The following is taken from "Ilion
1852-1952." We thank the Mayor and other officials of Ilion for granting us permission to provide
this information to our visitors.
REMINGTON ARMORY AND E. REMINGTON & SONS
The armory acquired its first government contract and necessary machinery to manufacture it from Ames & Co. of Springfield, Mass. in 1845. This was the Jencks carbine. This necessitated another water race and another building which became known as the "Old Armory." Mr. Jencks came to Ilion to live, bought the Harter place and on the site of the old house erected a fine brick residence, later the home of John A. Rasbach which was torn down in 1950.
In 1850 in making Harper's Ferry muskets, Remington began to drill barrels from solid steel. Also in the 50's the manufacture of revolvers was begun and lady's pistols in 1859.
In 1856 the three sons, Philo, Samuel and Eliphalet III, became partners of their father forming the firm of E. Remington and Sons.
When the Civil War broke out, the U. S. Government contracted for 5,000 Harper's Ferry rifles which took two years to complete. In addition, 5,000 Harper's Ferry muskets came in to be changed for attachment of bayonet or saber. To complete this order as quickly as possible, every man and boy in Ilion worked at it, finishing the job in two weeks. Army revolvers were manufactured by Remington in Utica because of lack of room here. The brick buildings along Otsego Street were erected and it was probably at this time that the building now 27 First Street was moved to its present location. Steam power was installed, new equipment bought, and work went on around the clock.
Population increased so that Ilion, in respect to housing, was bursting at its seams. The incorporation census figure was 677, the 1860 census 813 and by the end of the war in 1865 the census counted 1,096 inhabitants, an increase of 62% in 13 years. A very few houses were built on West and Armory Hills, but most of the building was on the level streets. Families lived in such places as the top floor of the bank building and all water had to be carried up and down two flights of steep stairs.
A sad result of this intense activity was the death of Eliphalet Remington II August 12, 1861. His wife, Abigail Paddock, had been killed twenty years earlier when thrown from a carriage by a runaway horse and family tradition says that in those twenty years he was never known to smile.
In 1865 the partnership became a corporation with a capital of $1,000,000. Philo took care of the manufacturing, Samuel became general agent to secure government contracts, and Eliphalet III had charge of the office and, because of his beautiful handwriting, was in charge of correspondence.
During the war Ilion was well represented in other ways than by volunteers and guns. The Collector of Internal Revenue for the Twentieth District was L. L. Merry and the office was in the Bank Block. He was appointed by President Lincoln and held office through President Johnson's administration. He collected over $5,000,000 in taxes, including a tax on incomes.
Another important appointment, its importance not realized at that time, was made by U. S. Treasurer General F. J. Spinner of Mohawk who urged the employ of women in his department to free men for the armed forces. He was allowed to try one and appointed Miss Jane Douglass whose home was on the Barringer Road, Ilion. She was such a success that others were added and thus has the credit of opening government employment to women.
When the war closed, Ilion celebrated by the firing of the "little speaker" and a parade led by J. D. Ingersoll's brass band. But deep depression hit the town with Secretary of War Stanton's order terminating all unfilled orders. Large indebtedness, incurred by equipping for war time production, involved the Ilion Bank, a State bank, to such an extent that it failed, but when prosperity returned payments to depositors were 100%.
E. Remington & Sons
The war had shown the superiority of the breech-loader over the muzzle-loader. In the Remington's employ was "an inventive genius named Rider engaged to develop the new arm, surrounded by the best skilled mechanics securable. These soon presented the famous system of a dropping breech block backed up by a hammer..." The new plan was so serviceable that Denmark placed an immediate order for forty-two thousand rifles. Prosperity returned to Ilion because of it. Equipment was installed and another authority says the first 200 went to France. Other orders followed from Sweden, the U. S. Navy, Spain, Sweden again, and Egypt. Muzzle loaders were modernized by the "Berdan system," "the breech being cut out of the barrel and a breech block inserted, swinging upward and forward."
In 1871 a new department, the cartridge factory, was installed with a capacity of 30,000 cartridges per day. This was sold in 1886, buyer not given. In 1873 E. Remington & Sons graced the tower of the office building on Otsego Street by the "Town Clock", guaranteed not to vary a minute a year.
