MERIDEN—The Silver City was first a britannia city.
In the late 1800s, it was home to one of the largest britannia producers in the world — and eventually one of the largest silverware producers — the Meriden Britannia Co.
Btitannia is a metal alloy used in tableware. Manufacturers I.C. Lewis and the Wilcox brothers organized the Meriden Britannia Co. from a number of smaller manufacturers in 1852 in order to reduce expenses and control competition, according to “A Century of Meriden.” In 1856, the first silver plating factory was built on State Street.
As production rapidly increased, so did the need for a larger building. By then, Meriden Britannia was producing nickel and silver tableware. The company bought the equipment of the Rogers brothers who were successful silverware makers in Hartford, as reported in the Morning Record.
In 1865 a massive factory, “the Big Shop,” was constructed on State Street and the various buildings around Meriden were shut down. The company had branches in New York, Chicago, London and Canada.
By 1860 they employed 320 workers and their wares were being sold across the globe.
For the next 30 years Meriden Britannia Co. continued to expand production with more ornate articles and another expansion of the factory on State Street. The trademark of the company was considered a “guarantee of quality” across the country, according to the book.
Things got even bigger in 1898 with the consolidation of more than a dozen independent silverware companies, the largest being Meriden Britannia Co., to create International Silver Co. It became the world’s largest manufacturer of silver and for that Meriden was nicknamed the “Silver City.”
The company headquarters were established at the State Street site of Meriden Britannia, where it stood until 1958 when the company relocated to 500 S. Broad St., where the Record-Journal is located today.
Through the years, International Silver employed most of Meriden, according to Allen Weathers, Meriden Historical Society curator. During the Great Depression the company never laid off its workers, he said. When World War II reached the States with the attack on Pearl Harbor, the company converted to war production
“Meriden became the ideal wartime community,” Weathers said, because of the prosperity of manufacturing. During the war the company produced millions of gun clips, incendiary bombs, machine gun links and a wide variety of other war products.
Afterward, demand for silver declined and the main factory closed. In 1968 International Silver was purchased, along with several other manufacturing companies, by Insilco and only 13 years later, the division of International Silver closed its doors on South Broad Street. This was “the end of the silver industry for the city.”
The impact of Meriden Britannia Co. and International Silver has not faded even after the company stopped producing wares. Articles from both manufacturers are sought-after antiques today.
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