Thursday, May 7, 2015

Resident Asks City To Recognize Keating Wheel Company As Builder Of Factory

At its May 6th meeting, the Economic Development Commission paid rapt attention to a retelling of the early history of the building currently known as the Remington Rand Building.

The building is owned by the city, which uses it to lease spaces to small businesses, including Stubborn Beauty Brewing. The Remington Rand Corporation was the last major user of the building before the city's acquisition. During Remington Rand's ownership of the building, historic events of national importance took place, including the year-long strike in the middle of the Great Depression.

However, the building was significant long before Remington took ownership. It was built in 1896/97 for a company that was the marvel of its era, the Keating Wheel Company. The company manufactured the premier bicycles of its time, and went on to make motorcycles and electric cars.  Keating Wheel Company took its name from its founder, Robert M. Keating, a remarkable tinkerer and holder of many patents. Keating moved his company from Holyoke to our city (see excerpt from Wheel Man).

City resident Gary Keating, no relation to Robert M. Keating, came to the EDC to ask for some kind of formal recognition that the building was built by the Keating Wheel Company. Gary Keating's brother, Robert K. Keating, has written a detailed biography of Robert M. Keating.

Gary Keating recounted the history of the Keating factory in our city. Now bordered by the dump, Keating explained that the factory was placed on a site where there was a horse track. Keating wanted "something real special", and built one of the first factories to be powered solely by electricity. It was entirely self-powered, with its own generators (the building again gets its own electricity, through solar panels).

Gary Keating said that he understood that residents might always refer to the building as the "Remington Rand" building, but he hoped that the city could find a way to honor Robert M. Keating, "We would like Middletown to recognize its history."

The chair of the EDC, Gerry Daley, was very receptive to Keating's suggestion. He suggested that Tom Marano, the Economic Development Specialist in the city, consult with other staff and with the director of the Middlesex Historical Society, Deborah Shapiro, about the best way to honor the Keating Wheel Company's Middletown factory.

Note: Beth Emery called for recognition of the Keating Wheel Company over 5 years ago in an Eye opinion piece.


Anonymous said...

Keating employed Marshall "Major" Taylor perhaps the great cyclist of his era. Taylor held numerous International cycling records including the 1 mile sprint (1899) . As an African American he was able to overcome racial discrimination in the sport.

rkkeating said...

Thanks, Anonymous, for bringing up Major Taylor -- another celebrity from the early bicycle period who spent his formative racing years in Middletown.

The Major and his manager, Birdie Munger, both worked at the Worcester Cycle Manufacturing Company until it closed its doors on June 25, 1898 falling under foreclosure. Birdie was superintendent and chief engineer there and Taylor worked as a machinist’s apprentice while racing as a member of the company-supported bicycle racing team called the "Munger Cycle Club." (Taylor first boarded at Lower Court Street,
then resided on Washington Street in Middletown.)

Major Taylor made his East Coast racing debut in New Haven at a one-mile race sponsored by the League of American Wheelmen — the same organization that had just prohibited Blacks from joining. In July 1896, he participated in a race in Meriden where he had a second place finish at Hanover Park. On his way back home to Middletown he was immediately arrested and fined $5 for "scorching.” Over the course of his entire racing career, a career that lifted him to America's very first international sports star, Taylor would battle discrimination from society as well as within the racing world itself.

There is solid evidence that Munger secured a temporary position with the Keating Wheel Company in June 1898 until moving on to Worcester, MA with Taylor. It would be wondeful to document that the Major was employed there as well. It makes sense that he would have followed Munger to the Keating factory until they both left for MA.

Gary Keating said...

From the new book "Robert M. Keating, Pioneer of Bicycles, Motorcycles, and Automobiles":

Major Taylor turned profession and went on to break a host of world track records, making him the first black international superstar( and the second black world champion in any sport in U.S. history after George Dixon"s winning his 1891 boxing title. It is difficult to truly appreciate the scale of Taylor's accomplishments today, but consider that bicycle racing was America's top sport at the time and Taylor was as dominate in his field as Babe Ruth would be later on."

Taylor did have a working relationship with Worcester Cycle Manufacturing Company in Midldetown. We can document that Taylor's manager Louis "Birdie" Munger had crossed paths with Keating in Middletown but we could not find any clear evidence that Taylor had contact with Keating or the Keating bicycle. Do you have any information on this ?