The Elm City’s history is ripe with innovators whose creations have changed the way America lives, works and plays

 

Game-changing inventions are nothing new for New Haven. For centuries the region’s creative minds have been coming up with innovations that entertain, make life easier or have provided a major economic boost to the community. The following is just a small sampling area firsts.

 

George Smith: The Lollipop

Definition of a lollypop: a piece of hard candy on a stick. Just hold it in your hand a lick away. We can credit Elm City candymaker George Smith of the Bradley Smith Co. with coming up with the idea that eating hard candy on a stick was a lot easier than trying to hold the sticky stuff in your fingers.

In 1892 Smith observed another New Havener had inserted a stick in chocolate caramel candy. If that worked, he reasoned, why not try hard candy? By 1903 Smith and his partner, Andrew Bradley, were producing pegged hard candy, which sold for one penny. The new product remained nameless until Smith paid a visit to a local fair and watched a horse named Lolly Pop win its race.

Bradley Smith adopted the term for its candy on a stick, patenting the name in 1931. But for several years during the Depression the company stopped making candy and was unable to maintain ownership of the trademark. The name became a generic term for candy on a stick, eventually becoming one word. Bradley Smith remained in business in New Haven until 1984.

 

Eli Whitney Blake: Stone Crusher

Yale College graduate Eli Whitney Blake began his career in the field of law. But when Uncle Eli Whitney asked for his help in erecting and organizing the gun factory at Whitneyville, Blake turned his attention to “building a better mousetrap,” including making numerous improvements in the machinery.

Following the elder Whitney’s death in 1825, Blake and his brother Philos continued to manage the business. By 1835 the two brothers had been joined by brother John and were running a hardware factory in Westville, producing door locks and latches of their own design.

In 1851 Blake had been placed on a New Haven town commission charged with laying two miles of macadam pavement on Whalley Avenue between New Haven and Westville. Frustrated with the waste of labor in producing crushed stone, Blake turned his attention to finding a labor-saving solution. The result was the stone crusher. After the machine debuted in 1856, Blake formed the Blake Rock Crusher Co. and by 1879 had produced 500 of the devices, saving millions of dollars in road construction. Blake’s rock crusher remains in use today.

 

Henry S. Parmelee: Automatic Fire Sprinkler

Henry S. Parmelee, president of the Mathusek Piano Works of New Haven, was distressed over the soaring cost of fire insurance, driven to stratospheric heights following major fires in Chicago and Boston in 1871 and 1872, respectively.

Looking for ways to protect his piano factory while saving on insurance premiums, in 1874 following several failures he came up with the first closed sprinkler head which he installed in his shop.

Although Parmelee had developed the automatic fire sprinkler for his piano factory, some business associates soon asked him to design sprinkler systems for their own factories. From those requests came the birth of the Parmelee Sprinkler Co. Because the systems were expensive to install, Parmelee convinced insurance companies to lower rates for businesses that installed the system.

Prone to clogging and not very sensitive, Parmelee’s sprinklers left much to be desired. In spite of the disadvantages, they did work and Parmelee was successful in promoting them, with some 200,000 installed throughout New England. The early systems did, in fact, pave the way for more effective sprinklers for commercial use.

 

Charles Goodyear: Vulcanized Rubber

Experiments by Charles Goodyear to prevent India rubber from melting and decomposing at high temperatures led to the accidental invention of the process of vulcanizing rubber. 

Goodyear had some early success, obtaining a patent for a process that destroyed the adhesive properties of rubber by mixing it with nitric acid and copper. By 1833 he was producing shoes, piano covers and tablecloths. In the same year Goodyear met Nathaniel Hayward, who was about to patent his discovery that sulfur spread on rubber eliminated the latter’s stickiness. Hayward assigned his patent, granted in 1839, to Goodyear, who combined the Hayward process with his own patented nitric acid coating. When Goodyear accidentally dropped a mass of rubber treated with Hayward's sulfur solution onto a hot stove, the rubber did not melt but remained solid.

In 1844, Goodyear was awarded a patent for his process. Although a simple “accident” breathed new life into the American rubber industry, Goodyear was unable to reap any financial rewards. To pay off his debts he was forced to sell licenses and establish royalties at prices far below their true commercial value.

 

Ithiel Town: The Truss Bridge

New Haven engineer and architect Ithiel Town began his career as a house painter. He came to New Haven in 1810, achieving almost instant acclaim as an architect for his designs of Center Church (1813) and Trinity Church on the Green (1815).

In 1821 Town created what would become a universal design for the wooden covered bridge. Previously construction of wood truss bridges required engineering abilities that most carpenters lacked as well as specially hewn timbers.

Characterized as the bridge that could be built by the mile and cut off by the yard, Town's truss bridge was simple, practical and possible to construct by those who lacked his engineering ability. Town's first truss bridge was constructed in New Haven in 1823 for the Hartford & New Haven Turnpike, spanning the millpond at Eli Whitney's gun factory.

