Hometown History #56: Clark Cutler& McDermott Started with Horse Blankets
In retrospect, the year 1911, with thousands and thousands of Model T Fords already coming off the assembly line, would not seem to have been the best moment to start a company centered on making horse blankets. But that judgement would ignore the persistence of the horse for many decades more in a variety of roles. It would also ignore the fact that smart companies adapt to survive.
Since it survived for a century, give or take, we can safely assign Clark Cutler& McDermott to the “smart” category.
But they did start out manufacturing horse blankets.
The Sentinel for July 14, 1911, broke the news locally. “It is understood that a new mill is to be started here manufacturing horse blankets, with Walter A. Clark, former superintendent of the Ray Fabric Mills, at the head. He is to have associated with him the present superintendent, Thomas S. McDermott, and William Cutler, who has been for many years one of their travelling salesmen. Further details remain to be arranged.”
July 22, 1911, the Woonsocket Call reported: “The company will be duly incorporated within a few days under the name of Clark-Cutler-McDermott Co., and within a short time the matter of selecting a site for the plant will be decided. When these matters are settled the work of constructing a modern plant for the manufacture of horse blankets will be commenced, and it is expected to have it in readiness early in the fall. The machinery has already been purchased and will be installed as soon as the building is ready.”
The founders eventually chose a site at the corner of Fisher and West Central Streets, some 3 ½ acres, purchased from the Pond family for $1,700. The chose well, because the location was the primary location of the company for its entire history and accommodated newer structures and adapted to changing times.
On August 17, 1911, the Woonsocket Call reported: “Papers were passed yesterday in the transfer of the lot at the corner of Central and Fisher streets, owned by the heirs of the late James Pond, to the Clark-Cutler-McDermott Company which purchased it as a site for a new blanket mill. Ground will be broken shortly and a two-story mill, 42 feet wide and 150 feet long, will be erected on the Fisher Street side of the lot. The lot comprises 3½ acres. The plant, it is understood, will be operated by electric power and it is expected to have it completed before the cold weather. The plans are now in the hands of a Boston architects and as soon as completed the contract for the erection of the building will be awarded.”
And the company did develop many new products just in its first few decades. In “A History of Massachusetts Industries: Their Inception, Growth and Success,” author Orra L. Stone wrote, “In 1911, the Clark-Cutler-McDermott Company began the manufacture of horse blankets, but, like many another progressive Massachusetts concern sensed the market far enough in advance to discontinue the original line, and adapt itself to the trend, turning to the production of paddings for the automobile trade, and to carpet and rug cushions, acoustical, saddlery, tailoring, and pipe covering felts, kersey linings, and shoe and slipper padding.”
And, not long after those words were published, the company became a big supplier of the green ‘turf’ used in miniature golf greens!
A 1966 letter from a report on the company’s valuation commented on the company’s ability to adapt to market conditions:
The objective of the business was to put to useful and profitable purpose the large quantities of waste jute cotton bale packing which was available in the vicinity during the many years when [Massachusetts] was one of the world’s great textile manufacturing centers. The firm prospered during the years of great textile prosperity and continued to do reasonably well even in the post World War II years after most of the industry had moved South in spite of the fact that its original reason for existence, i.e., local availability of abundant raw material, was lost. It is now the only maker of felt products in its price class still operating in New England
In its later years, the company was a named Supplier of the Year by GM on a number of occasions and shipped its automotive components as far away as Russia.