Business and Industry in Natick
The shoe business which started about 1830, developed by 1835 into a "putting-out" or cottage type industry. These shoes were all made by hand. The pieces were hand cut and then farmed out to the cordwainers who finished them in their "ten footers", the small shops which stood behind many houses in the town. The Henry Wilson shoe shop on West Central Street is probably the only example standing today. Runners dropped off piece-work each day and picked up the finished product for shipment to Boston. Howe's Express collected shoes from the factories and delivered them to the trains, ships, and wholesale houses in Boston.
The railroad came through Natick in 1835 and it stimulated business and industry. The commercial and industrial area became more centralized. Other businesses that serviced the shoe industry developed. There was a tannery at the west end of Summer Street on Pegan Brook near Lake Cochituate. The Natick Box and Board Company supplied the boxes for shipping. Originally cut by hand, Charles Coombs, the owner, developed what was probably the first box cutting machine.
Large wagons were needed to ship these shoes and boots and many of these were made in the shop of J. D. Macewen. This company manufactured and painted carriages, sleighs, and wagons. The first 200 bodies for the Stanley Steamer were painted in this shop. Another business that sprang up was the manufacture of the wooden boxes or cases which held twelve to forty pairs of boxed shoes per case. These were made by O. Woods & Company and William Bruce and Son.
In 1858 the sewing machine was invented and this greatly facilitated the manufacture of shoes. The shoes made in Natick were primarily heavy work shoes with only one or two companies adding lighter dress shoes to their line. Natick was famous for its "brogan". The business flourished and peaked by 1880, when Natick, with twenty-three operating factories, was third in the nation in the quantity of shoes produced. By 1928 the demand had diminished by half and by 1971 the Winchell Shoe factory, on Cochituate Street, the last of over forty companies in Natick closed its doors.
Natick was the birthplace of figure eight stitching for baseballs. The wound core for a more resilient ball was developed by John W. Walcott and combined with the figure eight stitching devised by Col. William A. Cutler. It was manufactured by the firm of H. Harwood & Sons in their factory built in 1858. The best balls were covered with horsehide, a less expensive quality with sheepskin. A special tannery was built by Harwood east of Sawin Street at "Tannery Pond". The pond became such a blight that the tannery was discontinued. The balls were wound in the factory and stitched by women in their homes. These "League Balls" were sold nation-wide and in Canada. The business continued through three generations.
Natick has had several food companies. Most notable is the Whipple Company established in 1899 by Harrison L. Whipple. Most famous for its "Grandmother's Mincemeat" it was started in the back room of Mr. Whipple's grocery store on North Main Street. Another food manufacturer was Aubrey Foster who made peanut butter on Summer Street in downtown Natick. About 1920 Dr. Ewald G. Baum, Leonard Morse Hospital's first surgeon was the inventor and manufacturer of the patented "Kap Seal" for milk bottles. This twist-on cap covered the lip of the bottle to keep it sanitary.
Bostonia Beverages established about 1922 on Mill Street was bought in 1938 by Thomas Hoyt . Originally Pepsi Cola and Sweppes soft drinks were bottled at this plant. Pepsi is now bottled off-site, but the company fleet of trucks distribute to vending machines and retail stores throughout the County.
Two vehicles were manufactured in Natick. The Goodnow electric car which was produced in a machine shop on North Main Street, and the Northway Motor Company whose plant was at the old Walker Grove now the site of the Massachusetts State National Guard Depot on Speen Street.
The Black Diamond Saw Company located on North Avenue was organized in 1904 by the Amblers for the purpose of manufacturing band saws, meat saws, metal cutting band saws, band knives, filing and setting machines and brazing machines. Even today their products are shipped all over the world.