Connecticut’s Manufacturing Might Last Updated: November 2023
For about 100 years, beginning in the 1840s, Connecticut was a manufacturing juggernaut. In almost every corner of the state, in large factories and small, people were making things and the rest of the world was buying them. Today, you can find the old manufacturing buildings in almost every Connecticut town - and if you want to revisit the era, Connecticut has some places where you can do that, too:
New Britain – Hardware and More
New Britain is known as The Hardware City for its manufacturing prowess, and much of its input can be found at The New Britain Industrial Museum. Here, the collection includes local products from the past and present. You’ll find everything from pistols to toasters on display, and products from Stanley Works, Fafnir Bearing and other local luminaries.
Waterbury – An Industrial Giant Is Born
Visitors can get a good taste of how a manufacturing city started out farming, learned the art and craft of making things and grew into The Brass Center of the World at the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury. The very good local history exhibit here traces it all, often colorfully or with hands-on exhibits.
Bristol Is about Time
Connecticut enjoys a spectacular history as a maker of clocks and watches. Early inventors and innovators such as Eli Terry and Seth Thomas lived here, but the state was also the early home of the Mickey Mouse watch. Fill in the blanks at the American Clock & Watch Museum in Bristol. Here, you’ll find over 1,500 timepieces on display, as well as the compelling story of how Terry and others spurred the industry in America, and especially in western Connecticut. Be sure to be on hand at the top of the hour, when many of the clocks begin chiming. If you’re in Bristol, you won’t be far away from Terryville, home to the Lock Museum of America. The lock-centric collection includes locks made in Connecticut, but also others dating back to the early 1500s and sturdy, intricate locks from banks and prisons.
Manchester and Its Mills
The history of Manchester is intertwined with the history of the Cheney Brothers silk mills, and much of that story is accessible today through the Manchester Historical Society and its guide to the Cheney mills, mansions, churches, halls and housing built for mill employees and still standing in town. The Manchester History Center and the Old Manchester Museum both house collections and artifacts relating in great part to the city’s glowing industrial era.
Willimantic as a Textile Center
Textiles were the thing in eastern Connecticut, and Willimantic’s Mill Museum of Connecticut is a place that “preserves and interprets the history of textiles, the textile arts and the textiles industry.” Here, the industry’s fascinating history is combined with special exhibits and programs to make a well-timed visit very worthwhile.