Downwind and slightly downhill from two-thirds of Bridgeport, Connecticut’s, old industrial base. General Electric plant on the West side of Boston Avenue. Remington Arms on the East side. The facility originally built by Remington to fabricate rifles for the Russian Czar.
When I turned seventeen and it was time for me to go to work, I was hired on at GE as an apprentice machinist. Spent some of that time learning from the two machinists charged with maintenance and repairs for the Fan Dept. I remember finding the signature of one of the Russian workers supervising construction of the plant – carved into a wooden beam supporting the ceiling of our little subterranean workshop. We were in the first floor of one of the modules built to design for firearms and ammunition manufacture…underground. Four more stories above us.
The neighborhood was recognized years later as a cancer cluster, of course. By then we’d moved next to Roosevelt Forest north side of Stratford. Clean air to spare. A school system designed for more than the minimal education required for factory hands.
Just before the Lusitania disaster the Russian Czar emerged as a new customer for a million Russian rifles and one hundred million rounds of ammunition and he wanted them from UMC-Remington. (Marcellus Hartley) Dodge was worried that entering a contract with the Russians would put him in grave financial danger, but after the sinking of the Lusitania, he took the contract and planned to build a new plant in Bridgeport. Dodge raised $15 million dollars by selling gold bonds of his company and borrowed $15 million against his own preferred stock. He also gave his personal notes for thirteen million more. Dodge was one of the richest men from the richest families in the nation. He would become one of the great philanthropists of the early 20th century. Dodge took huge risks in borrowing, and expanding his operations. His planned building in Bridgeport would transform Bridgeport’s East Side. In the 1960s the old people on the East Side would say, “the Czar built that factory.” The Czar didn’t build that plant, Dodge did, but the Czar’s Great War munitions contracts were responsible for one of the largest, most unique factory buildings in the world. To build, Dodge bought land all around the location, including the last farms in the area. He would need massive amounts of acreage for the manufacturing facilities and housing for thousands of munitions workers..
All of my peers, friends and neighbors from those days are dead, now.