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Russel Wright Residential and Northern Chemical Company of Boston

To Understand Russel Wright Residential, 
You Must Realize the History of Northern Chemical Company of Boston
and how, by 1956, Russel Wright was "screwed " by this Company.

Disclaimer: This information is free to you after 25 years of my research on the following conditions:  should you recopy any of it for educational purposes credit this wonderful site, Melmac Central, or me, Ira Mency. It is protected by CopyScape and for other uses you must obtain my written permission.

OPTIONS: SKIP THIS HISTORY and go to PIECE CHART.


THE SAGA OF RUSSEL WRIGHT AND NORTHERN AS IT PERTAINS TO RESIDENTIAL
Wright's second line of Melamine was called "Residential" which was a sleek modern stylish design it was produced by the Northern Industrial Chemical Company (located on Elkins Avenue, in South Boston, Massachusetts.)  Wright had prototype drawings for this design years prior to it's production, and ideas for a residential line, but due to contract disputes regarding Meladur, he was delayed.  
You often see these four colors together: Lemon Ice, Turquoise, Salmon Red, and Sea Mist Grey.
Northern Industrial Chemical Company
Founded in 1904, incorporated in 1908, Northern was a small molding company. The President was George Victor Sammet, Sr..  His son George Jr. also worked there, along with others plastics industry greats such as Joseph C. Fuller and Hans H. Wanders (who patented many items including a plastic bowling pin and an early packaging machines).  

By 1936, Northern was still considered small for it's size, but had a full run of molding plastic parts, radio casings, adding machines, knobs, phone parts, and specialty items.  Northern also owned a subsidiary, Bell Mfg. Co, who manufactured beetle dishes under the "BellWare" label.  They looked very much like early Hemco, Design, and Beetlware dishes of the same era and may have very well been a form of "stock mold."

Northern promoted it's brightly colored dishes in Travel Trailer magazines circa 1936 and 1937, offering complete sets of lightweight dishes (picnic style) for travel and everyday use including serving pieces and salt and peppers.  They debuted a new vegetable bowl in 1936 and appealed to consumers with bright colors like fire engine red and jadite green.  They made a lot of housings, clocks, and electrical parts also.

I want to add here, that Northern was one of THE largest molders in that area NORTHEAST COAST surpassing and outweighting even Watertown Manufacturing Company in number of molding machines.  I know this because I did extensive research and comparison in the Modern Plastic Encyclopedias. Northern was cranking out some plastic.
Northern molded for Warren Telechron, and molded this lite call clock.
I had the pleasure of Speaking to Ralph Young, whose family ties run way back in the town of South Boston real estate. Northern moved to the King Terminal Property located at Ward 6, South Boston sometime during this period.  

Here is a map showing just where it was located.

According to Ralph (whose grandfather and father were directly involved with the property), Northern occupied at 7-11 Elkins Street.  These buildings were circa 1917-1918. (Prior to that, Northern was in a smaller building in South Boston.)  Each building was approximately 60,000 sq. feet with four floors and a basement.  

This is a photograph of 11 Elkins Street, from the Co-Star realtor back in '07 when it had been renovated into office buildings.  Most of the spaces remained vacant for 5-10 years which promoted numerous renovations of this industrial area of South Boston.  It is easy to imagine an overpass connecting the buildings.

