1955 was a hard year for the City of Torrington. In August of that year “The Flood” that did so much damage to buildings and left five dead occurred. But there was a sign of how tough the year was going to be back in the beginning of 1955 when a corporate raider named Frederick W. Richmond, who had bought controlling interest in the Hendey Machine in 1952, ostensibly to give it an infusion of cash, sold the Hendey line of lathes and shapers to the Barber Colman Company of Illinois. That sale ended a company that started in Torrington in 1871 and had grown from a company that rented a room in a machine shop to a complex that had approximately 175,000 square feet of building area.
Despite this ending Hendey Machine Company’s name lives on. There products are still functioning, and there are many videos of them running on Youtube, where they seem to have an almost reverential place amongst vintage machine buffs. It is a legacy of Torrington’s industrial past and a testament to the innovation of its residents.
In 1870 Henry John Hendey founded the Hendey Machine Company. Henry was joined by his brother Arthur and they rented space in the machine shop of Turner, Seymour, Judd & Company. Although this building did not meet their needs for long and in 1871 they built a one-story shed on land owned by their father.
Once again within one year they had outgrown their space and moved into a larger factory, the “East Branch Spoon Shop”. For the third time in as many years they found the building to be inadequate and in 1873 they decided to build a new plant on the site of the existing works. The building was 40 by 60 feet and was two-story in height. By this time they had between 15 and 20 workers.
Over the next 7 years the factory tripled in size. Growth continued with a power house and foundry built-in 1884, a three-story building in the mid 1890’s, another three-story building in 1898 and a doubling of
the foundry size a year later. Expansion continued in the early 1900’s, with a new two-story building in 1906, and
machine shop erected in 1920. By 1921 it had reached its height, occupying the largest site and employing the most people in its history.
Hendey’s managed to survive the great depression and flourished during the second world war. But what it couldn’t survive was corporate raiders and it closed shop in 1954, before the last remnants were sold off in 1955.
However, unlike many businesses that have completely faded into obscurity, Hendey’s name is still around. It’s innovation resulted in 35 patents between 1874 and 1935. A search for Hendey Machine will find over 750 videos featuring their products, 60 years after they went out of business. Their mark has been left on the town of Torrington also. The factory still stands despite a fire in 2009. Henry Hendey was the first Warden of the Borough of Torrington and was a Warden of Trinity Episcopal Church. The company’s secretary and treasurer was F. F. Fuessenich is not only recognizable for the park named after him, but was town auditor and clerk, as well as a vestryman for Trinity Church. He was also instrumental in the railroad as a member of the committee to procure a railway between Torrington and Winsted.
For more information on Hendey Machine Company you can check out the Torrington Historical Society’s award winning exhibit and video.