by Joan Cavanagh, researcher and curator
From 1870 until 2006, the Olin-Winchester plant operated in New Haven under various names and with multiple corporate owners. Famous around the world for the Winchester rifle and other firearms (along with occasional tentative and short-lived ventures into the production of more benign goods), it has been the subject of many books, films and articles. But before the Greater New Haven Labor History Association’s traveling exhibit, “Our Community at Winchester: An Elm City Story,” the tale of the company’s workers and its impact on the New Haven community throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries had not been told.
In a series of panels which include interviews with former employees as well as a historical chronology, the exhibit depicts workers’ struggles to unionize and gain racial and economic justice and equality in the face of relentless management resistance. It illustrates the rich culture they formed within the plant, and it describes the always fraught interaction between the company’s owners and managers and the city of New Haven.
The exhibit, which opened at Gateway Community College on Jan. 29, 2014, was shown in several other venues including Yale’s Science Park, the Stetson branch of the New Haven Free Public Library, New Haven’s City Hall, Fairfield University and the University of Connecticut at Storrs. Thanks to volunteer David Cirella, it can be viewed online at http://exhibits.winchesterworkers.gnhlha.org.
Researcher and curator, Joan Cavanagh, and designer, Jeanne Criscola, are planning a book based on the exhibit which will include additional material to bring the story up to date in the context of New Haven’s current housing and economic crises. They are also seeking a venue in which to mount the exhibit for permanent display. If you can suggest a location or would like to help fund these efforts, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.