Today the shoe industry still employs a large segment of the local population, but since the turn of the century newer industries here and in the surrounding communities have made gradually increasing demands of the labor supply.
The Koehler Manufacturing Company was established in 1912 at its present location on Lincoln Street by Mr. Ernest Koehler. The wooden frame factory, a former S.H.Howe Shoe Plant was leased to Mr. Koehler by B.A. Corbin & Son Company for the purpose of manufacturing the Koehler Flame Safety Mine Lamp. In 1915 the business was acquired by Mr. Henry G. Powning and Mr. Henry G. Lapham and incorporated as a new company in 1917. In 1920 a two-story brick building was built adjacent to the original factory, completing the facilities as they exist today. At about the time the present owners took over the company, the late Mr. Grant Wheat, inventor, joined the staff, bringing with him his new electric miner’s cap lamp. The first Wheat Rechargeable Cap Lamp won U.S. Bureau of mines approval
in 1919 and became one of the first such lamps to be used in this country. Since that time Koehler Company has continued to specialize in underground lighting equipment and in recent years has grown to become a leader in this field. In 1935 arrangements were made with the firm of Oldham & Son Limited of Manchester, England, whereby the Wheat Electric Cap Lamp would be manufactured and sold under license by them in the Eastern Hemisphere. Since that time the Wheat Lamp has been manufactured by Oldham plants in six different countries. Koehler Manufacturing Company and Oldham & son Limited continue today to work together on the development of safer and more efficient lamps for the mining industry.
Although specializing in mine lighting equipment, the company has maintained through the years a successful Metal Stampings business, producing parts on a contract basis for many large New England firms. Over the years it has been a large producer of shoe last hardware and is today the largest single manufacturer of metal parts for the shoe last industry. Recently the company has diversified its stamping business through the requirements of the electronic companies located in this area in the form of miniature parts fabricated from many unusual materials.
Another group of products which the company has developed during more recent years includes an assortment of hand spotlights for both commercial and consumer use. Today the “Commando”, a dry cell spotlight, stands as one of the most popular hand lamps of its kind on the market. A great many Koehler Lamps of both the rechargeable and dry-cell type may be found in use by the country’s leading Fire and Police Departments as well as the armed forces.
The Koehler Manufacturing Company, presently owned and managed by Mr. Kimball C.Powning, is actively engaged in developing new products and looks forward to an expansive and prosperous future in Marlborough.
Aaron Dennison, a watchmaker and jeweler, traveled from Boston to Portland and Brunswick, ME., in 1844 with pasteboard and glazed papers and with the skillful help of his father, Andrew Dennison, a shoe cutter, and his two daughters, completed the first set-up boxes in America. These boxes were sold to the jewelry trade in Boston and proved to be better made and finer appearing than any boxes the jewelry trade had ever seen.
Anxiety to meet the problem of supply was quickly overcome for father and son put their heads together and worked out a paper box machine. Before the end of the year ten hands were employed and by the following year the output of the homestead workshop yielded $2,000. within a few years the industry was firmly established and the box business increased considerably. E.W. Dennison was put in charge of selling boxes, and seeing unlimited expansion opportunities ha opened an office in Boston in 1850.
In 1894 the manufacturing of boxes was transferred to the Dennison Tag Plant in Roxbury. In 1897 Dennison business had greatly expanded and it was moved to a new location in Framingham. On January 26, 1923, a new five-story factory was opened in Marlborough for the making of boxes. In 1927 an addition was built.
For the past 37 years the Dennison Box Division at Marlborough has produced fine quality paper and plastic boxes for the jewelry trade. It has diversified into the production of made-to-order boxes for some of the country’s leading manufacturers of prestige merchandise.
A substantial number of the 275 people currently employed are Marlborough folks, many of whom started with the company back in 1923 and are still on the active payroll.
The Marlborough Wire Goods Company was started in March of 1921 by Hector E. Moineau and three associates. It was incorporated in April of that same year and activities were started in an old shoe factory which then stood at the corner of High and Exchange Streets. This building has since been demolished.
The business prospered and, in 1924, a part of the present building was built and into it the new company moved in January of 1925.
Rapid progress was made and, in 1929, additional space was required, so an extension was built on the west side of the original pant. This sufficed for approximately eight years.
In 1937, the Marlborough Wire Goods Company found itself again cramped for space so that an additional building, just about equal in area to the original one, was designed and built between the original pant and Winthrop Street.