"The Remington breech-loader, 1863, made Ilion such a busy place... that Samuel Remington went to Europe to live as sales agent, while Philo managed the factory. Facilities were increased so that as many as 1,850 employees were busy twenty four hours a day, turning out 1,300 rifles and 200 revolvers daily. France bought 145,000 arms, New York State 21,000 for her militia, Puerto Rico 10,000, Cuba 89,000, Spain 130,000 more, Egypt 55,000, Mexico 50,000, Chile 12,000, Hartley and Graham 144,000, part of which were sold to the Chinese army. All told the sales ran to the million mark."
During the Franco-Prussian War, France gave Samuel Remington large orders for Remington guns and also made him their purchasing agent for all arms and munitions in the United States. He handled many millions of dollars in these transactions for France. He returned in 1877 to the U. S. and resided in New York City until his death in 1882.
But following the Franco-Prussian War dull times came again to Ilion. Peace demanded fewer weapons and foreign governments began to manufacture their own guns. The Remingtons were wealthy but they did not feel they could abandon the village their armory had created. Experimenters and inventors, people with all sorts of ideas, were welcome and the armory took the place of the modern industrial laboratory. Sewing machines, good ones, were manufactured from 1872 until the crash; the new owners only continued making hand sewing machines for export trade. In the 70's the model of James P. Lee's bolt action was made in Ilion, but at that time the Remingtons were getting ready to manufacture the Remington-Keene bolt gun. This did not meet expectations so the Lee was brought back to Ilion and preparations made to produce it in quantity. The Lee gun was the first military rifle of this type and became the parent of the military rifle of today. In 1887 it was adopted by English Army and Navy and became the basis of the British Lee-Metford.
Another attempt to bridge over the financial difficulties was the issuance of bonds and paying the men in "orders". The bonds were canceled but the order system prevailed until the receivership. These orders were used by employees to purchase supplies from merchants, giving in payment orders on the company, who in return issued their notes payable in one or two months.
In trying to find a successful peace time product, the Parker system of electric lighting was manufactured at the plant. Ilion became accustomed to the new lights about 1880 by the use of experimental lights. A news item of February 17, 1882 says: "Three new electric lights were last week put in operation at the foundry of the Agricultural Works, north of the canal. The effect as usual is startling." The story is told that these lights were such a curiosity that people came from other places, stood at night on the old high canal bridge at Railroad Street (Central Avenue) to gaze at the foundry lights.
Only one of these new attempts to stem the tide became successful, the typewriter. One authority states that, "It was expensive to build necessary machinery; there had been heavy losses in other enterprises; $350,000 went into the Agricultural Works; the Scattergood Cotton Gin was a financial failure; the Sewing machine lost about $1,000,000; an enterprise for making electric-lighting plants was unsuccessful; large gifts to charity and education had lowered their resources; and finally they were led to disaster by helping a false friend."
The Citizen's last mention of an invention being brought to E. Remington & Sons to build was of a machine for making tobacco bags. This would require little attention to operate for "when one girl now operates one machine and turns out 2,000 of these little bags a day, she would tend to four of these machines and turn out 35,000..."
But the big news of this issue was not the new invention but the dire announcement that the Remington business had been assigned to the trustees: "The painful uncertainty which has hung over the heads of our people for some weeks was yesterday somewhat relieved when it was made known that the previous day the principal stockholders of the corporation had delivered over the same into the hands of the trustees to be conducted by them." The day became known as "Black Friday." A. N. Russell and Addison Brill were appointed receivers and operated the plant until the sale in 1888. Many local and neighboring merchants were bankrupt because of the amount of Remington paper taken by them.
There were attempts of creditors to raise funds to buy the armory and save it for Ilion. In 1887 one group of 28, all but six from Ilion, incorporated as "The Remington Arms" to manufacture fire arms, sewing machines, tools and machines in Ilion. On Feb. 2, 1888 the Armory was sold to the highest bidder, Hartley and Graham of New York for $152,000. The Remington Arms did not bid at all. The Citizen expressed their feeling thus: "A property costing a million and a half - insured for $600,000, selling for $152,000. Whew!" The sale was subject to confirmation by the court. This was not granted so a second sale was held March 9. Again Hartley & Graham was the highest bidder, for $200,000, and this sale was confirmed by the court. Two weeks later the paper announced that the charter of the Remington Arms Co. was also sold to the new owners. Philo Remington died a little over a year after the sale of the Armory. From Florida in April 1889 came the news of his death. He was brought back to Ilion and was buried in the Remington plot by a mourning village.
