Recognize These Hands? The Industrial Legacy of Gorham
“There is no plaque that there once stood the greatest silver manufacturer in the world.” –Jeffrey Herman, silversmith
The Gorham Manufacturing Company, one of the “Five Industrial Wonders of the World,” was a world-renowned producer of jewelry and fine silverware. Producers of Gorham’s wares – chasers , foundry workers, press operators, and other laborers and office workers – vied for the steady work and good benefits the company could provide. Factory work was dangerous and taxing, but also rewarding. Gorham’s workers were proud of their skills and their product and for the most part felt taken care of by the company itself.
When silver prices increased after World War II and the market for luxury goods decreased, Gorham struggled to survive. As Gorham fought to stay afloat in a changing economy, so did Gorham’s workers – striking a number of times throughout the sixties and seventies. Skilled factory labor has now all but disappeared throughout Rhode Island. Gorham is remembered not only for the quality of its work but for the toxic legacy it left behind.