The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi


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A “reblog” from August of 2012.

– 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.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

One Response

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  1. good day, one factual comment i would like to make is that though the Leviton headquarters moved out to Little Neck in 1975, the plant operations remained vibrant and indeed was a large manufacturing center well into the 1990’s. I believe the plant finally closed in 1996 or 1997.

    john Prufeta

    August 22, 2016 at 4:08 pm

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