Reed & Barton History, Company
Teapot, Line 116, 1911,
Eliel Saarinen, 1930
Diamond spoon prototype
Gio Ponti, 1958
handle for Cartier
Isaac Babbitt ran his father’s jewelry store in the Union Block of Taunton, MA. At the time, britannia metal imported from England was selling well in the United States. This alloy could be highly polished to look more like silver than traditional pewter. Babbitt managed to replicate britannia in his workshop, and in 1824 with business partner William Crossman began manufacturing the first American-made britanniaware. Babbitt and Crossman (later as Crossman, West & Leonard, then as the Taunton Britannia Manufacturing Company) helped establish manufacturing in the still-young nation, making metal goods that could compete on quality, aesthetics, and price with anything imported from abroad.
Apprentices Henry G. Reed, Charles E. Barton assumed ownership when Taunton Britannia floundered in 1835, and Leonard, Reed & Barton was officially formed in 1837. Leonard sold his share in 1840, and Reed & Barton became the final name of the company. The factory, built in the Hopewell section of Taunton, was powered by the Mill River and helped earn Taunton the nickname Silver City.
Reed & Barton was instrumental in the development of the science and business of silver plating, starting in 1848. Using battery power to deposit a layer of sterling silver on top of britannia, and later nickel silver achieved the look of sterling silver for a fraction of the price. Reed & Barton embraced this new technology and refocused most of its manufacturing on electro-silverplate, designing new manufacturing methods and forms to suit it.
By 1850 Reed & Barton became the primary source for affordable silver-plated tableware and was the largest U.S. company in that industry with over 100 employees, generating over $100,000 in sales (over $3.5 million today). By 1864 the company was selling over $340,000 a year, and supplying the majority of metal goods to the developing railroad and the hotel trades.
George Brabrook became a partner in the company in 1859 and introduced a new level of business, sales, and financial oversight, creating the first proper design department in 1873 and importing designer W.C. Beattie from England to lead it. By 1889 there were 24 designers creating the thousands of new designs promoted at global expositions and in extraordinary print catalogs issued by Reed and Barton in 1877 and 1884. The US Navy began a long relationship with Reed & Barton which then produced all of the flat and hollow ware used on ships through the end of World War Two.
With Henry Reed’s death in 1901, William B.H. Dowse took over as president. Dowse had married Reed’s daughter Fanny, beginning a pattern of family ownership that saw multiple generations of Reed & Barton management arrive through daughters and marriage. Dowse was a patent lawyer with extensive business experience developed at his Consolidated Fastener Company which he continued running even as he took on Reed & Barton. Dowse prepared the company for growth into the 20th century by installing electricity throughout the factory, augmenting the existing water and steam power with new electric turbines, and establishing new manufacturing and pricing based on scientific cost analysis.
With the discovery and mining of extensive deposits in the American West, the price of silver declined in the late 19th century, making sterling silver more affordable. Reed & Barton added sterling silver production to the existing silver-plated goods. By 1904, sterling was outselling everything else, and the company’s focus on sterling production expanded.
In 1905, the company opened its first retail store on 32nd and Fifth Avenue in New York City. In 1910 Dowse found tremendous success with a new line of ready-made trophies for clubs and competitions that could not afford to commission custom pieces. Trophy design and the existing relationship with the US Navy led to the creation of several extraordinary commemorative silver services used on battleships. USSs Arizona, California, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Utah all carried Reed and Barton silver, and drawings exist for other sets that were not executed.
The 1920s saw more changes at the company. Dowse retired in 1923, and Sinclair Weeks (husband of Dowse’s daughter Beatrice Lee Dowse), took over as president. Weeks also maintained a distinguished career in politics, notably creating the 1956 Federal Interstate Highway act as Secretary of Commerce under President Eisenhower. in 1924 Reed & Barton filled a million dollar order for a customized version of the popular Francis the First pattern for the Maharaja of Barwani which was shipped from Taunton, eventually arriving in Barwani after 800 miles inland by train, 400 by mule, and 100 more by courier.
Reed & Barton purchased New Jersey-based sterling manufacturer Dominick & Haff in 1928 and with the company came their successful Pointed Antique pattern. The 1920s also saw a new era of design at Reed & Barton as trained professionals entered the design department. George Turner graduated from Rhode Island School of Design, and August Miller was poached from the design department at Tiffany. Both designers stayed on well into the 1940s, giving Reed & Barton graceful entry into the modern era. In the 1930s independent designers, including Eliel Saarinen and Belle Kogan, were hired to bring new ideas into the company.
World War Two led to technical innovations pioneered at Reed & Barton. The US government worked with the factory to develop methods of plating silver directly onto steel when copper was no longer available. With the arrival of stainless steel, Reed & Barton developed tougher dies and stronger abrasives to allow the manufacture of stainless flatware. The company quickly went from making 100,000 pieces a week for the US Army and Navy to 180,000. By the end of the war the volume was 210,000 pieces a week. The company also developed a Surgical Instruments Division, which produced medical instruments for military use. This, in addition to the one million pieces of war-time silver-plated Navy holloware, earned Reed & Barton a coveted Army-Navy E.
After the war, Reed & Barton expanded its sterling silver flatware production and helped create the expectation that a full set of silver was part of any wedding celebration. In 1954, noted Italian architect Gio Ponti created one of the most enduring patterns, called Diamond. After extensive alterations by Reed & Barton designers John (Jack) Prip and Theodore Cayer to make it better suit an American audience and factory production, Diamond debuted at the Plaza Hotel in 1958.
In 1971, Sinclair Weeks was succeeded as president by his son, Sinclair Weeks, Jr. Reed & Barton’s business remained strong in the 1970s and 1980s, although fluctuations in the price of silver and changing consumer tastes offered serious challenges.
Reed & Barton produced a 3,318-piece sterling silver service for the Saudi Arabian royal family in 1980 which included 10 meat trays as large as five feet long weighing as much as an astonishing 480 ounces (33 pounds), as well as another service for use on King Khalid’s Boeing 747.
The company produced all of the medals for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games which marked the end of the company’s design and manufacturing in Taunton. During the 1980s and 1990s, Reed & Barton shifted from manufacturing to product development and distribution. Albert D. Krebel became president in 1987. The company began outsourcing manufacturing to vendors in Asia, and in the 1990s Reed & Barton began distributing goods made by other companies, including Waterford and Royal Doulton.
Reed & Barton thrived for almost 200 years. At its peak, the firm employed 1000 workers, most living in the Whittenton and Hopewell neighborhoods of Taunton. Reed & Barton finally closed its doors in 2015, ending an extraordinary era of innovation, manufacturing, design, and sales. In 1828, the United States was a young nation without a unified currency, with no transportation network, with no design independence, and with little in the way of every-day luxury. Reed & Barton grew with the nation, helping to advance the progress that
Harvard Business School
Coffeepot 92030C, 1911
Belle Kogan, 1938
Saudi Pointed Antique, 1980
Old Colony History Museum
66 Church Green
Taunton, Massachusetts 02780
Open Tuesday – Saturday
10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
project contact: email@example.com
Copyright 2023 All Rights Reserved