Town received a $1-per-foot royalty for all truss bridges built in the United States, making him a wealthy man. New England is dotted with covered bridges built with the Town design.

 

David N. Mullany: The Wiffle Ball

Wiffle ball — it’s not quite baseball and there is little danger of batting the lightweight ball through any glass windows. You can play with it inside or outside. And it came about when a son presented his father with a problem.

The year was 1953 and David N. Mullany, an out of work semi-pro baseball pitcher, arrived home one night to find his son and some friends playing ball in the backyard. The boys were trying to throw curves with a small plastic golf ball.

Mullany’s son, David A., complained that throwing the golf ball for a long time made his arm feel "like jelly.” Mullany’s goal was to make a ball that kids could throw curveballs with. Coming up with a ball the same size as a regulation baseball, but made of hollow plastic, he tested the market by placing some on the counter of a local diner. The name came about when his son’s friends would refer to a strikeout as a "whiff."

The rest, as they say, is history. Today Wiffle Ball, proudly made in America, is headquartered in Shelton.

 

Noah Webster: American Dictionary of the English Language

 A 1776 graduate of Yale College, Noah Webster became a teacher. He soon realized the need for textbooks and set about producing numerous books appropriate for classroom instruction.

One such book was the Elementary Spelling Book, otherwise known as the Blue Back Speller, published in 1783. With the backing of Gov. Jonathan Trumbull, by 1862 the little spelling book had sold 41 million copies in various editions and revisions. It is this book that helped to establish a standardization of spelling and pronunciation. It supported Webster and his family while he worked on his dictionary.

The idea for the dictionary was born while Webster was attending Yale Law School. Webster began to write down every word that he did not understand. There was an English dictionary available at the time but it hadn’t been updated for decades.

Webster worked on his dictionary year after year, re-writing, expanding and perfecting it for 21 years until 1828, when the first two-volume work was published. Not satisfied, he spent the next 23 years producing abridgements of various sizes.

 

Charles Hervey Townshend: Locally Grown Seed Oysters

A successful sea captain who had helmed some of the fastest and largest packets operating between New York and Europe, Charles Hervey Townshend first went to sea at age 15.

Townshend had a strong interest in the oyster industry, which had been part of New Haven’s economy from the earliest days of the colony. Unable to grow seed oysters locally, by 1850 new Haven oystermen were using 250 schooners to import 200 million bushels of seed oysters yearly to Fair Haven, the epicenter of the region’s oyster industry.

Having observed oystering in France, Townshend was convinced that seed oysters could be grown locally and set out to prove his theory.  Using the moat at Fort Nathan Hale, he began to experiment. He met with some success early on but when neighbors found out, they ate the evidence. Undaunted, he tried again, this time proving the seed oysters cemented to old, used shells. So successful was his discovery that by the turn of the century more than 50 oyster companies lined the Quinnipiac River, producing one-eighth of the nation’s total output of oysters and seed oysters.

 

Alfred Carleton Gilbert: The Erector Set

A life long interest in magic helped pay Alfred Carleton Gilbert’s way through Yale and eventually led to the formation of the A.C. Gilbert Co.

Given a set of magic tricks at age 11, Gilbert developed great skill, appearing at events while in college as a magician. Following graduation in 1906, Gilbert began to manufacture box sets of magic tricks under the name Mysto Manufacturing Co.

In 1912 the ambitious Gilbert came out with a new toy in time for Christmas: the Erector Set. The toy was an instant success with children and parents alike.

Erector Sets contained various metal beams with holes for assembly using nuts and bolts, as well as pulleys, gears, wheels and a small electric motor.

Gilbert continued to expand his product line, adding non-toy items. In 1916 he changed the name of the company to A.C. Gilbert Co. and added chemistry sets to the line. Over the years numerous toys were added including trains.

In 1967, the company closed its doors. But the Erector Set survives, now manufactured by another firm.

 

Eli Whitney: The Cotton Gin

It’s the rare New Havener who doesn’t know that Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. But don’t ask how it works and what impact it had on the economy of the United States — and indeed the world.

Prior to the invention of the cotton gin, cultivating cotton simply wasn’t practical — it took a laborer an entire workday to clean a single pound of cotton.

The idea of a machine to separate the cotton seeds wasn’t new, but Whitney was the first one to come up with a design that worked. Granted a patent in 1794, Whitney’s invention used a saw-tooth design that removed the seeds in large quantities without severely damaging the fibers. Production jumped from one pound per day per worker to 1,000 pounds a day, providing the South with a transformative cash crop that would keep mills busy on both sides of the Atlantic (though at the same time fueling a dramatic increase in the population of indentured servants needed to cultivate the crop)..

