Mystery Photo

Two-Women-at-BH

Friends or Sisters? Who Are They?

A patron from Milford sent me a photo the other day.  She said she found the photo with no information.

From time to time, photos are donated, with very little information.  In this case, the photograph looks like Downtown Bridgeport, near the Hotel Barnum.  The women’s clothing looks like the 1940′s.

Can anyone help us identify this photo?  If you can, e-mail us at hclibrarian@bridgeportpubliclibrary.org

or call (203) 576-7400  ex. 7

 

 

Special Events

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Bridgeport Memoir Writing Class

We meet the second Saturday of the month at the third floor of the Bridgeport Public Library!

The Memoir Writing Class for April has been cancelled.  Please join us again in May!

The next class is May 10th at 2:00, the second Saturday of every month, third floor, Bridgeport History Center, Bridgeport Public Library

Love is the Theme!

Did you ever fall in love, love a family member, love Bridgeport!  Come Join our group!

Call (203)  576-7400 extension 7 for more information. …Continue reading

Heroes and Villains

Art Selleck center, Putnam Street Firehouse 1953

Art Selleck: A Tribute to a Fireman Historian 1920-2004

Arthur “Art” H. Selleck was born in Bridgeport in 1920, living there for five years before moving to Nichols. He attended Harding High School in the Park City,
since Trumbull had no High School at the time. He would later recall witnessing a house fire as a youth in Nichols, where the local volunteers were assisted by the
Bridgeport Fire Department’s Chemical 1 and other units. This left a lasting
impression on him.

He attended the Connecticut Junior College, which later became the University
of Bridgeport. After college he signed up for the Depression era Civilian Conservation Corps, and was sent to a camp in Wyoming.

When World War II broke out in 1939, Art was employed by the British Admiralty Mission as an ordinance inspector – first at the Savage Firearms Plant in Utica, NY, then at Colt in Hartford, and finally in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

He lived in Providence while working in Pawtucket, where he joined the Auxiliary Fire Force under the Civil Defense Program. Completing extensive training at Providence Fire School, Art was assigned to Hose Company 3 (an engine company). Soon after, he completed more schooling and was reassigned to the city’s new Rescue Squad.

Shortly after Pearl  Harbor, Art entered the Army as an officer, and was assigned to
the Corps of Engineers. He was eventually stationed in London with the Signal Corps, receiving a Presidential Citation for working under enemy air raids in London. It was during this period in London that Arthur met
the lovely Irene Chalk, who was in the women’s branch of the Royal Air Force. Art
first met the London native while exchanging signal traffic with her.

At the end of the war, Art was sent to Berlin where he was discharged to work as a civilian in the Berlin Signal Depot for the U.S. War Department. In mid 1946 he and Irene were married. Arthur severed his connections with the War Department, and was shipped home from Germany. Two weeks later Irene joined him, coming over on one of the “War Brides” ships.

They temporarily resided with his mother in Nichols until a job in New
York City dictated moving closer to commuting facilities. He started with the American Fire Prevention Bureau, a subsidiary of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, until he was hired by the National Board of Fire Underwriters. He rose to the position of senior fire protection engineer. Working out of New York,
he covered some 26 states for the Underwriters for the next 36 years. Fairfield became his commuting base when he was in the New York Office. He was appointed to the Fairfield Fire Commission, and served some 20 years in that capacity.

Starting in the late 1930s, Arthur started writing for Fire Engineering magazine and continued to write for that publication even after he joined the Army. He wrote several articles while serving in London, Paris, and Berlin. He later lectured, and served as a consultant, to many groups on fire service and fire service history, both in the USA and England. Frequently visiting his wife’s family in England, he  aintained close ties with friends in the British Fire Services. He became quite close to the staff of the London  Fire Museum.

When the Connecticut Firemen’s Historical Society was formed in 1971, Arthur was a charter member. He served as its President for 8 years, and was on the Board of Trustees and the museum’s curator for even longer.

