Seamless Rubber Company

October 9, 2020

Rubber is everywhere. On average we don’t stop to think about it, but it is present in practically everything that we use in our daily lives. As is often the case New Haven was instrumental not just in the discovery of how to mass-produce rubber products but the perfection as well. This week we’re going to look briefly at the Seamless Rubber Company.

In 1877, 33 years after New Haven native Charles Goodyear discovered the process of the vulcanization of rubber in 1844, Charles Longdon invented the first process for rubber products created without a troublesome seam. Inspired by his cranky newborn and their leaky bottle, Longdon set out to solve the issue. The Naugatuck resident found that making a form and dipping it into liquid rubber and then allowing the baby bottle nipple to dry while still on the form worked perfectly to avoid a seam. Until this point rubber nipples were each made by hand which thus created a seam. Longdon’s new process was faster and easily translated to the perfection of seamless rubber gloves as well. The success of his new method led to the founding of the Seamless Rubber Company.

Seamless’ first home was built at 69 Daggett St. in the late 1870s for a cost of $10,000. The factory complex, which more recently was known as a live/work artist’s community, continued to expand and became the center of a concentrated rubber production district. Seamless remained at Daggett St. until 1919. During this time the company expanded to produce an array of medical and pharmaceutical products, tires, and sporting goods.

In 1919, Seamless’ new landmark plant opened at 253 Hallock Ave. The company routinely employed over 1,000 workers, who mostly lived nearby in the Hill. They continued to develop their line of products and became known all over the world as a leader in rubber goods.

Seamless rose to the height of its industrial power during World War II. While we often think that New Haven’s most important wartime products were related to guns and ammunition, in Seamless’ case it was really quite the opposite. With a large abundance of government contracts, Seamless was a leader in the local economy for the production of highly necessary medical equipment intended for the front lines. At one point they were responsible for 95% of disposable rubber medical gloves used by the Allies along with essential inflatable life vests for Navy sailors and air pilots. During this time period Seamless ceased to be independent and was sold to the Rexall Drug & Chemical Company.

After World War II, New Haven Harbor was dredged and filled in in the immediate space next to the factory. Interstate 95 and Sargent Dr. were constructed with the Seamless factory remaining in operation as a recognizable and locally influential roadside marker. Seamless began to stray from its longtime production line to eventually being exclusive to the manufacture of sporting goods and plastic. In 1973, they changed the company name to Seamco Sporting Goods.

In 1976, the doors closed on the factory. The remainder of Seamco production in New Haven left the city. The building remained vacant well into the 1980s. It was at this same time that the underground artists loft community had sprung up and thrived in Seamless’ first home on Daggett St. In 1988, the main branch of the New Haven Free Public Library began extensive renovations to their building on Elm St. The library moved their entire operations temporarily for the next few years to the former Seamless factory. The new address and name for the building was One Long Wharf.

Today One Long Wharf is predominately a medical complex, silently paying homage to the building’s days as a world leader in helping to save lives through their products. 69 Daggett St. remains waiting to be redeveloped after the lofts were suddenly closed in 2015 by the city, just a year before the infamous Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, CA.

Jason Bischoff-Wurstle
Director of Photo Archives, New Haven Museum

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