Welfare capitalism, the business philosophy of Cheney Brothers, tended to all of the needs of those working for the company and providing incentive through “kindness.” This approach helped attract and retain the best employees.
Cheney Brothers recruited skilled and unskilled talent from all over the U.S., the UK and Europe. In this way, they supported immigration and diversity in the mills and in the town as well. The family taught English to foreigners and provided medical and dental services, schools, entertainment (in Cheney Hall), and other services. Cheneys purposefully made their homes nearby and walked home for lunch.
Cheney Brothers provided education as well as employment to children. All Cheney employee children were to attend Cheney-sponsored schools and many employees worked their way up the ladder, learning new skills along the way. In those days apprenticeship and mentoring came with the territory for this company.
“…the most expansive, and possibly most lasting, gift to the community is the water system. There are wonderful and beautiful water bodies turned over to the Town—Buckingham Reservoir in Glastonbury with extensive watershed lands, Globe Hollow Reservoir and the golf course, Porter-Howard Reservoirs off Porter Street. Manchester is not at the mercy of private water companies, and not the Metropolitan District water system…We have our own water system here, with several thousands of acres of woodlands and watershed. The basics of it all was the Cheney water system”
—Malcolm F. Barlow
Cheney Hall, which is now occupied by the Little Theatre of Manchester, was the site of dances, lectures, nondenominational religious services, and silk goods displays. It became a hospital during the 1918 flu epidemic. They family built fire houses, libraries, utilities and reservoirs and low-cost pleasant housing with gas and indoor plumbing. Workers from different countries were encouraged to become neighbors to help build community. The Cheneys paid for land on which to build churches to serve the diverse population in Manchester.
A culture of respect and trust contributed to productive environment in which “every voice counts.” They figured out how to do things as they went along, banking on the ingenuity that existed among the people. Cheney Brothers recognized longevity of service starting at 10 years. An unusual number of people made it to 40 and 50 years, and generations of Cheney Brothers workers built the Town of Manchester.
The Cheney family was dedicated to service and civic involvement as fundamental values. Charles Cheney, president, encouraged improvements to Manchester as a way of preventing the Cheney family from getting too rich. Of course what was good for Manchester was also good for business, and the Cheneys believed that supporting a productive, safe community led to advantages for everyone.
The Cheney Brothers area was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1978. The mill buildings have been repurposed for residential use as condos and apartments in a very successful architectural reuse project. The philanthropic legacy of the family lives on through gifts made through a donor advised fund established in 1989 and managed by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and managed by the Cheney Cemetery Association. Over half a million dollars has been given to education and cultural institutions in Manchester and Hartford.
“Homeland Day” in Manchester
Manchester’s Homeland Day was first held in 1914, the idea of Ruth Sears Bacon Cheney, wife of Austin Cheney. Manchester’s foreign-born residents honored their countries of origin with a multicultural city-wide gala. It was later renamed “Heritage Day”, and since 2016 Heritage Day has been part of Celebrate Manchester Week.
Origin of Homeland Day from Today in Connecticut History, June 13, 2022: An Old New England Tradition Goes International
Cheney Brothers Inducted into American Manufacturing Hall of Fame, 2018
Video produced by HB live, Inc, for Hall of Fame Induction ceremony.
“The Legacy of the Cheney Family and Cheney Brothers Silk”
Cheney Cemetery Association President Carol Cheney shared with family and friends a look into the family dynasty that established what became the largest silk manufacturer in America. The Cheneys’ practice of industrial paternalism provided services touching every aspect of their employees’ lives and helped grow Manchester into a diverse, cohesive community and thriving center of fine craftsmanship. Carol talked about the origins of the business, different uses of silk, the role of advertising and marketing, and the Cheneys’ legacy of civic involvement and philanthropy in Manchester and Hartford.
header image: The Cheney Rail Trail, which follows part of the corridor of the South Manchester Railroad, built by the Cheney brothers in 1869. The line was a 2.5-mile spur from the main Hartford, Providence, and Fishkill Railroad and it went to the Cheney silk mills, transporting passengers, silk goods and raw materials. This historic railroad was known as the longest privately owned passenger-and-freight railroad, as well as one of the shortest in America. (source: traillink.com/trail/cheney-rail-trail)