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History of Brass Manufacturing in America

Brass has a very in-depth history, with roots stretching back all the way to America’s industrial industry. While it’s easy to forget, brass has a vast background story, and has shaped many things we use in modern day life, from plumbing fixtures and candleholders to military equipment. 

Below, we’ll take a deep dive into the rich history of brass manufacturing in America, tracing its origins, evolution, and impact on society. So, where does the history of brass actually begin? 

The Beginnings of Brass Manufacturing

Although brass is thought to have been first created around 5000 BCE, its manufacturing history in America doesn't start until the 17th century. It was during this time that early settlers arrived in the country, carrying with them the perfected art of brass-making from Europe. 

At that time, producing brass was challenging because the technology to produce pure zinc did not exist. Early colonial America lacked domestic production facilities, so brass was primarily imported. Despite this, brass items such as candlesticks, doorknobs, and household utensils were highly popular — people wanted more and more. 

One of the earliest brass founders in America was Joseph Jenks, who operated in Lynn, Massachusetts, from 1647 to 1679, producing brass pins for the wool-making industry. Even with legal restrictions and limited facilities, other brass works began to emerge during the 18th century. 

These small, family-run operations were essential in meeting local demand and laid the groundwork for the larger brass manufacturing companies that would develop in the 19th century. The 17th century marked the beginning of what would become a significant industry, driven by early American settlers.

The Influence of European Brass Production

European techniques and expertise played a crucial role in establishing the brass industry in America. Skilled immigrants from Europe brought valuable knowledge of brass production, which American producers adapted to local resources and demands. This exchange of knowledge allowed brass-making to become what it is today. 

Early Brass Foundries in America

The first brass foundries in America started to pop up in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These early foundries were often small, family-run operations that produced basic brass items, including household goods like candlesticks and doorknobs, tools and hardware such as nails and screws, buttons and pins for the textile industry, plumbing fixtures, musical instruments, and decorative items.

Philadelphia emerged as one of the earliest hubs for brass foundries due to its industrial activity and port access. However, there were other early hubs for brass production, including Waterbury, Connecticut, Lynn, and Massachusetts. Waterbury, often referred to as the "Brass City," became a major center for brass production in the 19th century.

The Rise of American Brass Companies

By the 19th century, brass manufacturing in America began to scale up at lightning speed. The formation of larger companies and the introduction of new manufacturing processes could be visibly seen as the practice grew. 

American Brass Company: From Anaconda American Brass to the 20th Century

Founded in 1899, the American Brass Company became one of the largest brass manufacturers in the United States. It was formed through the merger of several smaller companies and eventually became part of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. The company introduced new manufacturing processes and expanded its production capacity, solidifying its market position.

Scovill Manufacturing Company: A Pioneer in the Brass Industry

Established in 1802, Scovill Manufacturing Company was a key player in the brass industry. The company produced a wide range of products, from buttons and buckles to photographic plates. Scovill's ability to adapt to changing market demands and technological advancements allowed it to remain a significant force in the industry.

Waterbury Brass Company: Revolutionizing Brass Production

Waterbury Brass Company was another significant player that revolutionized brass production in America. The company pioneered the use of automated machinery to increase production efficiency.

The Impact of Brass Manufacturing on American Society

Brass manufacturing had a profound impact on American society, particularly during the industrialization era. Let’s take a look at this period of time in more depth below. 

The Role of Brass in Industrialization

Brass played a crucial role in the industrialization of America. It was used in the construction of machinery and equipment that powered factories, as well as in infrastructure projects such as plumbing and electrical systems.

Brass as a Key Material in American Products

Brass was used profusely in American products. This ranged from household items and musical instruments to military equipment. However, its versatility and durability made it indispensable in both consumer goods and industrial applications.

Some examples include its use in elegant candlesticks, doorknobs, light fixtures, decorative plates, utensils, and musical instruments like trumpets and saxophones. Industrial applications have seen brass used in machinery components such as gears, bearings, and valves, which were needed for the operation of early factories

The Growth of Brass Valley: A Center of Brass Manufacturing

Connecticut’s Naugatuck Valley, often referred to as "Brass Valley," became the heart of brass manufacturing in America. Home to several leading brass manufacturers, Brass Valley played a significant role in the local economy, providing jobs and boosting industrial growth.

Challenges and Strikes in the Brass Industry

Despite its success, the brass industry faced several challenges, including labor strikes and worker rights issues. 

Labor Struggles: The Fight for Worker Rights

Workers in the brass industry often faced harsh conditions, leading to numerous labor struggles. Long hours, low pay, and unsafe working environments prompted workers to fight for better conditions and rights.

Impacts of Strikes on the Brass Business

The impacts of strikes and labor struggles are well documented. These strikes often led to temporary shutdowns, affecting production and revenue. However, many strikes also resulted in improved working conditions and wages, although progress was slow.

The Resilience of the American Brass Industry

Despite these challenges, the American brass industry showed remarkable resilience.

The Continued Growth of American Brass Companies

American brass companies continued to grow and innovate, adapting to new technologies and market demands. Technological advances, such as the increased use of automated machinery, helped reduce labor costs and increase production capacity. Market expansion and product diversification also played key roles in the industry's continued success.

Transitioning to Modern Brass Manufacturing Techniques

The industry transitioned to modern manufacturing techniques to stay competitive. This included a focus on sustainable practices to reduce environmental impact and meet contemporary standards. 

The Legacy of American Brass Manufacturing

The legacy of brass manufacturing in America can still be seen today. Let’s take a look at its impact and why it still matters today. 

The Enduring Presence of American Brass Companies

Many American brass companies have stood the test of time and continue to operate today. Companies like Scovill and Waterbury Brass have histories spanning over a century and continue to innovate to meet modern demands and maintain relevance.

The Significance of Brass to American History

Brass has played a pivotal role in American history, contributing to industrial growth and societal development. Despite challenges, the industry has continued to innovate and adapt, ensuring its place in the modern economy, even till this very day. 


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