Ralph Young explained to me that there were "wards" or sections of the King Terminal. The buildings were labeled as such but contained building numbers. The 7 through 11 buildings that Northern occupied were actually separate buildings connected by an overhead walkway on the 3rd and 4th floors.  Unfortunately, Ralph's company demolished that walkway in 1985 as he needed to separate the buildings as they were being sold.  
Note the "#7 King Terminal" as shown on this building, probably the only remains of originality of Ralph's family owning the King Terminal back then. Although the address does not seem to correspond now, I was a bit confused as the whole industrial area is different.
There was also proof in my research that they either used Building 22 Elkins Street for a sales office or extra storage, which I have listed below.  To see them or visit them today, you can still get a feel for what may have been.  Not only was 22 listed on some of their office brochures and correspondence, but it was also listed into the 1960's as a viable address.  It is safe to say that #22  Elkins would have been the last known address of Northern in Boston. 
#22 Elkins Avenue , What did Northern use this for?
Although minor renovations this building at #22 Elkins, Northern's headquarters may resemble how it once looked. 
By 1942 Northern was booming and had tripled it's workload. With a crew of 125, and five sales offices spread out Nationwide,  they had more molding machines than the very popular Watertown Manufacturing Company did at this time.  Equipment included 108 Compression Presses and 4 Injection Presses.
This is an ad for Northern's Products During 1942 from my Modern Plastics Encyclopedia!
Northern found themselves in the early 40's molding melamine dishes for the Eastern and Colonial railroads, and airlines such as Braniff, Pan American, TWA, and American.  All dishes were backstamped with the client's name, so examples will be almost impossible to detect.   Unsure if this could be Northern below. 
We may never know if these are Northern's molding because no manufacturer backstamp was used.

I've found examples of the plates (almond in color), but not the strange and wacky cup. I've never seen it before, have you? 
One way Northern was smart in investing, was to purchase the airline molds, but to recoup mold costs by charging royalties to allow other molders and customers to use them. It was expressed using this method, the molds paid for themselves seven fold. ᴱ  It was not uncommon for molders at this time to use stock molds and mold for several different companies at the same time.  A simple switching out of a backstamp would make the molder's mark unique. Northern also marketed their own line called "Air Ware", of which I've only seen photos, and just recently stumbled upon a piece in Almond. Truthfully, it feels more like plastic or Beetleware than actual melamine, and due to it being so thin it's probably mostly been destroyed over time.  I can see these being the same dishes that were used in trailers and RV's.  Smart on Northern's marketing end.

I believe this to resemble airline ware, but actually having been marketed for the home or travel trailer as indicated in the ad. It was later said that F. Reed Estabrook, one of plastic's great pioneers, had pushed Northern into the dishes.
1946 Modern Plastics Encyclopedia Ad for Northern
 
Here is the clock housing produced by Northern in the above ad!  This clock was sold by HappyDashery! Many clock collector's didn't know that Northern molded the backs, because there are no markings on them to prove it was Northern. (Strangely, they did mold a maximum price of the clock on the clock which is very strange.) My little discovery was a new milestone in bakelite clock history!
 
Just a bunch of numbers and letters, but nothing that says "NIC" or "Northern Industrial Chemical Co."



By the mid forties, Northern's employees were working 24/7 to keep up with production demands and finally had a good rapport with their leaders.   The now unionized workers (who were involved in most all of the company's decisions, and had previously went on strike for better wages) felt Northern was a great place to work.  Meeting with employees by upper Management was a common practice at Northern.  This helped increase job performance, and rapport.

1955 MPE Northern Ad

Northern advertised these cups in 1955, who were they for the airlines, or a specialty product for other molders?
Wanders and Sammet among others at Northern were members of the Plastics Industry and the Society of Plastics, often running meetings in their local area.  It is more than safe to say these men were genius in the field of plastics design, and the industrial revolution in regards to plastic production. Wanders was always advising others, and members of Northern were always willing to contribute articles to publications for Modern Plastics Magazines and Encyclopedias.  Sadly, it was these key people that made Northern successful and NOT the owners and or/investors. Wright would continue to experiment with different designs, patterns, and even two tone residential exists, but is very hard to find.
F. Reed Estabrook , an unforgettable icon on the plastics world, was the most influential and important person when dealing with Wright and Residential.  Reed had worked his way up *from the mail room*, when he started with the company in 1940, and by the  50's was the General Manager. During the mid to late 1940's he was involved in the molding aspects on telephone handsets, but even more so, the production of dishes. After his passing in 2006, Nancy, his wife, donated his files to the Leominster Plastics Museum, who did research for me. Later, they were given to Syracuse University after the dissolution of LPM.  Reed's big push was the dinnerware, even when others were skeptical.   It was he in 1951 and 1952 who dealt mainly with Russel Wright, and negotiating the deal with Residential.  It was because of him, Wright signed on.  In fact, whenever Wright had a problem, it was Reed who would deal direct with Russel-correspondence in Syracuse proves that this was Wright's only adversary, or so it would seem. 
Two tone Residential, solid underneath and milky white on top, this was perhaps an experiment between Reed and Wright, although I have found entire sets. What was the factory doing?  I have found it in yellow on white, turquoise on white, and even pink on white!