When the Bridgeport Firefighters’ Historical Society was formed in 1997, Arthur loaned his expertise and experience to the new group. He provided an astonishing amount of facts and photographs to the new organization, and never stopped believing that the BFHS had a great future.

He also provided material and photos for the BFHS book Bridgeport Firefighters, published in 2000. He was acknowledged in the introduction, the book saying “Finally, we would be remiss if we did not specifically thank Arthur Selleck of the Connecticut Firemen’s Historical Society. Art personally witnessed much of the 20th century history of Bridgeport and its Firefighters, photographed much of it, and kept meticulous records. Without his lifetime knowledge of the fire department and his willingness to share such with the BFHS, much of the material in these pages could never have been included”.

Arthur Selleck passed away on November 1, 2004, and he remains greatly missed by the members of the local and fire historical community. He was predeceased by his wife Irene in 2003, and survived by a son, two grand-daughters, and several nieces and nephews.

THE LAST WORD –

ARTHUR SELLECK REMEMBERS BFD’S TOM MAGNER

Those who remember Art
Selleck recall he was fond of telling, and retelling, old stories of the Bridgeport Fire
Department. He wrote about one of his favorite subjects in his last article in
the Connecticut
Firemen’s Association newsletter
The Trumpet. With the CFHS’s kind permission, we reproduce it below.

Articles on fire service history can make for interesting reading, even for those not directly connected to the fire service. We have had visitors into our museum who really only came in to see what was there, and after a visit with us were fascinated with what they saw and learned from their docent (tour guide). Others read an article that appeared in our newsletter, or perhaps saw a book or technical publication to be found in our library, where we have a sizable collection, some of which go back over a hundred years or more.

One particular technical publication has a number of well-written stories by Mr. Thomas Magner. This writer knew Tom Magner until he passed away.

Tom Magner was born in Waterbury in 1890 and eventually moved to Bridgeport where he went to work as a newspaper reporter. He worked for the Bridgeport Herald, the Bridgeport Evening Farmer, and the Bridgeport Telegram.

At about that time, the Bridgeport Fire Department changed from a single platoon to two-platoon system. This new work schedule required adding several more people to the department and Tom was one of them. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1920 and assigned to the fire prevention bureau until he became an aide to Assistant Chief Mellor.

About 1936 a civil service system was adopted and Tom took an exam for Captain and came out near the top of the list. He was assigned to Engine 12  in the north end of the city in 1938, then Engine Company 9 in 1942. During his service he worked out of many fire stations in the city. It was during this time that he also wrote numerous articles for several national publications.

Tom Magner retired from the Fire
Department in 1945 and went back to the newspaper business, writing feature
articles and a column in the Bridgeport Sunday Post. He passed away in 1968,
but his articles are still a good source of historical material.

Films

Memorial Day Parade, 1923-1929

Memorial Day Parade in Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1923-1929

A film showing a 1920’s Memorial Day parade in downtown Bridgeport is significant in several respects.  At this time, the History Center has no additional footage depicting events, buildings, people, etc. in Bridgeport from that era.  The library is eager to gain any useable footage of the city that it can show to patrons and make available for research. …Continue reading

Bridgeport at War

Russell-Maguire-Gen-Harris

Auto-Ordnance Corporation

Tommy gun.  The name evokes different memories or thoughts in a cross section of people both in the United States and internationally.  Some may think of names that wrote the violent history of the twenties and thirties in this country: Capone, Floyd or Dillinger.  Others may think of the Irish crowd with Michael Collins and their early struggle for independence, or the English “Tommies” of the second World War, or even of Colonel Henry A. Mucci, Bridgeport war hero.  Still others may think of Hollywood types like Cagney, Wayne, or more recently, Depp in the movie “Public Enemies.”  But whatever the first thought, the name carries instant recognition.  The “Thompson Submachine Gun,” ”the Chicago Typewriter,” “the Chopper,” “the Tommy gun”: its story is long, infamous and, surprisingly, it runs right through Bridgeport.

