The Rise and Fall of the Gorham Empire


The Rise and Fall of the Gorham Empire


At the dawn of the twentieth century, the Board of Trade and other boosters of Providence, Rhode Island proclaimed that the city contained the “Five Industrial Wonders of the World” – one of them, the nation’s leading producer of silverware, the Gorham Manufacturing Company. How did such a large and important company disappear? [quote from John K. Towles, “Factory Legislation of Rhode Island,” American Economic Association Quarterly, 2 (Oct, 1908). [volume 9, number 3]


Sarah Yahm


While paying for my microfilm printouts at the research desk at the public library, the librarian and I chatted about the decline of Gorham: "Time’s have changed,” she told me. “When I got married I got fine silver, when my daughter got married she got stainless steel. It's easier - steel you just throw it in the dishwasher. Fine silver you have to polish, and who wants to do that anymore?" I agreed, but pointed out that Gorham wasn't the only factory in RI that downsized in the 80's, fired their American workers and shifted their operations to China. After a brief chat, we concluded that Gorham was both exceptional and ordinary; a unique case and a representative example of the decline of US and RI manufacturing in general. Throughout this paper I’m going to briefly outline the unique reasons Gorham failed (the rising price of silver, the declining markets for finely made handcrafted high end goods) and the ways their failure is representational of larger trends in US manufacturing.
First, the down and dirty on Gorham’s different incarnations: Jabez Gorham founded the company in 1831 at 12 Steeple Street, they moved to Adelaide Avenue in 1890 and remained “family-owned” until 1967 when they became a subsidiary of Textron. Textron downsized in 1985, sold the Adelaide property and moved the remaining workers and manufacturing out to Smithfield Rhode Island.[1]

[see attached file for further research and bibliography]




Sarah Yahm, “The Rise and Fall of the Gorham Empire,” Reservoir of Memories, accessed September 23, 2020,