Whitney’s first model was stolen. Later, a factory containing 20 cotton gins burned to the ground and legal wrangling over infringement of the patent kept him from reaping the financial rewards from his transformative innovation. In spite of all challenges and failures, the method used by Whitney is still employed today.

 

Community leaders gaze into the crystal ball

 

 In April of 1638, a small band of Puritans, who had left the Massachusetts Bay Colony, sailed into a harbor in the north central part of Long Island Sound and landed on the southern shores of what is now known as Connecticut. They called their new home New Haven.

Led by Reverend John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton, a London merchant who joined them, the band of Puritans had fled England in search of a place where they could establish their own colony where they could freely practice their own religion. They bought the land from the Quinnipiack Indian tribe, who surrendered the land in exchange for the Englishmen’s protection from attack by the rival Pequot Indian tribe to their east. Like other colonies established elsewhere in New England, the New Haven Colony was ruled by Biblical laws. Only church members were allowed to vote in the colony.

A lot has changed since that day in 1638.

New Haven sits at the gateway to New England, the second-largest city in Connecticut with a population over 132,000. It is largely regarded as the cultural center of the state, home to Yale University, the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, and a diverse collection of theaters, museums, restaurants and events that draw thousands of people from across the country and around the world.

We asked several corporate and institutional leaders to comment on what makes the region a destination for commerce, innovation and culture on the occasion of New Haven’s 375th birthday. We also asked them to gaze into their crystal ball and forecast where their own industries and companies might be in the next 25 years.

“New Haven has become a national model for kindergarten through graduate school cooperation, collaboration and innovation, thanks in large part to the leadership of Mayor John DeStefano and Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo,” says Steven H. Kaplan, president of the University of New Haven. “I think the seeds thus far planted will enable the city to continue to attract an increasing number of biotech, high tech and new-economy manufacturing companies. The combination of a well-prepared workforce, thanks to the aforementioned innovation, and an exceptionally strong creative arts community will position New Haven as a national model for ingenuity and new job creation.”

Kaplan adds that there will be changes in the future regarding higher education.

“We’ll see an increasing focus on cost versus value and on new approaches to program delivery,” predicts Kaplan. “Collaboration between private industry and innovative educational institutions will generate dynamic and cost-effective approaches to education from kindergarten through graduate school.”

For the future of UNH, Kaplan adds that the West Haven university will increase its focus on science and engineering.

“UNH is collaborating with the city of New Haven on a dynamic STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics] magnet school and a marine science center on Long Island Sound,” Kaplan says. “We are also working with a major private-equity firm on a new model for engineering education that will lead to the development of branch campuses across the nation.

“Over the next 25 years, I envision UNH continuing to build on its strong history of responding to market needs and demands,” concludes Kaplan. “This will mean enhancing its leading-edge programs in such areas as forensic science, criminal justice and marine biology while dramatically expanding its national presence in other critically important fields such as engineering and computer science.”

Roger Joyce, vice president of engineering for the Bilco Co. of West Haven, echoes Kaplan’s thoughts.

“The future for the region is embedded in science and technology,” says Joyce. “It’s already shown great strength in bioscience and it’s just the tip of the iceberg for what’s to come. The fact that we have in place so many small and growing innovative laboratories, in addition to all the research that’s going on at Yale University, Yale Medical School and Yale-New Haven Hospital, are indications of growth industries that will stay here in the region. The educated workforce that we have supports all of this work.”

Joyce foresees change on the horizon for the manufacturing industry.

“Industry is changing a lot,” notes Joyce. “Manufacturing will continue to exist in the state but in a different form that’s evolving now. Precision manufacturing, like in the aerospace industry, is an indication of the kind of support that our level of education can bring to innovation in manufacturing.”

Looking ahead to the next 25 years for Bilco, Joyce reflects on the company’s intention to remain in the region.

“We are committed to keeping our world headquarters here in West Haven even though our manufacturing is now located in the Midwest,” adds Joyce, whose family-owned company makes access products including the legendary eponymous doors. “We look forward to the redevelopment of our neighborhood as does [West Haven] Mayor John Picard. The city is seeking a developer to build here along the water. It would be ideal for us if an office building was built here where we could relocate. We’ll remain active in international market growth and new product development and we’ll continue to open new markets around the world.”

 Changes are already taking shape in the real estate market according to Barbara Pearce, president of H. Pearce Co., Realtors.

“New Haven will continue to evolve as an educational, arts and cultural center for the region and the Northeast,” Pearce says. “It will continue to attract artists and people who are involved in intellectual pursuits and contribute to the region, where we have great nightlife, dining and residential living.”

Pearce adds that the regional outlook relates to what her industry will be like in the next 25 years.

