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Our Plural History | Springfield, MA
Champion bicycle racer George Hendee and Swedish immigrant Oscar Hedstrom created a new industry with their two-wheeled, belt-driven motorized vehicles, and founded the Indian Motocycle Company in Springfield in 1901.
Courtesy of The Springfield Photograph Collection of the Museum of Springfield History, Springfield, MA.

industrialization & immigration

Industry and Innovation in the Connecticut River Valley

The Connecticut River Valley played a key role in the Industrial Revolution that changed economic and social life in the United States during the nineteenth century. The river itself served as a transportation and communication link for the earliest human settlements, and later provided power to run mills and factories. The Springfield Armory attracted skilled craftsmen and engineers, and was the site of crucial technological improvements in armaments, machinery, and metalwork. Rail lines to Boston and Albany, completed in 1841, made Springfield a regional hub of industry and innovation, in everything from ice skates to automobiles.

The Springfield Armory supplied arms for American soldiers from the Revolutionary War to World War II, and served as an incubator for the development of technologies and manufacturing processes that had ramifications beyond the armaments industry. David Ames, hired by George Washington as first superintendent of the Armory, retired in 1802 and entered the paper manufacturing business where he perfected a procedure for adding gypsum to pulp to make heavier, premium paper. In 1822, John Ames, son of David, patented a type of "cylinder machine" for printing book, news and writing paper. In 1819, Thomas Blanchard, an engineer at the Armory, invented a lathe for turning irregular forms that made hand-carved gun barrels obsolete and revolutionized the manufacturing of everything from axe handles to wagon wheel spokes. In 1826, Blanchard built a wood-burning, steam-powered carriage, regarded by some as the first automobile.

Industrialization in the Connecticut River Valley spurred further technological innovations. Solyman Merrick of Springfield patented the first adjustable wrench in 1835, and in 1838 received a patent for the first hand-held hole punch. In 1866, Everett Barney of Springfield patented an ice skate that was fastened to the soles of shoes by means of a metal clamp tightened with a key. Barney made a fortune, and upon his death bequeathed to the city his large estate, which today is known as Forest Park. Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson began their partnership in 1856 marketing a lever-action repeating pistol, and built a lucrative handgun business after patenting a cartridge revolver in the late 1850s and securing a contract to provide handguns to the U.S. Cavalry. The Smith and Wesson Company on Stockbridge Street in Springfield grew into a world leader in the production of military and police firearms. Former Police Commissioner James M. Gill acquired the rights to George Carney's design of a lightweight, swing-through handcuff and established the Peerless Handcuff Company in Springfield in 1914, making Carney's design the world-wide standard.

Springfield was also the site of several innovative developments in the history of motorized transportation. Charles and Frank Duryea built the world's first gasoline-powered automobile in Springfield in 1893, and their second car won the first motor-car race in the U.S. in 1895. The following year, the Duryea brothers built thirteen identical motor-cars, introducing mass production to a new industry. Technological innovations continued with the new century. In 1904, the Knox Automobile Company of Springfield built the first air-cooled gasoline engine, and in 1906 introduced the first practical motorized fire trucks in the United States. Champion bicycle racer George Hendee and Swedish immigrant Oscar Hedstrom created a new industry with their two-wheeled, belt-driven motorized vehicles, and founded the Indian Motocycle Company in Springfield in 1901. Indian motorcycles were the first in the U.S. to feature V-twin engines, swing-arm suspension, electric lights and electric starters.

The Connecticut River Valley attracted creative, entrepreneurial individuals from around the country and around the world. The number of innovations in technology and manufacturing processes that originated in Springfield attest to the city's leading role in industrial development in the United States during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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