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The Fame of Historical Waltham

The greatness of Waltham's history began in 1813 when America was engaged in the War of 1812 with England. In that year, Francis Cabot Lowell founded the Boston Manufacturing Company, a cotton mill in Waltham which was the first modern factory in the United States and the first time that all the processes for making cloth from cotton occurred under one roof while using power looms. History books have credited this accomplishment with leading America's industry out of their small shops and into a modern factory system.

This system spread to Lowell, Lawrence, Fall River and eventually throughout the United States. It was the birth of America's Industrial Revolution. Life magazine has called it one of the most significant events in the history of the United States. Fortune magazine has placed Francis Cabot Lowell in its Hall of Fame.

Forty years later the Waltham Watch Company was started in Waltham by Aaron Dennison, a man whose dream was to make watches with interchangeable parts, the parts being precision made, automatically by machines to the closest of tolerances. The success of the Waltham Watch Company in the 19th century spread to other industries in the United States and brought them to new heights with precision machines and interchangeable parts. These accomplishments, which were 35 years ahead of their time, are the main reasons for America's great industrial power today.

Grinding Wheel

Chalk Box


The 10 Most Significant Contributions Made to America by Waltham Industries

1.         The founding of the Boston Manufacturing Company in 1813 by Francis Cabot Lowell in which the following occurred:

a.                  FIRST FACTORY in the United States to carry out all the processes for making cloth under one roof.

b.                  First modern corporation, as we know it today, not only in the utilization of stocks and stockholders, but where plant managing was performed by non-owners.

c.                  First known industry to actively contribute to the community by constructing houses, churches, libraries and civil halls.

d.                  First factory to weave silk on machines. (1893)

Almost equal consideration should be given to Charles Metz and his twenty-two patents on early bicycles. Also to the countless contributions made by Waltham industries in the early manufacturing of aluminum, mica, rivets, lathes, screws, instruments, steam cars, gasoline cars, buckles and those far too numerous and significant contributions made by many Waltham industries today, especially in the electronics field along Route 128.

  1. CHALK CRAYON invented by Dr. Francis Fields in 1835.
  2. The invention of the LALLY COLUMN plus nine other patents in the building trade by John Lally of Waltham around 1890s.
  3. The design and invention of numerous PRECISION MACHINES by the Waltham Watch Company, capable for the first time to make interchangeable parts to the closes of tolerances, an accomplishment that quickly spread to other industries and greatly contributed to the industrial leadership of America.
  4. KEROSENE - chemically manufactured for the first time by Luther and William Atwood in 1855.
  5. POWER STEERING invented by Francis Davis and George Jessup in 1926.
  6. GRINDING WHEELS manufactured for the first time by Henry Richardson in 1880.
  7. Method invented by Dr. Percy Spencer of Raytheon to mass produce the MAGNETRON TUBE in 1942. Used as a vital part of radar, it greatly contributed to the war effort. Dr. Spencer later used the magnetron tube in the development of microwave oven cooking.
  8. The Waltham BLEACHERY AND DYE Works, built in 1820, was the first of its type in the world.
  9. MEDICAL ADVANCES in nurses' training, aseptic technique in delivery rooms, and one of the first appendectomies in America by Dr. Alfred Worcester, starting in 1884 to early twentieth century.

 The Cooper Street Area of Waltham

One important area of Waltham which has not been written about much, is the Cooper Street area. This complex between Pine Street and the Charles River belonged to Newton prior to 1849. Then, for years, it would provide Waltham with its gas and electric utilities.

The Newton Chemical Company owned this property from 1825 to 1853, when they sold a large portion of it to the Waltham Gas-Light Company. The first customer of the gas company was the Boston Manufacturing Company. Gas was also sold to homes for lighting, cooking and heating.

In 1886, an electric plant was created, and on December 24th of that year electric light was first used for street and store illumination in the city. In 1890, the Waltham trolley system changed from horse drawn to electric power. This boosted the electrical demand and new generators and boilers had to be added.

In 1902, the Waltham Gas-Light Company acquired the old Parmenter Crayon Company building and now owned all of the Cooper Street area west of the Watertown Railroad tracks. The old Parmenter Crayon Company which had been there since 1875, moved to a large location outside Waltham.

The Waltham Gas-Light Company started to split up in 1909. First it became the Newton and Watertown Gas-Light Company. Then half of it became the Edison Electric Illuminating Company. In 1922, Boston Consolidated Gas Company took over the gas portion of the utility. Later Edison Illuminating Company became Boston Edison.

Between 1928 to 1932, Boston Gas started to leave this area and dispose of their property. They leased buildings to Boston Bag and Paper Company and sold a large section of it to Embassy Theater.

Boston Bag and Paper would soon acquire the rest of it. In 1932, the four large gas tanks were removed. Perhaps some of the long time residents in this Chemistry area of Waltham remember these tanks.

Boston Edison phased out the generating aspects of this location. They retained their buildings off of Pine Street and used them as an electrical substation.

 The Sheldon S. Mayo Print Shop

In WWI Sheldon S. Mayo served in Company B, 1st Battalion, a plasma and sound ranging detachment of the 74th Engineers. In March 1919 he returned from France on the troop ship Nansemond.

A Virginia newspaper wrote: The 74th Engineers wandered over the western front of France at the beck and call of those who needed them worst. They operated the sound throwing and signaling devices, moving from place to place in all sort of situations and conditions until they became know as the 'phantom regiment.' They always appeared in the nick of time, where they were not expected but greatly needed. All these men are veterans hardened to the rough life.

After WWI, Sheldon Mayo taught printing in the Waltham schools for over 40 years. Recently his printing presses and accessories were donated to the Waltham Museum. The Waltham Museum is setting up a print shop at 173 Felton Street which will be called the Sheldon S. Mayo Print Shop in his memory.


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