“Realtors will no longer just be about giving information on properties,” she notes. “You can get your own information now, so we will have two functions: One is that we will serve as professional negotiators for people; two, that we will act as concierges for the region, so that when people move into the region or are deciding where to buy within the area, they will use us because we’re experts on our region and we can match what people want to what is available.”

Pearce says her company is poised to continue its growth and has already anticipated some of what may be expected of Realtors.

“Our company is well-positioned for the future because parts of our business are already suited to specific needs,” Pearce explains. “We have relocation services, senior services, and a luxury department. As the Gen X and Gen Y people take the place of the baby-boomers, it’s clear from what they say that they’re looking for quality of life and work-life balance. We’re already aimed at giving people the exact experience they’re looking for, and that area will expand for us in the future.”

Miles Lasater, co-founder and chief operating officer of Higher One, a company focused on helping college business offices manage operations and provide enhanced financial services to students, summed up what he expects for the future.

“New Haven has deep entrepreneurial roots including Eli Whitney, Winchester, funding the early oil industry and many more,” says Lasater. “As we look forward to the next 25 years, I am excited to see the flourishing of more entrepreneurship.”

 

 Jennifer Gerardo Brown of New Haven has been named dean of the Quinnipiac University School of Law effective July 1. Brown joined the Quinnipiac law faculty in 1994 and is currently the Carmen Torture Professor of Law. For nearly 15 years she has been director of the School of Law’s Center on Dispute Resolution. Before coming to QU she was an associate professor at Emory Law School. Brown received her AB from Bryn Mar College and a JD from the University of Illinois College of Law.

Gov. Darnel P. Malloy has nominated Yvonne M. Klein of Darien as commissioner of the state’s Department of Housing, a new state agency that will coordinate housing policies and programs by consolidating the existing housing functions of several state agencies into one office. Klein was first selectman of Darien from 2003 to 2009. Currently she is an engage life director with Atria Senior Living.

Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage has named Susan Cassidy sales manager of the company’s Milford office. She will be responsible for the day-to-day sales and operations of 55 sales associates serving Milford, New Haven, Shelton and the surrounding communities. For the previous five years Classify served as manager of the Oxford Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage office.

Wallingford franchiser Edible Arrangements International has named John Uncheck vice president of franchise development to lead the 1,100-unit concept’s global expansion. Uncheck was previously vice president of new business development for Seattle’s Best Coffee Co., where he was responsible for the re-launch of the company’s franchising program. He holds a BS in business administration from the University of Kansas.

Mark Gorilla, formerly interim CEO of Tower One/Tower East, has been named president and CEO of the New Haven senior living community. Gorilla has more than 21 years of management experience, including managing operations and services of senior living communities. He has worked in multiple capacities at Tower One/Tower East for more than a decade. He is a graduate of Roger Williams University.

Sara Ruggiero of Hamden has joined H. Pearce Real Estate Co. as marketing specialist in the firm’s North Haven corporate office. She will be responsible for public relations, advertising and branding for the company. Most recently Ruggiero was marketing director for the Fusco Corp. in New Haven. She is a past president of the Connecticut chapter of the Society of Marketing Professional Services. She holds a BS in marketing from Bentley University.

Milford Hospital has named Ronald Silverberg of Bethany and Gary Open, DMD of Milford to its board of directors. Silverberg is vice president of business banking for the Milford Bank. Orthodontist Open works in partnership with his father at their Milford practice, Open Wide Orthodontics.

Maureen Campbell, president of Pearce Plus Relocation and Senior Services, has been appointed 2013 president of the Relocation Directors Council (RDC), a national trade organization for relocation professionals. Campbell will be responsible for representing RDC at Worldwide ERC meetings and other industry events. A subsidiary of H. Pearce Real Estate, Pearce Plus offers programs to address all levels of recruiting and workforce mobility needs.

James Webb has joined Tithe & Bond as an environmental compliance specialist in the engineering the firm’s Middletown office. Webb has nearly a decade of experience providing clients with hazardous building materials inspections and oversight on abatement projects. He earned a BS in environmental science from Eastern Connecticut State University, and is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association and the Asbestos Analyst Registry.

Omar J. Livingston of Stratford has been named director of financial aid and planning for online programs at Quinnipiac University Online. He will be responsible for establishing up a financial aid office to support Quinnipiac growing online population. Students interested in Quos online degree programs are eligible to receive either federal or private educational loans to assist them in financing their education. Livingston was graduated from Albert’s Magnus College with a bachelor’s degree in business management. He previously was associate director of financial aid at Gateway Community College.

Daniel J. May, vice president for academic affairs at the University of Findlay (O.), has been named provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of New Haven. He replaces David Dawdler, who will become executive vice president and provost at Woodbury University in Burbank, Calif. on April 1. May has worked at Findlay since 1991, when he was appointed assistant professor of geology. He rose to full professor in 2001 and became dean of the university’s College of Sciences in 2003. He was named Findlay’s vice president for academic affairs in 2004. May earned a BS in geology from Stanford and a Ph.D. in geology from the University of California/Santa Barbara.

