Monday, June 24, 2013

The Keating Wheel Legacy

Photo Courtesy of Bill Flood
The following commentary was originally posted by R. Keating as a comment on an Eye article about a recent tour of the City's business incubator building on Johnson Street. The building is commonly known as the Remington Rand building, because the Remington Rand Typewriter Company was the last occupant of the building before it became vacant. R Keating writes that calling it the Remington Rand building diminishes the great historic significance of the building and that the name of the building should more correctly reflect the legacy and history of the Keating Wheel Company which operated out of the building. 

Middletown's history and the history of that remarkable historical asset on Johnson street is not about typewriters. It's about 19th century industrial innovation in America. Specifically, it's all about the pioneering efforts that forever changed the nation's transportation history. No exaggeration. Middletown owns that distinction and should celebrate it. With some creative thinking and planning (what Keating would have called "Yankee Ingenuity"), that distinction might also be branded to attract interests (and dollars) towards historic preservation, tourism and economic development.

Keating's 1901 motorcycle puttered down Main Street in Middletown the same time that Oscar Hedstrom was working out the kinks of his own machine -- the prototype that would become the Indian [motorcycle]. At the time, Middletown was the undisputed Motor City when it came to the American motorcycle. Keating's machine went to market months before Hedstrom's prototype and became popular enough to force Hedstrom and George Hendee of Indian fame to "borrow" key features to make their product competitive. As Gary noted, Harley and Davidson would later borrow the same components. 

Keating was also one of the nation's earliest commercial automobile manufacturers -- both electric and gasoline powered. The historic parade that celebrated Middletown's 250th birthday, held in October of 1900, included four Keating Company vehicles -- including a motorized runabout. It would be another year before Henry Ford started building his historic machines. (R.M.Keating family lore has it that Keating spent some time with Ford, helping him with factory design and assembly line production such as that already occurring in Middletown.) The factory then went on to host the Eisenhuth Compound automobile, one of the most innovative machines of the "brass era." Indeed, Middletown was one of the few American cities in the nation that was actively engaged in building automobiles. In CT, Middletown was second only to Hartford's Pope Company which was arguably the biggest in the nation at the time.

Editor's notes: 

Readers, what do you think? Do you agree that the name Keating should be reflected in the building name? Please submit a comment!

Beth Emery wrote about the name of this building nearly four years ago in this Eye commentary:

Editorial: Clearing up a name while cleaning up at the Keating Wheel factory; AKA: Remington Rand!

The Keating Wheel Company - where is it now?


Gary Keating (no relation but our family has done extensive research on Robert M. Keating) said...

The "Keating Wheel Company" is a big piece of Middletown history that has remained dormant for much to long! Before it is erased from our history forever it needs to be recognized formally. Middletown deserves the distinction of being in the limelight during the early years of the development of the motorcycle, as well as being one of the major bicycle builders in the USA. The factory was one of the first run by electricity in the USA also.
Middletown leaders need to step up and move forward on renaming this building "The Keating Wheel Company" as it is truly one of Middletown's most historical buildings with significant historical importance.

Anonymous said...

While Keating does have a legacy. The Keating involvement with Middletown lasted from 1896 to 1901.

Remington Rand owned and operated the facility here for the longest period of time (1909-1963). Furthermore, the most important labor strike to take place in the city's history occured there in 1936, which neccessiated the calling in of the National Guard. I perferred the name that has play a role in thousands of Middletown households.

Anonymous said...

People call it "the Remington Rand Building" today because that's what it has been known as for decades. And with good reason. There are still people in town who worked there under that name. Even after they stopped manufacturing typewriters, the populace called it that. While "Keating" may have been first (for a relative blip of time), "Remington Rand" was there TEN times as long, employed thousands of Middletown citizens, and helped shape the city. Trying to get people to change now is like trying to get people to say "facial tissue" instead of "Kleenex".

Calling it "Remington Rand" isn't an affront to history, it's a fact of life shaped by history.

While it might be nice to commemorate the building's original owners/usage in some way, trying to get people to stop calling it what they've called it for generations is a silly uphill battle doomed to failure.

Mr. Fixit said...

Consider naming the building the "Keating Wheel - Remington Rand Building" ??? That covers all bases and commemorates both.

Anonymous said...

Whatever, but can we put this to rest please?

Anonymous said...

My preference is not to glorify motorcycles. Most of them are illegal noise polluters, speeders and burn fossil fuels unnecessarily by "cruising" for untold hours. They also cause a disproportionate risk for first responders trying to save their lives. Truckers refer to them as "organ donors".

Anonymous said...

Being a Motorcycle Historian my vote is for the Keating Motorcycle as it played a major role in America's Motorcycling History, a lot more important than a Type Writer or Strike

Being on the subject, We are looking for pre-1920 American Motorcycle Photo's and Literature regarding dirt track and Motordrome racing
if anyone would like to help or has any photos or info please contact us at