Through the years, a great many different items have been produced in this plant, from small items for household use to wire carrier baskets for supermarkets and large display racks for all types of material.
Lamp guards, fan guards and many other items have been produced also. Besides that, a large number of sub-assemblies and parts for other manufacturers have been made.
The Marlborough Wire Goods Company also has, for many year, produced a variety of items that are used in the manufacture of shoes and which are distributed on a national basis by an organization that specializes in shoe factory equipment.
This equipment for shoe factories consists of sole racks and trays, box toe holders, upper holders, tag holders, wood heel clamp screws and a variety of other special items that are produced in lesser quantities.
After a modest beginning as Providence Automatic Stamping Company, July 5, 1925, in Providence, RI, the company moved to Marlborough, in October 1927, where it became known as Johnson-Claflin Corporation, under the management of co-founders Gustav J. Johnson, President and Frederick E. Claflin, Sr. Treasurer. Metal Stampings, tools and dies, gages and fixtures were the specialties of the concern at that time, and still continue to be the leading factor in making the concern the success it is today.
During World War II, the concern enlisted its facilities for the duration of the war, and contributed immeasurably in the manufacture of war material.
During the years after the war, a new product was introduced to the public manufactured by the fir, it being a twin-oven oil and gas kitchen range bearing the trade name “New England Maid”. At the present time the range is also available with gas and oil, both ovens operating independently.
Frederick E. Claflin, Sr., Treasurer and director of the company, retired from active participation in the company, May 9, 1958 after thirty-one years in the business. Mr. Claflin is presently making his home in Ormond Beach, Florida.
In February of 1959, Gustav J. Johnson, President and co-founder of the company passed away at the age of 81, and his oldest son, Herbert G. Johnson, who was associated with his father in the business, became President. Gunnar V. Johnson, another son, became Treasurer and director to replace Mr. Claflin on his retirement.
At present the company management is composed of the three sons of Gustav J. Johnson, namely Herbert G. Johnson, President, Gunnar V. Johnson, Treasurer, Kenneth J. Johnson, Director and Frederick E. Claflin, Jr. Director.
The Marlborough Telephone Exchange was first established in May 1880 and was taken over by the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company in 1883.
The exchange was originally located at the site of the present Lamson Block then known as Burke’s Block. As business increased and more space was needed the exchange was moved to the Corey Building upon its completion in 1900; it remained there until March of 1959.
The first manager was Ralph Walker and as far as can be determined one of the first customers was at that time the Dart Express, known today as the Wheeler Dart Express.
The system was changed from the Magneto or crank type to common battery in August 1911 and to dial operation March 1959.
Telephones in service 1906-700, 1910-1006, 1920-2058, 1940-3555, 1950-5767, 1958-7889, and as of March 1960-9167 with 6793 subscribers.
The Marlborough Division of the Worcester Gas Light Company, New England Gas and electric Association (formerly the Marlborough Gas Light company) has been an entity in this community for approximately one-third of the City’s lengthy history. The old company was incorporated on February 15th, 1865 by a special act of the legislature. The original incorporators were Samuel Boyd, Thomas Corey and Joseph Boyd, with real estate not to exceed $20,000 and a capital stock limitation of $50,000.
The Hudson Gas Light Company was incorporated in 1902 by an act of the legislature. The company was incorporated by a group of ten men.
On April 15, 1904 the Hudson Gas Light Company was actually purchased by the Marlborough company and at that time became known as the Marlborough-Hudson Gas Light Company when the State Legislature authorized the two companies to consolidate.
In 1939 the consolidated companies were purchased by the New England Gas and Electric Association from the New England Electric System, and it was at this time that the present Division Manager, George A. Ohlman was transferred from the Worcester Gas Light Company to head the new company. Ten years later, the company was actually merged with and became a division of Worcester Gas Light company.
The Company now supplies gas to approximately 7,000 customers in Marlborough, Hudson, Maynard, Stow and Southborough. The territory served by the company is adjacent to that of the Framingham Division of Worcester Gas Light Company and the Marlborough Division has for a number of years purchased its entire gas requirements in bulk from the parent unit. Natural gas was introduced into the company transmission system in 1951.
Since the advent of natural gas in this area, the local company has had a tremendous growth in customers. At the present time it has over two thousand house heating customers, sixteen hundred tenement heating customers and eighteen hundred kitchen heating customers.