Wright and Reed spent much time discussing what could be done in the technical aspect vs the design aspect.  Wright experimented with the "spottles" (we call them speckles), mesh size, and formulations on each of his colors to obtain the custom color mottled effect, and to ensure no one could duplicate his formulas.  In Syracuse I saw examples where Wright would heat the plate himself, in ovens, just to make sure it would not burn up.  His notes were scribbled on many a melmac plate. Wright decided not to trust the factory, and always held his own experiments. Later his intuition would prove true.  Early prototypes indicate he experimented with putting glitter and gold mesh in the dishes, but these additives BURNT up at a certain degree. I've been in contact with Nancy Estabrook, and she is just wonderful and I'm sorry Reed is no longer with us.  She says "I remember those dishes."
Russel Wright's COPPER PENNY debuted with the notion that these dishes contained "real copper flecks" to make them shine. Most of my examples just look brown.  Note that originally, Northern used Cyanamid's melmac as indicated by this ad. Later to save money, the bought from other distributors and backstamped their dishes melamine.
Russel Wright was indeed ahead of his time when he devised the plan of adding natural minerals, such as copper in Copper Penny,  and Aluminum Dust in Black Velvet, and worked with Northern to do so.  Sadly, most of these examples today you just can't see the "flecks and specks." Makes me wonder if the factory lied and didn't add them, or added less to save money on the production end. 
Black Velvet is said to have "aluminum dust" in it. Most of the examples I have just shows plain black, and I can't see any flecks. What was the factory doing?
Many phone conferences and correspondence ensued and it took me two days to read all the correspondence.  Russel was not one to give in so easily, as he had his designs to protect and when he had a design in mind, he was a bit adamant. Others would describe him unrelenting to work with, but it is this very determination that made his designs so timeless, and you have to respect that.  The problem was, Northern was  finding a way to make their machinery do it.  


Early colors of Residential included Copper Penny, which was said to have real copper flecks in it. Note the pony tail handle was later redesigned, which makes finding them rare.

The first thing to do was the pony tail handles. The sales department commented to George who told Reed who informed Wright they were hard to hold and would slip out of customer's hands. They are now rare to find.  The pony tail handles came in most of the original colors , but probably were only produced until 1955. This gives them a two year production span.

New "loop" handle was redesigned several times. Oddly, this Pink is marked Residential, and is one hue off the Home Decorators version, and was not authorized by Wright. You can read more about this deep pink right here. What gives?.

The new cup handle was a loop. Slight changes were made to the thicknesses of the cup handle and Reed was always helpful in suggesting new ideas or improvements, and  relayed information from the Sales Department, so that Wright was in touch with the customer's wants and needs. If you have several examples of these cups look closely you will see some loops are slighly different and it took awhile to get the perfect "rounding" inside the loop handle. 
For informational purposes only: original "oil pastel" drawing of Wright's Residential brochure. Wright would design, draw, and approve all product brochures.  This has been donated to Syracuse University, the originals are housed there.

Wright even went as far to design the brochures,  display box, and find the correct cardboard design for holding the dishes in place. There were two pages of notes just on finding the right weight cardboard.  Many people do not know how much time these early designers spent on all aspects of production.  I can't even begin to tell you how thick the stacks of designs where in Syracuse for lines like Flair, Wright would tailor them with his associates or design students until they were perfect. It was amazing to see the progress and designs that lay in the files, never used. My favorite was a butterfly with flower....


