The House Corset Machine Company was established in Bridgeport, Connecticut by James Alford House, a native of New York, New York. House was a talented mechanical engineer and inventor and his prowess in this arena eventually garnered the attention of management at Bridgeport’s Wheeler and Wilson Manufacturing Company, which offered him a job at the firm’s sewing machine plant during the mid-1860s. House went on to design a variety machines for Wheeler and Wilson, the work on which resulted in his being awarded some 300 patents. He was also notable, along with his brother Henry A. House, for having designed a steam-powered horseless carriage as early as 1866. The two brothers reportedly piloted their machine around Bridgeport at top speeds of some 36 miles per hour, however, it was incapable of climbing significant inclines. Around 1875, House left the Wheeler and Wilson Manufacturing Company in order to establish the J. Alfred House Company, a shop that specialized in the design and fabrication of specialized machinery to be used by corset manufacturers. This operated until 1883, whereupon House reorganized the business as the House Corset Machine Company. The latter firm employed 25 hands and maintained a capital stock of $60,000. The company was led by House as president; Emile H. Roth, secretary and treasurer; and Charles H. Diamond, assistant treasurer. Work conducted by the House Corset Machine Company expanded upon House’s original business and by the early 1890s its activities included the manufacture of flossing and embroidery machines, shaping and trimming machines, strip folding and marking machines, and pattern clamps. The company also advertised general jobbing and special machinery design and production for firms unrelated to the corset industry. The House Corset Machine Company remained in operation until 1900, whereupon the business was closed and House retired. The firm’s East Washington Street shop appears to have remained vacant until 1907, at which point it was acquired by the Bridgeport Crucible Company, a local business established by W.T. Macfarlane in 1887. The Bridgeport Crucible Company occupied a factory at the southern end of Knowlton Street in Bridgeport and the firm specialized in the manufacture of crucibles, these largely used by the brass and steel industries. After 1907, the company used the former House Corset Machine Company factory for office, shipping, and storage purposes while maintaining its original manufacturing plant a block to the south. In 1916, the Bridgeport Crucible Company was acquired by one of its former customers, the Buffalo Brass and Copper Company of Buffalo, New York. The Connecticut company remained in operation under management of Buffalo Brass and Copper and several subsequent holding companies for four years, however, the plant was closed shortly after the business fell under the control of the newly-organized Willys Corporation in 1919. The East Washington Street plant was in turn occupied by a chain of short-term occupants before being acquired by the Lewin and Sons Company, a plumbing supply business, during the early 1940s. The Lewin and Sons Company occupied the property until the mid-1990s.
Roughly four (4) adjoining primary blocks.
ca. 1875, ca. 1883, ca. 1915, ca. 1920.
The former House Corset Machine Company plant is comprised of four adjoining primary blocks located on the south side of East Washington Avenue, at the southeast corner of East Washington Avenue’s intersection with Knowlton Street. The oldest block associated with the factory was erected as a one-story building ca. 1875 and then raised to two stories circa 1915. The block is located at the northwest corner of the present plant and measures 60’ x 35’. The first story is of brick pier construction and it has one-story bays with brick corbelling, round-arched window openings with stone sills, and a denticulated and corbelled red brick cornice. The second floor has red brick walls, large rectangular window openings, a denticulated and corbelled red brick cornice, tile coping, and a flat roof. The second block associated with the plant was erected adjoining the east elevation of the ca. 1875 building around 1883. It is a two-story, 50’ x 35’ red brick block and the design of the first story is identical to the ca. 1875 shop. The second floor, however, is of simpler styling and has red brick walls, segmental-arched window openings with stone sills, a corbelled brick cornice, and a flat roof. A two-story, 50’ x 84’ wood-frame storage building was also erected to the southeast of the original factory around 1883. This adjoins the south elevation of the other ca. 1883 structure and a loading dock has since been built on its west elevation. The storage building has wood shingle siding, rectangular window openings, and a gable roof. The final block associated with the property was erected adjoining the storage building’s west elevation ca. 1920. It is a two-story, 60’ x 35’ red brick block with both segmental-arched and flat door openings, rectangular window openings with concrete sills and lintels, and a side-gabled roof. Several loading bays are located on the ground floor of its north elevation and these have metal roll-up style doors.
The complex is in fair condition. The vast majority of the original window openings throughout the plant have been infilled or reduced in size, however, overall, the facility appears to be well maintained and structurally sound.
One 0.30-acre parcel (310 East Washington Avenue) located on the south side of East Washington Avenue, at the southeast corner of East Washington Avenue’s intersection with Knowlton Street.
Lucas A. Karmazinas