A brief history of Watrous Manufacturing Co.
In “Bell Town” East Hampton, Connecticut, David Watson Watrous was one of the founders in 1851 of the East Hampton Bell Company. He left in 1860 to found the company Clark and Watrous, and then in 1865 created D. W. Watrous & Co. which later became Watrous Manufacturing Co.. The company created sleigh bells, bell toys, and in it’s early days they made casket trimmings. D. W. Watrous was also the town undertaker. Watrous Mfg. Co. had been making bell toys for over forty years according to a 1918 ad. D. W. was to answer the call of the bell until one tolled for him when he died in 1918. His son John Lazarus ran the company till his bell tolled in 1923 and the company stock was then sold to Gong Bell Manufacturing Co.. The Watrous Mfg Co. was dissolved in 1927.
By the early 1900s Watrous Mfg. Co. had developed a distinct bell toy style. While some of the toys had fancy iron frames, more often their toys utilized nickel plated or coppered steel frames and nickel plated steel wheels. Flattened cast iron figures often move to strike a bell or chime. The mechanisms were frequently exposed. Parts were often lacquered over the nickel plating which gave the paint an iridescent quality.. As a reflection of the times there are Soldiers and Sailors, Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, Admiral Peary and the Polar Bear, and Dancing Coons. Popular toys included many versions with horses, clowns or bears. Comic Character toys included Buster Brown and Tige, Little Nemo and Flip , Charlie Chaplin, Mammy and Foxy Grandpa. In addition to the bell toys, chime toys or gong toys, the company also produced an erector set called Modelit around 1916, and a mechanical tin and wood toy called Flying Areoplanes.
The Watrous Mfg. Co. was closely associated with several of the many East Hampton bell companies. The Barton family is credited with starting the bell industry in East Hampton. An 1880 illustrated map of East Hampton shows Barton and Watrous Bell Mfrs. in one building as well as D. W. Watrous, Mfrs. of Bells and Undertakers Supplies, Undertaking in another.
For a while Watrous Mfg. Co. and N. N. Hill Brass Co. combined their catalogs into one while they were both branches of the short lived, 1903 -1907, toy manufacturers consortium, National Novelty Corporation. Grace Bevin and the Bevin Bros. Mfg. Co. and were major stock holders of the Watrous Mfg. Co. from their Incorporation in 1913 to 1923.
The Gong Bell Mfg. Co. was just upstream from the Watrous Mfg. Co.. In 1912 Clifford M. Watrous, surprisingly unrelated to the Watrous family of Watrous Mfg. Co., became general manager at Gong Bell Mfg. Co.. In 1921 he patented the popular Playphone 600. He would later become President of Gong Bell Mfg. Co. East Hampton was and still is a small town. There were many ties by marriage to other East Hampton families, many involved in the bell industry. The bell and bell toy industry faded leaving Bevin Bell Co. as the sole survivor in East Hampton today.
The water from Lake Pocotopaug still flows over the East Hampton Falls near Watrous Street. The site where Watrous Mfg was located at 103 Main Street in East Hampton is now a parking lot for the town library. The names, a few scraps of paper, and some toys that have somehow survived the normal ravages inflicted by children and time are all that remains of the Watrous Manufacturing Company’s sixty seven year history.
Life is good,
La vie est belle,
Robert K. Watrous