Many do not realize how designers would be involved down to the packaging design. This instore display box was able to have items shipped without breakage.

These four colors were often sold together, which is why so many people find sets of them like this.
Immediately in 1953 and 1954 Residential won the MOMA Good Design award.  Northern was featuring it at trade shows and promoting it.  Some suggestions from the sales department were that Wright do patterns on some of the pieces or plates, which Wright did not approve. He originally dismissed patterns on dishes during a china interview during this time.  Ironically, later he did patterns for Home Decorators and the Flair line so maybe his "disgust" towards patterns would change.  
Granite White is a work of art, and I'm trying to complete a set. Sadly the white flecks on white dishes proved stain-worthy and little of this survived. Probably why it was yanked early on.  Got any? Contact me, I'll buy it from you!


By 1955, Wright would realize he was about to suffer yet another blow.  Reed was leaving to start his own company, (Brook Molding, formed in 1957) and this would lead to the ultimate demise of his plastics career and damage his relationship with Northern. As if the domino effect, all the of early plastics greats that made Northern what it was would slowly leave, retire, or follow suit.  This was at the height of Northern, and Residential, but soon it would all crumble. 
Note the later brochures state "MELAMINE' and not "melamc"
By 1956-1957  it was Home Decorators , a division of the CH Stuart Company who came to Wright's rescue--or so it would seem..  (read more on that page) Not only were they selling the exclusive patterned designs made for them by Wright in their direct marketing program, but they tried to aid Wright in selling  Residential Salmon and Sea Mist colors still housed at Northern in an attempt to continue interest in the line and move excess stock.    Sadly, the problem here was this: the dinnerware was being produced and shipped by Northern, designing only variants of Residential with patterns on them for Home Decorators, therefore it is uncertain if  royalties were coming from Northern, or direct from CH Stuart. I could not find evidence of the latter, so I can only assume Stuart ordered from Northern, who kept accounting and sent checks to Wright. I am quite certain Russel Wright  would have retired a much wealthier designer has checks come direct from the Stuart company. At one point published door to door sales of said Home Decorators dishes were rumored to have been estimated at 4 million dollars during 1956-1958. that's a lot of royalties due to Wright.

One thing in particular that Reed and Wright had previously discussed prior to his departure was Sugar Bowl Lids. Originally in 1953 the onion soup was used.
Originally this onion soup bowl  w/ cover were used as sugar bowls, Sugar Bowl #1!
Later,  by 1954 a coupe version was used.  However, this new lid fell off also and customers expressed dissatisfaction.  Sadly, the design was lovely and used in the Home Decorators Line. Wright was insistant upon using it due to it's gorgeous design. 
Sugar bowl design #2, used in Residential and Home Decorator's lines. The lid was better, but still fell off.
Again the sales department gave the feedback of discussing sale of the small tumbler being used as a sugar bowl and having an alternative lid. This would make sugar bowl design #3. 
My ultra-rare Salmon Red Signed Sugar bowl - with pinch lid Sugar Bowl Design #3.
There was a short lived redesigned pinch lid on the sugar bowl by Northern but it is unclear if Wright agreed to this or not.  Examples of this pinched lid exist, and I even have a set marked with Wright's signature on bottom of tumbler in Salmon Red.   Most examples are found in after contract colors (mottled teals, blues or tans) and are not marked Russel Wright on bottom.  This proves the factory ordered the lid-mold with or without Wright's approval and was producing it anyways.  I consider these extremely rare and collect them myself.  I guesstimate that there is 50/50 chance that Wright agreed. The reason being, he was all about dual-use of items and if he could increase royalties, why not?  However, on the flip side, the design looks too ridgid for him and he was a stickler on good design. 
Lemon Ice: Gorgeous.

Wrights' frustration with Northern grew and much correspondence lies in the Syracuse files, due to lack of sales and problems obtaining his accounting reports and royalty checks on time.  At one point Wright consulted his attorney, and pulled a Dunn and Bradstreet Report on Northern to see their financial stability.  Oddly, Wright must have known the worst was coming, as this D&B report revealed that Northern's credit was also being pulled by Watertown Manufacturing Company--apparently they were working out a deal to take over Watertown's dinnerware molds.  Wright saw the red flags, but by now it was too late.

