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Archive for August 2nd, 2012

slow decadence

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

I seem to walk past this structure at least once a week, have done so for several years now, and until recently was completely ignorant about one of the largest employers of 20th century Greenpoint. The Leviton family built this commercial empire by the sweat of their brows- stories of part time employees encountering old Isidor working on the factory floor are rampant in Greenpoint, verging on Pop culture amongst garden spotters of a certain age.

from wikipedia

Leviton Manufacturing Company, Inc. is a manufacturer of electrical wiring devices, data center connectivity apparatus and lighting energy management systems. The company was founded in 1906 by Evser and his son Isidor Leviton. They began by manufacturing brass mantle tips for the natural gas lighting infrastructure in Manhattan. They sold their mantle tips on a pushcart on the Bowery on the Lower East side of Manhattan. Isidor Leviton designed a screw in lampholder for Thomas Edison’s Electric Lamp in 1910 and within ten years the lampholders were being used in every apartment in New York. In 1936 Leviton built a two square block 4 story factory and warehouse in Greenpoint, Brooklyn which still stands today. Leviton products include over 25,000 devices and systems, used in homes and businesses.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another bit of reputation that the family gathered unto itself was a certain liberalism regarding class, religion, and creed in their hiring practices- eschewing the segregation and selective hiring practiced by other corporations- particularly those in the electronics sector. The father of a close friend once told me that, in the years following the second world war, he was denied an opportunity to use his ivy league engineering degree because of a last name that sounded “too Italian”. Not an issue at Leviton, I am told.


By 1910 Leviton was designing and manufacturing pull-chain lamp holders for Thomas Edison’s newly developed light bulb, and in 1922 the company was moved to Greenpoint to better facilitate its rapid ascention. The massive factory took up two city blocks between Newel and Jewel Streets and produced over 600 electrical items, from fuses to socket covers to outlets and switches. Leviton would remain in Greenpoint until 1975, when the company again relocated, this time to Little Neck, NY.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newspaper reports describe the company as resistant to unionization, and even Eleanor Roosevelt found herself standing in solidarity with a picket line on Greenpoint Avenue in the 1940’s. In August of 1940, a large group of laborers “went out”, despite Leviton paying “benefits”- a rare and coveted perk of employment in that era. “Benefits” are what health insurance and a retirement plan were once known as, and were not an automatic or legislated requirement before the 1970’s- for those of you reading this under the age of 30, understand that these “insurance benefits” were something won by the labor movement of the early 20th century.

This was the scene of a long and contentious labor strike in 1940,

as detailed in this preview of the George Ruffini book– “Harry Van Arsdale, Jr: Labor’s Champion”, courtesy google books.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Today, the structure is called the “Greenpoint Industrial Center” and seems to host a series of industrial, artisanal, and warehousing operations who make use of its cavernous interior spaces. The Leviton company left Greenpoint in the 1970’s, migrating to literal greener pastures in eastern Queens and ultimately Melville, Long Island.


The Leviton Manufacturing Company was founded in New York by Isidor Leviton, at the dawn of the electrical era in 1906. Originally engaged in the fabrication of mantle tips for gas lighting, the Company soon afterwards in 1910, converted to production of a single electrical product — a pull-chain lampholder (designed for Edison’s new light bulbs).

  • 1922: Leviton relocated to Greenpoint, Brooklyn after acquiring the TECCO plant, and now offered 568 products.
  • 1929: Acquires Meteor Electric Company, a leading manufacturer of wiring devices.
  • 1932: Leviton devices are used in the Empire State Building.
  • 1937: Acquires American Insulated Wire and becomes the industry leader in wire, cable and cord products.
  • 1939: Leviton devices featured at World’s Fair.
  • 1950: Purchases the Deal Electric Company.
  • 1953: Acquires Hale Brothers Companies, now known as Leviton Canada.
  • 1960: Leviton is among the first manufactures to institute an employee pension plan.
  • 1961: Leviton devices are installed in the White House.
  • 1965: Harold Leviton becomes President and CEO.
  • 1972: Introduces the first GFCI, the first touch dimmer, and a selection of home automation powerline carrier components.
  • 1973: Introduces Decora® designer-style devices.
  • 1975: Moves corporate headquarters to current location in Little Neck, NY.


August 5th, 2012- Newtown Creek Alliance Walking Tour- The Insalubrious Valley- This Sunday

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman will be leading a walk through the industrial heartlands of New York City, exploring the insalubrious valley of the Newtown Creek.

The currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens, and the place where the Industrial Revolution actually happened, provides a dramatic and picturesque setting for this exploration. We’ll be visiting two movable bridges, the still standing remains of an early 19th century highway, and a forgotten tributary of the larger waterway. As we walk along the Newtown Creek and explore the “wrong side of the tracks” – you’ll hear tales of the early chemical industry, “Dead Animal and Night Soil Wharfs”, colonial era heretics and witches and the coming of the railroad. The tour concludes at the famed Clinton Diner in Maspeth- where scenes from the Martin Scorcese movie “Goodfellas” were shot.

Lunch at Clinton Diner is included with the ticket.

Details/special instructions.

Meetup at the corner of Grand Street and Morgan Avenue in Brooklyn at 11 a.m. on August 5, 2012. The L train serves a station at Bushwick Avenue and Grand Street, and the Q54 and Q59 bus lines stop nearby as well. Check as ongoing weekend construction often causes delays and interruptions. Drivers, it would be wise to leave your vehicle in the vicinity of the Clinton Diner in Maspeth, Queens or near the start of the walk at Grand St. and Morgan Avenue (you can pick up the bus to Brooklyn nearby the Clinton Diner).

Be prepared: We’ll be encountering broken pavement, sometimes heavy truck traffic as we move through a virtual urban desert. Dress and pack appropriately for hiking, closed-toe shoes are highly recommended.

Clinton Diner Menu:

  • Cheese burger deluxe
  • Grilled chicken over garden salad
  • Turkey BLT triple decker sandwich with fries
  • Spaghetti with tomato sauce or butter
  • Greek salad medium
  • Greek Salad wrap with French fries
  • Can of soda or 16oz bottle of Poland Spring

for August 5th tickets, click here for the Newtown Creek Alliance ticketing page

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 2, 2012 at 12:15 am

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