MERIDEN — A triangular parcel of open land in downtown Meriden was once the site of the nationally recognized Manning, Bowman & Co., which made a variety of high-quality home appliances, including bread mixers, percolators and toasters.
Manning, Bowman started operations in Middletown in 1832, making pots, pans, ladles and similar products. The goods were peddled throughout nearby towns by horse and wagon. The company got its name when it was purchased and moved to Meriden, at first occupying a small wooden shop with 50 workers, according to Record-Journal archives.
Over the next 70 years, it grew four times in size and was a leader in the field of small home appliances.
The local factory expanded to a larger triangular building which occupied the current parcel, and then into a new brick building across Catlin Street. It spanned two city blocks in 1943, and ranged from four- to six-story buildings. At one time, Manning, Bowman was considered the tallest manufacturing plant in the city and helped mark the industrial boom that was sweeping the Silver City at that time.
The site of a large brick building is now an apartment complex named the Kennedy Building, owned by Carabetta Management Co. Inc., which bought the site from the city in the 1960s.
The company’s products evolved as it did. In 1889, it sold coffee percolators, chafing dishes, a variety of trophies, plated tableware and a full line of bathroom furnishings. By 1912, the Eclipse bread maker was the popular item, which at that time was the most modern and economical device for making home-baked bread.
The company’s vacuum water jug product, made by Manning, Bowman’s division called Vacuum Specialty Co., was used across the world. In 1940, the company displayed six sets to be used by the president in the White House, as well as other executives of the United States government. The jugs were also used in Meriden City Hall.
In 1940, when the U.S. Navy submarine Squalus sank off the New England coast, “it carried with it to the bottom of the Atlantic a Manning, Bowman electric toaster,” which was part of a routine order for the Navy department.
The toaster was later recovered with the submarine and restored by a company electrician. The story served as “evidences of the extraordinarily high quality” of Manning, Bowman products.
Manning, Bowman suffered during the Great Depression and was bought by the Bersted Manufacturing Co. of Ohio. Production at the Meriden factory dramatically decreased, and, 10 years later, Manning, Bowman became a subsidiary of the McGraw Electric Co., known for the “Toastmaster.”
The vacant wooden building in the triangle and the large brick building across Catlin Street were given to the city in the mid-1960s.
Before the city sold the 71 Catlin St. property to Carabetta, officials considered it for a new city hall, elementary school or library. These options were ruled out largely for cost reasons.
The triangular plot became a point of interest for the city engineering department as a potential beautification project after the triangular wooden factory was demolished for safety reasons. The city installed benches, a fountain, and landscaped the parcel to serve as a neighborhood park.