 

 Litigator by day, super-volunteer by night is indefatigable Tom Sansone

 

When Tom Sansone cares about something, good things happen. Sansone is a partner with the firm Carmody & Torrance, practicing commercial law in New Haven. His days consist of representing creditors in bankruptcy proceedings. He’s been practicing law for over 25 years and says he enjoys the intellectual stimulation.

 

“I enjoy getting to learn about people’s enterprises — what they do, what they make and how they try to make a living,” he explains. “I also like the problem-solving aspect of litigation and the interplay of opposing sides.”

 

It’s not just his career that makes him stand out, though. It’s his personality. It’s his nature.

 

Because of Sansone’s efforts, community programs are being funded, impoverished children halfway across the world are going to school, children here in New Haven are receiving the mental-health help they need. It’s all because he cares.

 

Sansone became involved with the New Haven chapter of United Way in 1997 as a volunteer. Before he joined the group’s board of directors, he worked on an initiative to increase the level of donations from area professionals, in particular the legal profession. He worked on a task force with Jack Healey, the current president of the United Way. Sansone says he enjoyed working with the group so much that he eagerly accepted when they asked him to join the board. He served as chairman from 2006-08.

 

“It’s a very committed group of volunteers and paid staff — a great combination,” he says. “The United Way has always been lean in the way it staffs its organization, but only because it has such great volunteers.” He joined at a time of change for the organization, as it transitioned from a pure fundraising organization to a more broadly impactful entity.

 

“Rather than sprinkling money on 85 different programs, [the United Way] would pick out the areas in the community that cried out most for assistance,” he says. From there, the United Way’s Compass program was designed to provide communities a means to identify needs through focus groups. Two chief needs were identified: there were great educational disparities in greater New Haven, and those disparities had a strict correlation with economic health.

 

The bulk of Sansone’s volunteer efforts focus around education. One of the most profound events of his life came through his work with Christ Episcopal Church in Bethany in the early 2000s when he met Evalyn Wakhusama, a Kenyan minister who was studying for a master’s degree at the Yale Divinity School. Wakhusama was working at the same Bethany church where Sansone was a preacher and Eucharistic minister when the two had many conversations about the underprivileged area of Kenya called Nambali.

 

“We, with other members of the parish, wanted to do something,” Sansone recounts. “We came up with an idea to build a school.” Christ Church teamed with a Presbyterian church in Noroton and raised $23,000 to purchase seven acres of land.

 

“That was the easy part,” Sansone says.

 

After Wakhusama returned to Kenya, she started an organization called WIKS (Women’s Initiative for Knowledge & Survival) with plans to build a residential school where children orphaned or at risk due to AIDS can attend school in a loving and nurturing environment and thus acquire an education and life skills to prepare them for future study at high school and college. An additional $350,000 was raised, most through grassroots support and gifts from individual parishioners, and in 2009, the Nambale Magnet School opened with 35 students. Today, there are 220 students at the school, which has students from kindergarten through fifth grade. 

 

The school, according to Sansone, has a rainwater-harvesting collection system, a greenhouse, dairy unit and a chicken coop.

 

“We wanted not only to make a difference in a student’s life, we wanted to enrich and energize the whole community,” explains Sansone. He was present for the groundbreaking of the school and says it was during a quiet moment on that very hot day that he looked down and saw the cornerstone of the school and realized, “I’ll never do anything as important as this again.”

 

 

 Stacey Charles of Waterbury would disagree. Now grown and married with a new baby girl, Charles was just eight years old when she first met Sansone. The pesky insistent lawyer whom Charles had no interest in talking to ended up turning her life around.

 

The two met through the Connecticut Mentoring Partnership while Charles was in third grade in Waterbury.

 

“They were looking for troubled children who were very quiet and anti-social, and that was me,” she recalls. “They put us together and he was so sweet, trying to get to know me. I was so troubled and I didn’t trust him, but he stayed by my side. I didn’t expect it to work, since we’re so different. He is white and I’m black; he’s a male and I’m a female. Most people would think he would not have had such a positive effect on me.” The program was scheduled to last one year, but every year thereafter Sansone continued to mentor Charles, building a relationship that the two still cherish.

 

“I got more out of it than she did,” Sansone says. Again, Charles disagrees.

 

“He helped me blossom. He’s not just a mentor; he’s my father. He’s helped me with college, personal problems, and even financially,” she says. “He’s a very humble person and really doesn’t like a lot of attention.”

 

“If it weren’t for him,” Charles concludes, “I wouldn’t have what I have.”

 

It is in Sansone’s nature to give in a quiet and unassuming way. He is on the board of directors at the Clifford Beers Children’s Mental Health Clinic, proud to be celebrating that organization’s centennial in 2013.