By 1959 Wright's beautiful Flair was unveiled, most likely his ultimate design in plastic.  The Ming Lace was extremely popular and Wright's contract was open-end to design and submit two new patterns per year for release.  Northern, instead of marketing it, was preoccupied.   Now in severe financial trouble, due to an outside lawsuit with one of the shareholders, and mounting bills and past due notices, they wanted to find a quick fix to their financial problems.  They were indeed in official contractual  negotiations with Watertown to buy their dinnerware molds on lease.  It was ad Wright had feared.

Needless to say these negotiations lead to little being done on the Russel Wright end.  So much for being the exclusive big name at Northern. This is where I cannot understand what the investors and owners of Northern was thinking. Why not just focus your time and energy on promoting what you already have, and making more money that way? Why put all you have into acquiring another line? Seems like a bad business decision for a company, or pure greed.

Again,  Northern would go months without sending a royalty check or accounting slips to Wright, and Wright's letters would go unanswered for months.  Keep in mind all this time he was due royalties for Residential, Home Decorators, and Flair.  His new designs rolled out in Flair were Spring Garden (in pink and blue)  Nasturtium (gorgeous orange on clear), Arabesque ( blue and gold and gold on gold have been found, both on solid whites and translucent)  and the short lived Woodland Rose.  To date I have only found once piece of the latter, and I wonder was it ever really into production?

Accounting from Northern was shoddy at best when checks did come in, and claimed there was little movement on Residential and Flair, though it was clearly being sold.  Examples exisit in S&H green stamp cataloges and it was being distributed to dime stores out of Chicago and New York.  I found an ad out of Chicago where it was called a rainbow picnic set. It is my estimate that Wright received 20% or less of his royalties that he was entitled to.  This is based on the research I've done and the off colors being produced, and distributed without his knowledge. 


Mottled Blues, Teals, and Tans are most often found in the "After - Contract" lines.

After Contract My Azzz!
It is this very research that proved the late Northern was up to no good. The supposed after-contract pieces still containing Wright designs (tumblers, large and small, cups and saucers, casseroles, and creamers, even though the backstamp was changed. )  I want to point out here that there was no dissolution of contract in the files, so all these after-contract pieces were simply called that to get Northern off the hook and received that name by collectors over time.  It was called "confetti" or "end of day" or "after contract" when in fact it was not after contract.  In fact, any designs that resembled Russel Wright should have had royalties paid before, during and after contract--which Wright was still under contract as of 1962, when their last business in Boston was being handled!!! So they simply were selling this all the while!
Confetti Browns, "after contract" my ass! the cups and saucers are Wright designs!

(To further prove the factory mayhem, I also have found FLAIR in solid blues and pinks when in fact these were supposed to be the accompaniment serving pieces only made in these colors. They in fact sold in full sets of solid instead of the solids mixed with patterns. The whole point of FLAIR was to be translucent, although Arabesque examples in solid white exist.  Additional pieces also have surfaced of two tone colors and sugar bowls with patterns found with the signatures.  I am unsure if these were test runs or unauthorized pieces )
Northern's Dip-A-Trays were sold as a go with, and marketed out of Chicago. How shoddy is that?
 Adorable little tripod confetti "Dip-A-Trays" were advertised in 1960 newspapers as a Wright design, and came with a mail in set (thru Chicago), of end of day Rainboware, but remain unsigned marked only with a Northern sticker indicating the original price off $.29 cents.  I have seen them go for almost $60 each now due to rarity.   Clearly made as a go with in Wright colors, I've found them in many colors and they are by far one of my favorite pieces.

Then we have the mixed up Northern and Watertown sets. OMG. The after-contract sets sometimes include the Watertown Shapes mixed with Wright designs.  I have a two tiered serving tray that has a White Waterown place paired with a White Russel Wright plate. Let's just say, tacky. I can only imagine what the consumers were thinking.


