Where Nashua once worked

Long before today’s global economy, with its technology and service industry employment base, many Nashuans got up every morning, drank their coffee, got ready and headed to work. Some travelled by car, many on foot, to our city’s thriving manufacturing plants. Sadly, most of these facilities are a thing of the past, so let’s take a few minutes to recall some of them:

Sanders Associates was at once the largest employer in the city and one of the largest in NH. The company started with just 11 employees, led by founder Royden C. Sanders. The iconic block of tan concrete on Canal Street has transformed from Sanders, to Lockheed-Martin to what is now BAE Systems, one of the world’s largest defense contractors and still one of Nashua’s largest employers. Sanders was a life saver for the city of Nashua when in 1952, the woolen mills occupying that building migrated south and Nashua was left with a huge void. My sister once worked for Sanders, starting as a “typist” straight out of high school. Back then, long before equal opportunity employment, many female employees started in what was known as the “typing pool,” a group of typists which serviced several groups simultaneously. Yup, quite sexist. In the 1960’s, if you worked at Sanders, you were considered having a “good” job, which meant you were also a good credit risk. You could purchase almost anything on credit, or as we said back then, on “time,” long before FICO credit scores.

IMPCO once employed 1,350 people in Nashua at its plant on Burke Street, manufacturing pulp and paper mill machines and parts. Beginning as Improved Paper Machinery in 1901, it was sold in 1930 to a group of businessmen, again in 1964 to Ingersoll-Rand, where it reached its peak, then to Beloit Group in 1996 and finally to GL&V Pulp Group in 2000, eventually ceasing operations in 2002.

Doehla Greetings Cards was another major employer in the city of Nashua during the 1950’s through the 1970’s. Their Factory Christmas Sale was an annual event. Founded by Harry Doehla, who was disabled as a boy due to rheumatic fever, Doehla’s was known as another good place to work. I personally worked there for several years while in high school in the 1960’s as a Cutter’s Helper, alongside skilled paper cutters who operated very large guillotine machines where, let’s just say a slip of the hand might just cost you that hand itself! It was physical work but paid well with excellent benefits. We were on “piece work.” The more we produced, the more money we earned. According to a July 1951 Nashua Telegraph article announcing Doehla’s establishment of a manufacturing facility here: “There’s year-round employment at Doehla’s. The business is not a seasonal one. Consequently, there are no work stoppages, lay-offs and the like due to lack of orders.” I don’t think we would ever see an employer make that commitment today.

Originally known as the Nashua Card Gummed and Coated Paper Company in 1904, and affectionately known to Nashuans as the “Card Shop,” Nashua Corporation was another premier employer providing steady, well-paying jobs. The company manufactured paper products, from candy and food wrappers to wax-coated and sticky paper. They operated plants on Franklin Street in Nashua and on DW Highway in Merrimack, NH. The Merrimack plant has since been sold and the old Franklin Street facility has been converted to luxury apartments. Today, Nashua Corporation makes specialty paper products, deli labels and paper used in printing movie theater tickets. It is located at Trafalgar Square.

J.F. McElwain operated a mammoth facility on Spring and Temple Streets as one of the largest shoe manufacturers in the country, while some smaller shoe shops (Jamie Shoe and ACME Cut Sole) had operations in the old mill yard behind One Chestnut Street, the former Doehla Greeting Cards.

Irwin Products (“Oh, boy, it’s an Irwin toy!”) manufactured plastic toys in what is now Clocktower Place. As a resident of the tree streets back then, I still remember the plastic odor that permeated the air on a hot summer day. Greg and Son, a cabinet manufacturer on Crown street, was owned and operated by a former sitting governor. How controversial would that be today?

Remember Edgecomb Steel, Horton and Hubbard, Johns Manville, Royal Business Forms, Hampshire Manufacturing and Beebe Rubber?

Amazingly, they all seemed to manage without email, teleconferences, Skype, telemarketing, ISO, TQM or LEAN manufacturing methods. But they must have been doing something right, as they thrived for decades. Employees were able to pay mortgages and rent, put food on the table, clothes on their backs and support their families. Granted, it was a much simpler time.

Don Canney is a freelance writer and professional voice artist. He was born and raised in downtown Nashua with great interest in Nashua history circa 1950-1970. He now resides in Litchfield.