“Sooner or later, everyone works at the Button Shop.”
It began in 1850
The Cheshire Manufacturing Company was incorporated on April 11, 1850, for the purpose of "the manufacture, selling and dealing in buttons of every description." In 1901, the company merged with the Ball & Socket Fastener Company of New Hampshire and became The Ball & Socket Manufacturing Company. Averaging 2.5 million gross tons per year at its peak, Ball & Socket became one of the world's largest manufacturers of metal buttons. The company even maintained a sales office and stock room at 10 West 32nd Street in the heart of New York City's garment district. For many years, it was the largest employer in Cheshire, its workforce including many women who found their first employment there. According to a local historian, there was a common saying in Cheshire that "sooner or later, everyone works at the Button Shop." After 144 years in business, changing markets brought an end to manufacturing at the site. Factory operations ceased in 1994. The property was sold to Dalton Enterprises, who owned it until Ball & Socket Arts bought it in 2011.
The Ball & Socket Manufacturing Company's legacy resides in family histories, local lore, street names, grand homes along West Main Street and the unique architectural heritage of the buildings themselves. They tell a story of business success, civic pride and concern for the beauty of public places, from the sturdy functionality of the 1889 main factory building to the grand, 1914 neo-Jacobean front office. These handsome structures are worth preserving. A history of the site from the time of the company's centennial states, "truly, the edifice stands as a symbol. It radiates an air of permanence, speaks of a long and worthy past, and defies the future to encroach upon its dignity."
Perhaps we don't think much about them today, but in the mid-19th century buttons were a growth market. Mass manufacture of the home sewing machine and global trade in fabrics were bringing radical change to fashions in the United States. Women could now have several dresses rather than just two or three, and older garments could be more easily updated to the latest trend. Buttons became important decorative statements, often replacing complicated hook and eye catches, ribbons, ties and temporary stitching. Though metal buttons became the company's staple product in later years, Ball & Socket made its name with fancy, glass paperweight buttons known as "Cheshire Jewels," which are considered highly collectible today. Uniform buttons made by the company were worn by armed and civilian forces including U.S. forces in the Civil War, and the Free French and Soviet Armies in W.W. II. The company also made an array of other stamped metal products including jingle bells, cardholders, drawer pulls and razor parts. A "ball & socket", by the way, is what today we call a "snap" fastener—the two part thing where the ball snaps into the socket!