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Bristol Connecticut: A Small General Motors City Street Scene

Today’s late-1940s images are of Main Street in Bristol, Connecticut, and cars on it, the majority of which were manufactured by GM because the City of Bristol was the home of the New Departure Manufacturing Co. a division of General Motors. The company was first formed in 1888 when Albert, and Edward Rockwell began to manufacture door and bicycle bells, that were soon followed by bicycle coaster brakes and wheel hubs. The Rockwell’s were early motorists who also produced the Houpt-Rockwell (1904 to ’11), a high-quality automobile and an additional model for taxi cab use that were marketed by Harry Houpt in New York City.

In 1909 New Departure invented and patented a two-row axial ball bearing which could also take a thrust load, it was followed by a similar single row ball bearing. In 1916 the Company was bought by William Durant the president of GM when he was purchasing companies for the United Motors Corporation, it then became an important division of GM in 1918 when United Motors was purchased by the automaker. The 1:7-minute long video above produced in the 1930s covers of the bearing Company’s products up until that time.

  • The traffic light located underneath the railroad line crossing Main street that serviced New Departure.

The New Departure plant buildings were located just to the west of Main Street in downtown Bristol until the buildings were torn down in the late-1960s after a large new building was constructed on the outskirts of the city in 1968 by GM. Not long after the move less expensive high-quality bearings began to be manufactured in Japan which soon led to a decline in New Departure’s market share, and GM finally ended the Company’s operations in 1993.

Tell us what you find of interest in the images courtesy of the Connecticut History Illustrated Archive.

23 responses to “Bristol Connecticut: A Small General Motors City Street Scene

  1. I think the best part of Durant’s purchase of New Departure was that GM got Alfred P. Sloan in the deal. Sloan would go on to make GM the great corporation it became. “A car for every purpose and purse” is just one of Sloan’s ideas. The annual model change is also his idea. And, with using the Chevrolet to be re-dressed and called a Pontiac the concept of “badge engineering”.

    • Yes, I think a pre ’31 Pontiac. 1930 seems the last year with oval rear window. I considered also the “mother marque” Oakland but with that single blade bumper the case was clear.

    • Must’ve been at least 2 Mopar owners in Bristol (a GM company town?) There’s a ’46-early ’49 DeSoto parked on the right going away and someones arm resting on the open window driving into the foto …lower right hand corner.

  2. In the lead photograph, parked on the left in the foreground, next to the sidewalk clock, is a 1946 CHEVROLET and two cars parked behind this vehicle is a two-tone 1946 to ’48 OLDSMOBILE.

    In the last photograph, in the left foreground, is a two-door 1939 BUICK convertible, either a Special or Century, and two cars forward of it, taking a right hand turn, is a four-door 1937 BUICK Century Sedan (plain back). In this same picture, if one looks just past the sidewalk clock, one can see the same ’46 CHEVROLET and the ’46 to ’48 OLDSMOBILE, seen in the lead photograph. [The last photograph was taken at 5:13 and the lead photograph was taken at 5:17, looking at the sidewalk clock]

    • I was born in Bristol, and raised in Terryville, a small town just west of Bristol on Route 6 were the Eagle Lock Company was located. My mother and half of my family worked at New Departure. My father was a tool and die worker at Eagle Lock in Terryville, and the rest of the his cousins and uncles ran their own machinist’s job shops, and built parts and tooling for New Departure and other companies in the area. I was the only “Black Sheep” in the family and went on to work on cars, in the end I ended being an auto machinist because of the need need to manufacture parts for the early cars I work on in my restoration shop.

  3. HI John, 4th picture. The large car turning right is a Buick. Probably a ’37 or
    ’38, don’t think that style was offered later than ’38 . Maybe an 80 series.
    It sure is big.

  4. Hi David and Bob Croslin –
    Both of you reference Alfred Sloan’s biography. Have been
    wanting to read this for years. Been unable to find it as yet.
    Where did you find a copy? Any help would be appreciated.
    Many Thanks and waiting for Friday morning.

    • Interlibrary loan is a great way to find books that aren’t in your local library. Otherwise eBay, Amazon, or an online bookseller like Abe Books are great resources (and sometimes bargains).

  5. A “G.M. town” (with an early “A Model Ford , Front & Center!) While I’m at it: the 1937 Model (s) — of Buick represent ( to me ) the pinnacle of “30’s GM technology & styling!!! Experience one, — Drive one, you’ll SEE!!! Another impressive vehicle is: The GMC Truck of the late 30’s to early 50’s ! Durable!!! “Double clutching “, (Up Or Down) gear changes —( once Mastered! ) is rarely a challenge ! an elite club, — Folks ! The Anti-Synchro-mesh Society Same as : The Carburetor Society !!! to name a FEW!

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