 

“I’m in awe of what they do,” he says.

 

Alice Forrester, director of the clinic, shares a mutual awe.

 

“Tom is an incredible supporter of the clinic,” she says. “He is an incredible citizen for New Haven. His legal brain and what he offers in terms of rational thinking and leadership on the board — we’re doubly blessed.”

 

Sansone was also a Bethany Library Association trustee and member of the Bethany Library Association board of directors from 1997 to 2006. He has received the Connecticut Bar Association’s Distinguished Volunteers recognition, and awards from the United Way of Greater New Haven for Outstanding Volunteer and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Waterbury Public Schools Partners in Education.

 

And in his free time, he is an announcer for the Connecticut Dressage & Combined Training Association horse shows, the Bethany Parks & Recreation Department’s annual road races and the Bethany Harvest Festival. He also sings the National Anthem on key at public events — every note.

 

The New York Yankee fan spent his 50th birthday not singing the National Anthem, but playing baseball with the Yankees at a fantasy camp in Florida,

 

“At some point, you just have to say there’s more to life than work,” he says. On that topic, Brian Henebry, Carmody & Torrance’s managing partner, agrees.

 

“It’s important for attorneys to be involved in the communities where we work, and we encourage that,” Henebry says. “Tom, however, takes that to a whole new level.”

 

 How a father-and-son manufacturing team are helping others to learn to fly

 

 

 

At what one might assume was the tender age of 13 and soon after World War II ended, John Soto left his grandparents and the then small town of Fajado, in Puerto Rico, to join his mother and siblings already living in the U.S.

 

After a few years of odd jobs and with GED high school diploma in hand, he would eventually find his way to a machine shop in the Bronx.

 

With no experience he talked his way into a job that provided the opportunity he would build his life around.

 

“I’m writing a book,  Looking for Fraioli”, for it was Mr. Fraioli who opened the door and let him in, he says.

 

After nearly 20 years at machine shops in New York and Stamford, Soto opened up his own machine shop in Milford in 1970.

 

By 1974 he was doing several million in annual sales, and had paid off his SBA loan and was recognized as Connecticut Small Businessperson of the Year.

 

Eventually he developed his own product lines as well as several machine shops around the country with more than 200 total employees.

 

Recounts the still-fast-moving Soto: “I had five different companies, but I grew too fast in the ‘80s, and when the banks down went [during the financial collapse of the late 1980s] I had a lot of hard assets but not enough cash. I had to work my way out of that and I did.” 

 

After selling several of his companies, he refocused his personal attentions to a streamlined Space-Craft Manufacturing in New Haven, which operates out of a sprawling company-owned facility on East Street. The manufacturing plant is filled with towering CNC machines and the company’s 45 employees turn out parts for engines from the still-flying (after half a century in service) Boeing B-52s to the Pratt & Whitney PurePower PW1000G.

 

Assistant general manager and son Pedro Soto 35,  was graduated from Amherst College in 1999 and now runs most of the day-to-day operations. “I started as an intern in 1997 and joined the company full time in 2007,” explains the younger Soto. “Today the company is the single-source supplier for several parts on some of the most sophisticated jet engines, built by General Electric and Pratt & Whitney.”

 

Asked whether he would be been better off sending his son to an engineering school, the elder Soto quickly replies, “I believe in a liberal-arts education. I also told him, ‘Don’t be bad copy of me — be an original.’”

 

John Soto knows something about what it means to be an original.

 

“I faced all the elements,” he says. “I faced rejection, discrimination. I was born poor. I was born in the wrong place in the world. But if you want to do something you can get it done. You have to want it bad enough, no one is going to give it to you. It is all about work.”

 

He adds, “I took to the machine shop, and almost from the beginning I was able to help train other workers.” Soto cites that commitment to building the skills of his employees that helped build his career and companies — and apparently his company’s philanthropy as well.

 

The financial and personal resources that both John Soto and now Pedro Soto have put to work in greater New Haven and Connecticut are why Business New Haven recognizes Space-Craft Manufacturing as its 2013 Corporate Citizen of the Year.

 

 

With success, Soto and his companies began “giving back” and that effort has been heavily devoted to education and to helping others advance their own educations.

 

One of those first efforts, in 1978, was to help the then newly formed CALAHE, the Connecticut Association of Latinos in Higher Education.

 

Twenty years later Soto reached out to the organization to help it solve its long-term need for a stable source of scholarship money. Using his business contacts and love of golf he organized a golf tournament to raise funds, the success of the tournament (which continues to this day) has led to an ongoing managed scholarship endowment by CALAHE for qualified students.

 

Wilson Luna, dean of students at Gateway Community College and CALAHE leader, told Soto that he didn’t play golf and didn’t know much about it.

