The March 16, 1902, Sunday edition of the Brooklyn Eagle carried a large, illustrated feature about New Britain, Conn., which “stood at the very head of the inventive world.”
Research indicated that the town, in proportion to its size, “contained more inventions than any other place in the United States,” meaning more patents had been filed by its citizens, per capita, than anywhere else.
Connecticut was the most inventive state, and New Britain the most inventive of its towns. According to the Commissioner of Patents, “during the last twenty years no state has ever taken out more patents in proportion to it population than Connecticut. In fact, with the exception of four years, it may be said that the state of Connecticut has occupied the first place for thirty years. The state was beaten by the District of Columbia in 1876 and in 1878; Massachusetts was ahead in 1879 and Kansas beat Connecticut in 1881, but with the exception of these four years the Nutmeg State has consistently held the lead in ingenuity. During the ten years prior to 1900 the average for Connecticut, according to the population, was one patent a year to every 908 persons. During the same time period the town of New Britain produced one patent every year for each 367 persons.”
The residents of New Britain had two theories on why the town was so inventive, the Eagle reported. For one thing, the town’s chief manufacturing industry was in builders’ hardware and many of the patents revolved around that industry, such as a reversible latch, a chain bolt, locks for sliding doors and a design for a master key lock. The other theory attributed their inventive status to the State Normal School, established in New Britain in 1850. It was a teaching college that attracted “the best and the brightest minds in Connecticut.”
“Many of the students worked there way through college and in so doing were brought directly in contact with the manufacturing needs of the town,” the article explained, so many of the students eventually left teaching to go into business for themselves. The patents noticeably increased in the 10 years after the school was established.