Business New Haven
By: Priscilla Searles
Isaac Doolittle was an 18th-century entrepreneur. Although he never became famous, Doolittle was unafraid to enter into new ventures, all of which were, reportedly, commercially successful. Born in Wallingford in 1722, Doolittle moved to New Haven at an early age, residing for most of his adult life in a house on Chapel Street.
Doolittle had a brass shop at 1198 Chapel Street, one of the first in Connecticut. It was in this shop that Doolittle built the first printing press in American (except for a small homemade press in Germantown, Pa.) for William Goddard, the great Philadelphia printer. Doolittle also produced andirons, tong and shovel handles and doorknobs. He imported silver watches, mended them and cleaned them, and made stone-engraved seals, set in silver, as well as some jewelry.
Early in his career, Doolittle began making brass-wheel clocks by hand - the first, many believe, made in America. It is this type of clock that appealed to the aristocrats of the 18th century, a clock seen in affluent homes in a place of honor, such as the hall or front, formal parlor. The clocks of those days had long cases from floor to ceiling, what we now call grandfather clocks. Doolittle produced the works, and the wooden cases were made by Sherman Blair.
Doolittle also cast bells, turning out church bells which he cast at his Chapel Street shop and at a foundry on Bell Street. The casting was always a great event, with residents congregating to watch the furnace being tapped and the metal flaming into the molds.
In 1776, Doolittle, Jeremiah Atwater and two other New Haveners obtained a permit from the Council of Safety to start a powder mill in Westville for the purpose of manufacturing gunpowder for the patriot army. Less than a year and a half later, according the Records of the Town Meeting of New Haven, 1769-1807, they received orders from Gov. Jonathan Trumbull to deliver 1,000 pounds of powder to the selectman of New Haven as town stock, and take their receipt to account from same.
The town records also indicate that Doolittle served as surveyor of highways for a number of years, sealer of weights and measures and collector of the town rate, a/k/a the tax collector. Doolittle died on February 13, 1800 at age 78. BNH