 

Soto told Luna, “Don’t worry — I’ll get it going. I’ll take care of it.”

 

Fourteen years later, the 2013 CALAHE Scholarship Golf Classic is scheduled for September 20 at Indian Hill Country Club in Newington.

 

Eventually Soto would find himself on the foundation boards for Gateway Community College and in 2007 was inducted into the Gateway Foundation’s Hall of Fame.

 

“After being involved with Gateway I saw how some students would drop out when they would run into relatively small financial problems,” Soto explains. “So we established the Helping Hand Fund to address that.” Soto set up a similar fund at Southern Connecticut State University.

 

“John created the fund and supports it every year,” says Luna. “Sometimes students run into a crisis — for transportation, or housing, even food — and the school can’t move fast enough to help. That’s where the Helping Hand Fund comes in.

 

“I can’t say enough good about him,” adds Luna of John Soto. “He speaks to students at city schools, to help with their self-esteem, and to encourage students to reach for higher goals.”

 

Soto was also part of the search committee that played an even larger role for Gateway Community College itself: The group found the candidates for GCC president, including Dorsey Kendrick who was eventually chosen for the job in 1999, as well as Wilfredo Nieves, current president of Capital Community College in Hartford.

 

Soto recently endowed an ongoing financial support and bought naming rights for Gateway’s Engineering Department. The money can be used for scholarships, professional development, student leadership and other college programs.

 

“I am very proud of Gateway’s relationship with John Soto and his family,” says Kendrick. “They have been great advocates who bring an outstanding ethic of caring to our students, starting with the establishment of a Helping Hands Fund for students who face temporary emergency situations that might prevent them from continuing their studies, to a generous commitment to support our manufacturing degree programs.”

 

Soto served for nearly a dozen years on the Southern Connecticut State University foundation board as well, and those efforts and the continuing financial assistance are recognized by it newest leader.

 

“As an active community volunteer and philanthropist, Mr. Soto gave long and valued service to Southern Connecticut State University as a member of our foundation board, establishing a scholarship for Latino students and an additional fund to help students in need,” said SCSU President Mary Papazian. “With his business acumen and entrepreneurial vision, his community service and his selfless efforts to create advancement opportunities for Connecticut’s underserved youth, he is an example to us all.”

 

Along with taking over responsibilities at the plant Pedro Soto has also taken his place in community service activities and his imprint is being felt across greater New Haven.

 

Liberal-arts education aside, the younger Soto has become a strong advocate for blue-collar education and training. “We could add a few more jobs right now, but we have trouble finding the skill levels we need.”

 

Pedro Soto has clearly learned the role of community support. He has joined the Gateway Foundation Board, is president of New Haven Preservation Trust, treasurer of the Elm City Market Community Co-op and vice chair of New Haven’s Economic Development Corp. (EDC).

 

Tony Bialecki, the city’s deputy economic development director, explains how Pedro Soto has been effective at EDC.

 

“He’s very convincing when he presents something, but he is never overbearing, he is always open to discussion and very much believes in the neighborhoods and in transparency,” says Bialecki.

 

“He is also president of the New Haven Preservation Trust and he definitely brings that perspective to our meetings,”

 

Bruce Becker, developer of 360 State Street and president of the Elm City Market, praises Pedro Soto as well.

 

“Pedro was elected as a director of Elm City Market by the membership at our annual meeting last fall,” Becker explains. “I'm thrilled that Pedro is volunteering his considerable skills and talent to help make Elm City Market a success. Pedro knows the New Haven community well and Elm City Market is already benefiting greatly from Pedro's insights and capabilities.”

 

As orders come in to Space-Craft Manufacturing for parts demanding the highest degree of quality control for some of the most advanced aircraft engines in the world, John and Pedro Soto seemed to have learned what it means to get things right.

 

For 93 years, Palmieri Foods’ secret is in its tomato sauce

 

Every two weeks, restaurateur John Copolla drives two hours from upstate New York to New Haven to make tomato sauce. He’s a second-generation owner of Copolla Brothers Restaurants and Coppola Italian Sauces in Hyde Park, N.Y. He has been making his sauce at Palmieri Foods in New Haven for a quarter-century.

 

Coppola’s five tomato sauces are sold in more than 200 stores in five states including New York and Connecticut. Locally, it can be found at Stop & Shop and Romeo & Cesar’s on Orange Street. To Coppola, Palmieri Foods is more than a manufacturing plant where he rents space.

 

“Pat [Palmieri] is just so helpful. He has great advice and he’s just been fantastic to work with,” Coppola says, while stirring a cauldron of 100-percent olive oil and garlic for a fresh batch of marinara.

 

Every two weeks (he and his brother alternate weeks) Coppola spends a day making 800 gallons of sauce, bottling it, putting it in cases while still hot, before turning around and heading back to New York.

