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A Condensed History of Stamford, Connecticut

From the Beginnings to the End of the 18th Century
The 19th Century
Revonah Manor
Into the 20th Century
The Most Exciting Parts of Stamford's History

The Most Exciting Parts of Stamford's History

The War Years, Stamford's Postwar Planning Council, Labor Unrest, The loss of Stamford's traditional industrial base, Urban Renewal, Education, and the redefinition of Stamford as an edge city, all happened within the last 60 years.

In the 1930's, Stamford turned its attention to maintaining the status quo. Stamford was one of the few unzoned communities within the New York metropolitan area. There was a plan of development authored by Herbert S. Swan, but what with the Depression and then the second World War, the plan was apparently forgotten. The only recommendation of the plan that was carried out was the construction the Merritt Parkway.

In 1930, the population of Stamford was 56,000 people, a jump of 42 percent in just 10 years. The industrial work force numbered 10,000 men and women, nearly one fifth of the population. They worked in 118 industrial establishments, and manufactured products valued at 40 million dollars annually. But the decade of the thirties was not one of growth, and by 1934 the number of industrial firms had dropped by one third, and the value of manufactured goods was down to 20 million dollars per year.

A good indication of the state of the economy is the value of building permits. During the boom year of 1929, over $5 million worth of building permits were issued. In 1934 that number had dropped to $500,000.

In Stamford, Yale and Towne, Stamford's largest employer transferred approximately 300 jobs from Stamford to other locations and moved their executive offices to New York City.

Walter C. Allen, the President of Yale and Towne, explained the move was due to “rapidly rising taxation in Stamford”. The company was losing money and by 1937 the loses were being blamed on the high cost of labor in Stamford.

The decade of the thirties was one of many rises and falls. The Peoples National Bank was the only bank in town to fail, its assets and liabilities were taken over in 1933 by the First National Bank and Trust Company with no loss to depositors.

Stamford lost some old firms like Lyman Hoyt and Sons Furniture Company and Stollwerck Chocolate Company, but also gained a few. Borden Farms Products and Schavoir Rubber Company were able to lease empty factory buildings at bargain prices. In the worst year of the Depression, 1934, Machlett Laboratories bought a factory in Springdale. Globe Slicing Machine and Clairol came to town, as did American Cyanamid Corporation, opening a research laboratory on West Main Street. Pitney Bowes and the Schick Dry Shaver Company expanded in Stamford. By the way, Colonel Jacob Schick manufactured pencil sharpeners before he invented the electric shaver. While no one noticed at the time, with hindsight one can see a pattern emerging. The foundry industries were being replaced in Stamford, and the work force had to start using brain rather than brawn.

It was the thirties, it was the time of the great Depression, the new industries could not absorb the number of unemployed, tax revenues were declining, and the Town Board of Finance had to cut the school budget by $200,000 in 1932. 92 teachers lost their jobs. They challenged the Board of Finance over the budget cuts and lost.

People were out of work, children were starving, and there was not a social service safety net. It was the City of Stamford working closely with groups like the Family Welfare Service, Salvation Army, Catholic Welfare Bureau, and other affiliates of the religious community, that had the responsibility for providing for the needy. The cases were pathetic, but it wasn't long before welfare expenditure entered the political arena. By the time of the “New Deal”, 17% of Stamford's population was receiving municipal funds. More money was spent for welfare than on education.

Stamford had a new charter, approved by the State legislature in 1933. It provided for a full time salaried mayor, a seven member City Council, and a six member Board of Finance.

On January 1st 1935, Democrat Alfred N Phillips Jr. took office as Stamford's first strong mayor. He promised to make Stamford a happier and more prosperous place in which to live and to see that suffering in Stamford is abolished. He was energetic and resourceful and a New Deal democrat, and managed to get large federal works projects for the city, while increasing citizen participation in government.

The new charter came under fire almost immediately, critics contending that the strong mayor had too much power. But it was the dual structure of government that drew the most criticism. Separating town and city for some functions and not for others was an outmoded and inefficient way to govern a modern industrial city. In 1937, the Connecticut legislature passed a resolution calling for a commission to study the consolidation of town and city governments. Action was postponed by the start of World War II. In June of 1941 Stamford celebrated it's 300th anniversary. Between 1848 and 1941 Stamford had transformed itself. 93 years.

The Charter Consolidation Inquiry Commission, formed by the state legislature before the war, reported back in 1946. They recommended a single government for town and city. The whole country area of Stamford was against it. Even Town First Selectman Barrett, who became the consolidated city's first mayor, was against it. That's why Stamford has a 40 member board of representatives, 2 members from each district. At the time, the rural sections had only six districts and they would have been overwhelmed by the city. The city was Democratic and it was presumed that the rural districts would be Republican.

Voters approved the Consolidated Charter in November 1947 and it took effect on April 15, 1949, ending separation of the 56 year old city and the 308 year old town governments.

The Charter Commission intentionally divided responsibility among mayor, Board of Representatives, and Board of Finance. The critics of the charter revision called Stamford's government one with few powers and many checks, pointing out that the mayor lacked clearly defined administrative power and had many limitations on his authority. No single individual was responsible for the overall operation of government. The system however provided citizens with many opportunities to serve on boards and commissions.

It was Thomas Quigley, who served three terms as mayor, who tested the powers of the mayor to fix the tax rates under the charter by filing lawsuits against both the Board of Finance and the Board of Representatives. He lost both suits.

In 1951 it was the Board of Representatives who created a five member Urban Redevelopment Commission and in 1953 adopted the city's first Master Plan, an inevitable response to the changes in the city that Herbert Swan had predicted back in 1929.

The war years had a profound effect on Stamford industry and it was during those years that the seeds of change were sown. Stamford shifted to war production just as 9500 men and women left Stamford to serve in the armed forces. Electric Specialty Company, Stamford Rolling Mills, Yale and Towne, Pitney Bowes, Machlett Laboratories and Norma Hoffman Bearings shifted to war production.

By 1944, as the end of the war approached, business and civic leaders organized the Stamford Postwar Planning Council. They discussed employment of returning veterans, absorption of displaced war workers, and orderly reconversion of local industries to peacetime production. Stamford's postwar plan, received national recognition and served as a model for other Connecticut cities. What the plan did not anticipate was the labor unrest that erupted in 1945.

Union and management at Yale and Towne could not agree on two union demands, the closed shop and substantial wage increases. 2500 of the 3500 workers at Yale and Towne in Stamford walked out. They shut down the plant, and pickets barred company officials from entering the buildings. The strike lasted 21 weeks.

While changes were inevitable, it was the Yale and Towne strike that became the defining moment of that change.

The post World War II history of Stamford is well archived at The Stamford Historical Society.