November 19: The Silver City Goes International

 

Today in 1898, the International Silver Company, one of Connecticut’s most famous and globally recognized brands, was formally incorporated in Meriden. The central Connecticut city had already established a national reputation as a leading producer of silver and silver-plated goods by the late 19th century, earning it the nickname “the Silver City.” By 1898, over a dozen companies in Meriden and surrounding towns produced about 70 percent of all the silverware and silver-plated products made in the United States.

This 1878 engraving shows the sprawling factory complex of the Meriden Britannia Company, one of the silver producers bought out by the International Silver Company 20 years later in 1898. The Britannia front office would become International Silver’s Factory E and General Office. (Meriden Historical Society)

However, the shining future of Meriden’s silver industry was thrown into doubt in the 1890s after a series of economic depressions (starting with the Panic of 1893) threatened the financial viability of the city’s silver manufacturers. Several investors saw a golden (or rather, silver) opportunity to create a new umbrella company that could buy up and consolidate the area’s numerous silver firms into one large conglomerate, and thus, the International Silver Company was born. Shortly after its incorporation, International Silver bought out the majority of the greater Meriden area’s silver-related businesses, including famous brands like the Meriden Britannia Company, Rogers Brothers, Middletown Plate Company, and the Meriden Silver Plate Company; in later years, the company acquired other silver manufacturers from New York City, Toronto, and other far-flung places. Most of these subsidiaries continued producing items under their original labels, allowing International Silver to boast a remarkably diverse catalog of products, from inexpensive flatware to exquisite, hand-finished silver centerpieces.

Much of the International Silver Company’s success stemmed from its ubiquitous and effective advertising campaigns, which included sponsorships of popular radio and TV programs during the first half of the 20th century.

By the 1920s, International Silver was grossing over $20 million annually and had become the world’s leading manufacturer of silver and silver-plated products. The company later took pride in weathering the Great Depression without laying off any of its workers. During World War II, many of the company’s Connecticut factories halted silver production to create scores of items for the American war effort, mass-producing everything from surgical instruments to gun and bazooka parts to bomb casings. The company began to experience a decline in the 1970s, however, as silver prices rose, the economy stagnated, and cheap imported flatware flooded American markets. International Silver’s attempt to diversify its product line and reinvent itself as “Insilco” eventually fell victim to the financial pressures of the late 20th century, and in 1981, the famous company formally closed its Meriden headquarters.

Further Reading

Patricia F. Singer, “International Silver Company Shines Once More,” Connecticut Explored

Meriden’s Silver Lining,” connecticuthistory.org