Electricity came to Marlborough in 1886. The original company was the Marlborough Schuyler Electric Company which was organized on February 15 of that year. The company started in business with $25,000. The incorporators and officers were President Lorren Arnold, Vice President S. Herbert Howe, Treasurer Charles F. Holyoke, William N. Davenport, Charles E. Dustin, H.M. Linnell and C.H. Stone. The company name was changed to Marlborough electric company in 1889. Twelve years later the company extended its service to Southborough, and in subsequent years to Northborough in 1908, Berlin in 1909, Westborough in 1910, and Bolton in 1912.
In later years the Marlborough electric company was acquired by a utility group. Then in the early 1930s it became obvious that small electric companies could be operated more efficiently if they were banded together into larger operations.
On July 6, 1938, Marlborough Electric Company was consolidated into the Worcester Suburban Electric Company. Today, Worcester County Electric serves Marlborough, and 76 other cities and towns in the Central Massachusetts area. Worcester County electric is a subsidiary of the New England Electric System which is the largest electric utility in the New England area.
Continuing in the tradition of Marlborough’s early agricultural importance, are the florist and orchard industry. Charles Trombetta’s greenhouses are a familiar sight to all who travel Route 20. As a producer of carnations exclusively, Mr. Trombetta’s twenty-four-year-old business is one of many in New England which supply the nation’s demand for this flower. It is a five million dollar a year business in Massachusetts alone. Mr. Trumpets has done much pioneer work in the improvement of the strains of this flower which was introduced from Greece about 100 years ago. The carnations grown in his greenhouses supply florists throughout the country.
The produce of the orchards has been another of Marlborough’s claims to fame. People from all over New England identify our city a “the place where the apples grow”. The magnificent spring panorama of apple blossoms at the Curtis and Rice Orchards, or the sight at harvest time of the trees bent to the ground with the succulent red fruit are scenes unforgettable to the Marlborough citizen or visitor. Progress is inevitable and it is noted with regret the inroads which housing and commercial development have necessitated in the lands which were once orchards. However, it is hoped that although produced on a more limited scale, the apple, native here before the white man came and will not disappear from our countryside.
When Marlborough was first settled, the “Connecticut Way” or road ran through the town. Over this road, called by the people the “Great Road”, the first line of mail coaches was run by Captain Pease, and it was over this road that General Washington passed in 1789 when he stopped and dined at the old Williams Tavern.
By 1850 however, a railroad branch line had been run to Marlborough from what is now the Boston and Maine RR which then connected Boston with Fitchburg, MA. This branch had its terminal in that part of Marlborough that was set off as the Town of Hudson, which was also a shoe making center. In 1885 this branch-line was extended to the center of Marlborough by a company of Marlborough stockholders. The terminal was a depot which stood where the Immaculate Conception school now is, at the corner at Prospect and Washington Streets. In the same year, through the influence of Samuel Boys, another branch line was run from what is now the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad to a depot at the corner of Main and Florence Streets. A railroad line was at that time being built to connect to the
Boston and Worcester railroad at Framingham and thence to Fitchburg and crossing through a corner of Marlborough in the south part of the town. The State had issued charter rights for the construction and as that charter mentioned Marlborough, Mr. Boyd, practically at his own expense, had a spur track run to Marlborough’s Main Street. This proved to be a quicker route to Boston than the other “North” route through Hudson, and it was put into operation a few weeks earlier. The “North Branch” Railroad Company immediately entered a protest and claimed damages for the alienation of their potential carrying business. The matter was debated in the State legislature for several years and finally in 1860 the Legislature found in favor of the “South Road”, not on the legal aspects of the case but on the question of public convenience, the majority of the riding public having, over the intervening years, showed a preference
for the “South Road” and this should not be denied them. However, both railroads were prosperous and co9ntinued in operation with passenger and freight service until the passenger business was captured by motor busses and private automobiles operating on the public highways.
These railroads contributed much to the continued success of the shoe industry in Marlborough as they tied in to all of the railroad network of the country, both in brining of raw materials and the transporting of finished goods.
Air travel was introduced in 1927 with the opening of the Marlborough Airport. In its early days its use was limited to barnstorming troupes, popular at that time and during the next decade. World War II caused the closing of the airport until 1946 when it was reopened. At the present time it serves in two capacities, that of providing flight instruction and of conducting charter flights to New York, Pennsylvania, Washington and the Cape. Parachute demonstrations have focused attention on the airport, and it is being used increasingly by business coming into the area with the establishment of new industries.