With bankrolling supplied by New York financier Thomas Fortune Ryan, the Tommy gun was the creation of General John Taliaferro Thompson, West Point grad and small arms expert. The name of the company that Thompson started in 1916 was the Auto-Ordnance Corporation.  But World War I ended abruptly in 1918 and it was too late to actually get some prototype guns into battle to be tested.  As a result, the General had his engineers continue to refine the invention and, ultimately, 15,000 guns were manufactured during 1921-22 at the prestigious Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company in Hartford, CT.

Over the next eighteen years the gun was sold, literally, in dribs and drabs to various police departments, sheriffs and small constabularies around the US, to the Post Office, the Navy, the Marines and to a few foreign countries.  Everyone praised its performance at the many trials that it was put through but no one was buying in quantity.  The War was over and purchasing budgets were low or non-existent.   Who needed a machine gun anyway?  The criminal element found uses for the gun but that story moves in a different direction.  So, in any sort of business sense, the Thompson gun was a huge financial failure.

Until…1939.  Enter J. Russell Maguire a Connecticut born industrialist and opportunist.  The Auto-Ordnance Corporation (AOC) was in deep debt to the heirs of Thomas F. Ryan and they wanted out. Therefore, in July, a deal was finally struck giving Maguire controlling interest in AOC.  Maguire believed that war was imminent in Europe and to say he was correct is major understatement.  Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.  On November 1, France ordered 3,000 guns.

Maguire immediately contracted with the Savage Arms Corp. of Utica, NY to start producing guns but the incoming orders were enormous.  In August 1940, Maguire leased and later bought the Raybestos brake-lining plant along Railroad Avenue and Cherry Street in Bridgeport, CT.

Why Bridgeport?  It had a large skilled labor pool of machinists and toolmakers.  It had material suppliers, rail transport, a deep water port and a supportive group of small machine shops.  It was a perfect venue in which to succeed.  By the end of 1941, there were orders for 319,000 guns.  By 1944, between Savage Arms and AOC in Bridgeport a total of 1,750,000 Thompson submachine guns were produced with Bridgeport accounting for 500,000 of that total!  The guns were sold or given, through the “Lend-Lease” programs, to almost every Allied country.  The AOC plant had over 2,500 hundred workers.

Sixty-five years have slipped by since AOC finished its work and left the city.  No one recognizes its name or knows its history and contributions.  Most of its buildings have been demolished.  Today, let us clearly understand that the firearm produced by its proud workers in the hands of our bravest young men probably had something to do with the name, “Arsenal of Democracy,” being ascribed to Bridgeport, CT.  Finally, the half million Thompson guns manufactured on Railroad Avenue were, undeniably, a part of the heroism in the victory by American and Allied forces in both theaters of World War II.

Bridgeport at Work

Bridgeport's Rosie the Riveter

Bridgeport’s Rosie the Riveter

Marge Schneider should be an inspiration to young women today. During World War II,Marge Schneider lived with her family on Barnum Avenue near Central. With the flurry of war around her, Marge took a job at the Bridgeport Brass Company on Grand Street. Marge walked to work.

With the men all gone to war, jobs opened up at the factory for women. Marge’s boss asked her to pose for this photograph showing women the proper way to dress so that their clothing would not get caught by the machinery. …Continue reading

Women

Warner Brothers factory, Bridgeport Connecticut

The Warner Brothers and their Amazing Corsets

As doctors in the late 1800s, brothers Dr. Lucien and Ira De Ver Warner became concerned with the use of the corset in women’s ashion.The corset was a piece of underclothing meant to give women an “hourglass” figure desirable at the time. But the tight, uncomfortable steel-and-bone contraptions could be painful, break ribs and they often caused internal injuries.

The Warner brothers preferred that women stopped wearing these devices completely, but that wasn’t likely to happen. So Lucien, who had quit his job to lecture on the adverse medical effects of the corset, invented a more flexible version, using “Coraline” plant fibers and an ingenious design for wearers to achieve the same shape without the organ-shifting and nerve-deadening pain.