The receivers had worked up most of the stock so it took time for the new owners to get the factory ready to operate. In 1892 bicycles were added by the company. At first these were such a success that a four story building was erected on Main Street as an extension of the bicycle department. In '96 the Citizen stated that this was the busiest department of the plant. By the early 1900's this business was discontinued.
When World War I broke out, work was discouragingly slack until a contract for Lee-Enfield rifles for France and England was secured in October. The company spent over $1,000,000 buying land and erecting new buildings and as much more for equipment. Old buildings were torn down and in their place steel framed brick buildings were constructed as if by magic. "Night and day, through wind and storm, the crash of the air hammer and the shrill whistle of the derrick was heard, we would go to bed at night looking upon a level piece of ground, in the morning a building was seen; in less than eighteen months this great factory with fifty acres of floor space...." appeared. Before a building was finished, another was begun, and when finished it was immediately put into use. Before the war a payroll of 900 was considered a large force. When the United States went into the war the U. S. Enfield was manufactured for our government. The number employed grew to 11,000, including a great number of women. The daily output exceeded 3,000. Workers came by railroad, automobile and trolley trains composed of five or six cars. Everyone who had an empty room was asked to rent it, and it is said that some beds did not cool off before new occupants fell into them. When shifts changed the streets were packed with people. The overflow spilled out into neighboring villages.
The day before Christmas 1918 a notice was published: "The Remington factory stops work on government orders. 7,000 employees dismissed. Sporting goods production will begin after the first of the year."
Between the two wars occurred the death of the last of the Remington brothers, Eliphalet III, who died in 1924.
Again the Arms looked for a peace time product to take up the slack and to fill the large empty buildings recently built. The first model of the Remington Cash Register was completed in 1918 and pronounced free of patent infringements. Machinery for its manufacture was brought to Ilion from Bridgeport in 1921. "But to avoid the inevitable recession that was upon business," the Remington Cash Register was sold to the National Cash Register Co. in November of 1931. In a month's time all of the machinery and some employees had left Ilion for Dayton, Ohio, leaving an empty space in the village.
There followed several small attempts at manufacturing various articles, none too successfully. With the depression guns were not selling well and the active force was cut to about 300 in 1932.
Two years later, 1934, E. I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. bought the controlling interest. Under the new regime the Parker Gun was bought and brought to Ilion; and the old buildings were torn down because of their age and burden of taxes. Much of the old brick was used to fill in the High School pond. With the demolition of these buildings, Ilion lost a cherished landmark when the Town Clock was taken down. We miss it.
During World War II the American Springfield rifle was manufactured for the United States Government. Employment increased to around 9,000. The government accepted a total of 1,014,377 rifles. Ilion did not have the crowded appearance of the former war due to two reasons. Automobiles were so much improved that people drove greater distances and so lived at home, coming from as far away as Johnstown and Boonville daily; work went on around the clock and seven days a week, with different shifts staggered during the twenty-four hours. Seven days work, one day rest. The plant received the Army E award in November of 1942 with elaborate ceremony.
The Army E Award Pin that employees received at that ceremony. Carol McLaughlin was an Arms employee at that time and this is her pin.
When the war ended employment was again reduced to peace time level. At present the personnel of the Ilion factory numbers about 1,500 men and women. Guns are manufactured in the following models: ten of 22 calibre, one auto-load shotgun, one repeating shotgun, two high power bolt action repeating rifles, one high power slide action repeating rifle. In addition the company has entered the industrial tool field in the manufacture of model 450 "Cartridge-Powered Stud Driver designed for rapid and efficient driving of steel fasteners into various structural materials."
Copyright © 2000 Paul McLaughlin/ Judy Breedlove/ Martha S. Magill
All Rights Reserved.