The Demise of Northern
By 1960 Northern had acquired Watertown's dinnerware molds (Famous Lifetime Ware), and was working on getting the molds up and running.  According to Syracuse's files Russel Wright ordered a Dunn & Bradstreet printout on Northern and their financial credit.  It was obvious that by doing so he was worried about their new endeavor and further lack of support to his Residential and Flair lines.  Rightfully so, the D&B report indicated they were "paying installments" on the Watertown aquisition, seemingly putting them further in debt.  Being less focused on Wright's designs, the new 1959 Flair was short lived. 

In 1961, there is mention of Northern in a Melmac Guide, and a Chilton's Jewelry Guide, indicating they had wholesale offices in Boston, NY, and Chicago.  I further delved into the company and found that they were somehow related to CMP of Scranton, which by way of Jules Nelson, one of the investors/owners, also had his hands out West in plastic factories.   
This 1953 - 1956 standard price ad shows how upscale the dishes were.  Fast Forward to 1960, it was all downhill.
As for Residential?  It was now found in FastCo drug stores for a fifth of it's original price, once only available at Macy's and Gimbel's and upper crust stores for original sets going at $49.95.  Evidence that un-authorized colors were surfacing, and many S&H Green Stamps stores were peddling leftovers.
Believe it or not, this is the "new" Watertown Lifetime Ware after Northern got their hands on it. Note the same colors as the "After Contract" end of Day Residential Photo courtesy of: WilmaBella
If you didn't read "lifetime" on the backstamp you would think this plate matches RW's tumber below! Courtesy WilmaBella.
Wright's Tumbler was trying to be marketed as "end of day" or "After Contract" Give me a break.
Much like the demise of Wright's lines, Watertown's Lifetime Ware was produced thinner and more crappy within a few years, leading a bad taste in people's mouths.  Once happy with the thick and industrial made Watertown, what they were getting was crappily --sometimes not even resembling the original Watertown.  New colors and and ugly designs were produced, and collectors frown upon the mix matched sets that you can find with half Wright half Watertown designs.  It appears with desperate attempts  survival of either the company of Northern, Russel Wright's lines, or the "new and crappy" Watertown was futile. 
  
By 1963 Northern faded out of sight in Boston partially because of shoddy business ventures, and a legal battle which forced on of it's shareholders to liquidate.   If only the original Estabrook crew had stayed on, it may still be around today.    In 1964, the company name being fictitiously re-established in Lackwanna, Pennsylvania, in a huge 48,000 sq. ft manufacturing facility, but little is known what, if anything, they produced or what ever happened to them. The building shown below has been vacant for some time and was currently up for lease.  
Last known address "registered to NIC" in Pennsylvania.

So, what became of the Residential and Watertown molds thereafter?  Signs point to Watertown molds going to GPL in Canada, (and some Watertown examples also came out of Ohio, marked "Alliance Lifetime Ohio) but are the Residential locked away in a basement somewhere? I'm going to find out!   Do you have any information? If so contact me! I'd love to dish talk with you!

Strange Things: 
Canada's Peacock Line Very Close to Residential Colors!
Did Canada steal the top secret color formula on Residential?
I bought these from SusAntique!

Did Canada steal the top secret color formula on Residential?
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: 

Two Tone Residential Article Here
Pink Russel Wright Color HERE.

Residential at the San Francisco Museum here. 
RESIDENTIAL COLOR CHART & PIECE LIST


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References xxxx


ᴮPatents Found

ᵉStock Molds were molds openly sold by Tool and Die Makers which in essence were simliar in design and style, meaning several different companies could be using them.  This was prior to copyrighting of design, and at one time Modern Plastics Encyclopedia advertised a catalogue that molders could order.

ᴰComparison with Modern Plastics Encyclopedias of those years

ᴱI
nterview, Plastics Magazine 1946
ᴬEvidence found in my visit to Syracuse University.