Cowing & Company:
The father of the pump industry in Seneca Falls. John P. Cowing started as a salesman for the embryonic Paine & Caldwell firm just starting up in 1838 using the famous Miner’s Patent for wood pumps. Cowing was a brilliant visionary and soon bought out Paine’s firm and took on the name Cowing & Seymour (named for business partner and human rights activist Henry Seymour). By 1840, Cowing was producing wooden pumps and pipes at a record pace. By 1873, an economic depression had hit markets all over the young United States. In Seneca Falls, one of the three competing pump companies was destined to fail due to market saturation. This destiny fell to Cowing & Co.
Downs & Company:
Abel Downs began in 1840 by manufacturing wooden pumps with iron parts, which set him apart. In 1844, Abel’s team installed the first steam engine to power his factory where the first all-iron pump was made. Seneca Falls’ manufacturing identity and reputation was sealed. Abel was joined by Seabury S. Gould by about 1848. Gould bought out all the remaining partners so only he and Abel Downs owned the company. Gould was the managerial drive behind the scenes. Although still called Downs & Co., the name and influence of this manufacturer and its native village were about to go global. When S. S. Gould took over in 1869, the name changed to Goulds Pumps. Seneca Falls, now hosting a myriad of competing pump, fire and other factories, was on the map as an industrial hub.
Rumsey & Company:
John A. Rumsey of nearby Fayette entered the employ of Cowing & Company in 1845 as traveling agent pump sales. A success in sales, he became one of Cowing’s partners in 1849, and it’s most active and useful member. In 1864, he withdrew from Cowing & Co. and with his brother, Moses Rumsey, and Cowing’s chief agent Warren J. Chatham, established the firm of “Seneca Falls Pump & Fire Engine Co.” later: Rumsey & Co. A scandal ensued as Rumsey & Co. was accused of taking Cowing’s prized customer list and patterns when he departed that firm. Nonetheless, Rumsey went on to head a premier manufacturing firm that survived into the mid-twentieth century.
Silsby Manufacturing Co:
was founded in 1845 as Silsby, Mynderse & Co. The factory was called the “Island Works” being located on a five acre island in the Seneca River and canal basin. Silsby originally manufactured agricultural implements, but once fire engine construction started the factory expanded. The chief products of the Island Works became steam fire engines (equipped with the patented and very popular Holly steam rotary pumps), hose carriages, hose carts, hose wagons, and all manner of additional firefighting apparatus. Silsby anticipated New York’s plans to enlarge the Canal in the first decade of the 20th century. In 1891, Silsby merged with Ahren’s Manufacturing Co., the Clapp & Jones Co. and the Button Fire Engine Co. to form the American Fire Engine Company, later to be called American LaFrance.
In 1855, Downs and Company, described above, had Seabury S. Gould at its helm. In 1869, the name of the company was changed from Downs & Company to Goulds Manufacturing Company. Seabury ran the company until after the Civil War. James H. Gould took over as Goulds President from 1872 to 1896 riding the wave of both the Industrial Revolution and the settlement of the western states. At the turn of the 19th century, 1896 to 1908, Seabury Gould II was President. During his administration, in anticipation of the NYS Barge Canal improvement, a ten acre plot of “upland”, away from the canal, was purchased. In 1898, construction was started. Sixty acres of land were added to the original purchase. Goulds Manufacturing found a new home on its current 70 acre parcel and remains to this day as the headquarters of Goulds Pumps/ITT Corporation.
Seneca Falls Machine:
This company, a maker of treadle-powered machinery, has been a fixture in Seneca Falls for many decades. It was the child of three companies: Fitchburg Machine Co. (Massachusetts) that merged with the 1867 S. C. Wright & Co.; Fitchburg Machine bought out Lewis Bros./Seneca Falls Manufacturing(1879) relocated to New York and renamed it Seneca Falls Machine in 1882. By 1885 they were wildly successful in the mass production of patented “Empire” and “Victor” scroll saws, the “union” table saw and, later the “Star” lathe. In the 20th century, they produced machinery for the booming automobile industry. By 1941 they were producing artillery shells and machine tools for WWII, even reviving the production of old pedal-powered “Star” lathes for remote repair shops in locations throughout the WWII arena.
Seneca Knitting Mills:
This large, historic limestone building has stood since 1844 along the Seneca River and Cayuga Seneca Canal, a witness to our changing history for over 170 years. Seneca Falls had at one time, many flour and lumber mills but these have given way to progress. Known through time as the Seneca Woolen Mills, Phoenix Mills, Geb & Souhan Yarn, etc., it finally ended its career as a knitting mill in 1999 and is now the headquarters of the National Women’s Hall of Fame and Center for Great Women museum. (Planned opening 2016).
Many other mills were built in the first half of the 19th century but have gone the way of so many historic structures whether through fire or demolition. Our dioramas illustrate the changing industrial landscape, including mills, over a one hundred period from 1817 to 1917 and to the present.
Wescott-Rulers & More:
In 1872 Henry Westcott, along with his two sons Charles and Frank, established the firm Westcott Brothers in Seneca Falls to manufacture a variety of wood specialties. When Henry retired in 1890, the company was renamed Westcott Bros. Co. and expanded into numerous products like toy blocks and other games. When C. E. and M. R. Jewell joined the business in 1894 it was renamed to Westcott-Jewell Company and started concentrating on rulers, made in all sizes and finishes. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Westcott-Jewell Co. employed about a hundred people and its plant was one of the largest of its kind in the United States with a total floor space of 45,000 square feet (4,200 m2). By that time, their products were shipped to all parts of the United States and exported to many different countries. During and after World War II the company continued to produce thousands of rulers and other measuring instruments. After remaining in family hands for 96 years, the Westcott Rule Co. was sold in 1968 to Acme Shear Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut, manufacturer of shears and medical equipment.
Seneca Falls has always been home to a diverse industrial landscape. In addition to the industries named above, we had the American Globe & School Supply Company, Marshall & Adams Clock Co., (a short-lived but successful venture), H. W. Knight Letters, (makers of pattern letters and figures), Guaranteed Parts (20th century), Sylvania, Ivory Button Co., etc.
The Seneca Museum of Waterways & Industry interprets the foundational history of Seneca Falls to lay the groundwork for the understanding of its reputation as a center for human rights activities, including Women’s Rights and Abolitionism.