 

“Pat has been so helpful to us in making our business what it is. He doesn’t just leave us alone to do our thing, he works with us. He wants us to succeed,” Coppola says, watching Palmieri’s staff of 12 each making their contribution to his specialty sauces.

 

With just one whiff of the aroma near 145 Hamilton Street, it’s clear why Patrick Palmieri stayed in his family tomato sauce business. The combination of sautéing garlic and simmering tomatoes would stop anyone in their tracks. Just walking by, one becomes noticeably more Italian.

 

“We’ve had people come in off the highway to see what we were making because it smelled so good,” Palmieri says. He agrees that “The smells coming from this place are out of this world.”

 

Palmieri Foods was founded in 1920, when Anna Palmieri left a pot of sauce simmering on the stove in a kitchen behind the grocery store her family ran. Again, it was the aroma that attracted attention. Customers wanted to buy the homemade sauce, so from her grocery store at 380 Crown Street, Anna began making a few jars at a time, selling them in the store. By 1935, it was a full-scale operation run by Anna, her husband Alphonse and their son Sal. In 1939, the business moved to Chapel Street. The sauce was made in the basement of their Chapel Food Shop next to what is today the Jewish Center of New Haven. The business grew and more family members joined in. Ralph Laudano, Sal's brother-in-law, was head cook for the company for 37 years.

 

In 1942, Palmieri Foods was moved to an even larger facility on Bristol Street. Five years later Alphonse retired, leaving Sal to run the business. Under Sal’s oversight, the business took a different tack as he acquired the manufacture and bottling operations of other brands such as Favorita, Birdsall and Ferraro's Kitchen Brand. Though it was often suggested to Sal that he could make larger profit margins by using additives such as corn syrup, starch fillers, artificial coloring and flavorings, he stood firm that Palmieri Pasta Sauce would remain 100-percent natural, using only the freshest ingredients — onions, garlic and the finest imported spices.

 

“We use no preservatives, dyes or sugar,” explains Palmieri, the company’s president. “The salt content is low and we use a high-quality olive oil.” Depending on the type of sauce, Palmieri Foods can manufacture up to 4,000 gallons of tomato sauce in a day.

 

As many of us watch the price of gasoline, Palmieri watches the price of tomatoes.

 

“Weather has a lot to do with the price. If there’s a lot of rain, or not enough rain, there’s a shortage and that drives prices,” Palmieri says. His tomatoes come from California.

 

Palmieri, 62, spent his school vacations at the plant with his father from the age of nine. He took great interest in the business, helping whenever he could. As he grew, so did his responsibilities and in 1962, his father incorporated the company with his sons Salvatore Jr. and Patrick.

 

In 1979, Sal Palmieri passed away and his wife Shirley and Pat took over Palmieri Food Products. In 1982 Pat became sole owner and president. Under his reign, the company moved once more to its current location on Hamilton Street, the former Lenders Bagel plant. Palmieri's not only manufactures Palmieri Pasta Sauces and Andrews Horseradish and Cocktail sauces but is currently private labeling for several companies in Connecticut and beyond.

 

“Sixty percent of our business is private companies,” Palmieri says. The company produces sauce under a private company’s specifications and labels it accordingly.

 

Palmieri staff will work with a private-label company to develop a product based on the latter’s own original recipe or a custom-blended product. Though Palmieri won’t reveal which, he says many of his private label customers opt to bottle Palmieri’s recipes under their own name. Palmieri sees it as a form of flattery. “There was one guy who loved my sauce and wanted everyone to think it was his, so we bottle our sauce with his label on it,” he says. “That’s just fine with me.”

 

Palmieri has since added 20,000 square feet to the original 10,000 square feet it began with on Hamilton Street.

 

In March 1998, Palmieri Food Products purchased Pinders Pure Horseradish Co. and its complete line of horseradish, cocktail sauce, horseradish tartar sauce, horseradish mustard and horseradish jelly.

 

“The horseradish comes from the banks of the Mississippi River,” Palmieri explains. “It’s muddy and needs to be cleaned before we can make what people know as horseradish.”

 

Today, there are 27 sauces in the Palmieri lineup including spaghetti sauce, marinara, meat flavored, portabella mushroom, puttanesca, fra diavolo, roasted garlic and eggplant.

 

On a tour of the plant, the smell of cinnamon filled the air. Cinnamon?

 

“Sure — that goes in the applesauce,” Palmieri says.

 

The company also makes applesauce, buffalo wing sauce and a wide range of salsas. Palmieri products are sold in most grocery stores including Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s Clubs in Connecticut and neighboring states.

 

“We have grown through word of mouth,” Palmieri says.

 

When asked where he sees the business going, he says the possibilities are many. “I want to keep growing, I look at it as though I’m in the bottling business, and that opens up a lot of possibilities.”