Ira’s wife tried out this garment, and gave her seal of approval. So, with only $2,550 the two doctors started a business producing and selling “Dr. Warner’s Coraline Health Corsets.” They were an immediate success.

In 1876 the brothers moved their operation to the corner of Atlantic and Lafayette Streets in Bridgeport, where they could be part of one of the nation’s most productive centers of industry. Over one thousand employees crafted 6,000 corsets on a daily basis, quickly becoming the largest and most popular corset manufacturer in America. They quadrupled the size of the factory as they grew, and as a side project manufactured “base balls” for the new American game just gaining popularity.

The Warners’ employees included large numbers of immigrant women, and the company provided for them by opening the Seaside Institute on the opposite corner of Lafayette and Atlantic Streets. Opened in 1887 in a ceremony featuring the nation’s first lady, Frances Cleveland, the Institute provided housing, a restaurant, a library, and classrooms where these women could learn language and civics in order to become Americans.

By 1894, the Warners were millionaires and friends with some of the most powerful people in America, including John D. Rockfeller and Theodore Roosevelt. When they retired, they left the company in the hands of their sons, who took it to even greater heights of success.

The popularity of corsets declined in the early 20th century, and in 1914 they bought the patent for the brassiere from inventor Mary Phelps Jacob, becoming the first to manufacture it on a large scale.

Later in the 20th century, the company turned its attention to modern underwear, swimwear, and other apparel. Renamed Warnaco, it moved its headquarters away from Bridgeport, closing down the last factory outlet store in the city by 1996.

In the 21st century, the old Warner Brothers Factory was transformed into Manhattan-style condominiums called The Lofts on Lafayette.

Want to learn more about The Warner Brothers? The Bridgeport History Center has the following materials available:

Bridgeport: Tales from the Park City. By Eric D. Lehman (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2009.)

– A History of the Old Town of Stratford and City of Bridgeport Connecticut, Volume 2. By Samuel Orcutt. (1886)

– The Warnaco Group Inc. — Company History”. FundingUniverse. The Gale Group. http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/The-Warnaco-Group-Inc-Company-History.html.  

 

  

 

African American Heritage

FreemanHousesIII

Mary and Eliza Freeman Houses

By:  Charles Brilvitch

A community of “free people of color” began to coalesce around the lower reaches of Bridgeport Harbor the same year (1821) that Bridgeport itself came into being.  Comprised of freed blacks born in Connecticut, runaway enslaved persons from southern states, and remnants of Indian tribes from Connecticut and New York State, this village came to be known as “Ethiope” (‘land of men with burned faces’ from the classical Greek).  Located one-half mile to the south of Bridgeport proper, its evolution paralleled that of the larger “white” town:  A church was organized in 1835 (with a second in 1843); a school for the community’s children in 1841, and a free lending library in 1849.  “Ethiopis”—as the inhabitants were known—also established a Masonic lodge and a number of other fraternal organizations.  By 1853 the village’s success was such that a leading African American businessman from New York constructed here a four-story hotel replete with wrap-around verandas and a rooftop belvedere to overlook the harbor and Long Island Sound. …Continue reading

Maritime

Fayerweather Lighthouse

Kathleen Moore

 1812-1899

In 1817, Captain Stephen Moore was injured while unloading goods from a ship.  Stephen then applied for a job through the United States Lighthouse service as a lighthouse keeper. He was given the position as the Keeper of the Fayerweather Lighthouse.

The Fayerweather Lighthouse, originally built in 1808, was located on an island in Long Island Sound at the mouth of Black Rock Harbor, just west of Bridgeport Harbor, which was then part of Fairfield. The lighthouse was an important beacon on the busy seaway of Long Island Sound as it was the only light between Eaton Neck, New York and New Haven, Connecticut.

…Continue reading

Architecture

Johnson Oak near House

Jose DeRivera

Most residents of Connecticut, when considering who were the earliest immigrants to this State naturally think mostly of the European countries.  If you asked anyone when the first Puerto Rican immigrant came to Connecticut, they would say, “probably the 1950’s.” …Continue reading

Travel into the past and see what we can learn