, 1869.
  7. Sanborn Map Company, 1887, 1895, 1901, 1908, 1914, 1927, 1944.
  8. Aerial Survey of Connecticut, 1934, 1965.
  9. New Britain City Directory, 1860-1960.
  10. Hartford Courant, 1930, 1931, 1935, 1943, 1952, 1961.
  11. History of New Britain, With Sketches of Farmington and Berlin, Camp, David, N., 1889.
  12. Town of Berlin HRI, Historic Resource Consultants, 1984.
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Photographer

Lucas A. Karmazinas

Photography Date

02/18/2015