By Elizabeth J. Normen
(c) Connecticut Explored Inc., Winter 2015-2016
In the Winter 2015-2016 issue, we tell the stories of some of Connecticut’s iconic brands—and we mean the majors! Connecticut has been home to such nationally and internationally-known brands as Pepperidge Farm, Bigelow Tea, Timex, Stanley (now Stanley Black & Decker) and more.
I love that a number of these stories (and others such as the one about Kaman that we published in Fall 2008), show that Silicon Valley does not have a corner on the “invented in a garage” origin story. Decades before William Hewlett and David Packard, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs tinkered in their garages, Margaret Rudkin and Ruth Campbell Bigelow started their companies in their kitchens. They preceded another female mogul we can claim, Martha Stewart, who also started her media and merchandising company in her Connecticut kitchen. The take-away is that sometimes all it takes is a need, an idea and the passion to pursue it, and a kitchen or garage right here to get started.
Many of these companies started here, but where are they now? Not surprisingly, many have been bought up and are owned by out-of-state conglomerates. But we were pleased to find that more than a few still have a footprint (and employees) in Connecticut—cause for a shout-out. We tip our hat to Cindy Bigelow, granddaughter of the company’s founder and its current CEO, for her loyalty to Connecticut, as you’ll read about on page 38.
Who will be the next Rudkin/Bigelow/Stewart (an incomplete list, to be sure)? The Refinery, a Westport-based accelerator with a mission to “fuel the growth of women-led companies,” according to their website, is working on it. They provide startups with the education, mentoring, and introductions to investors that people need to grow and succeed. They’re part of a network of accelerators, incubators, and other organizations around the state supporting entrepreneurs, both male and female. It’s exciting to see that garages and kitchens throughout Connecticut continue to foster new businesses. For more information visit ctnext.com and refineryct.com.
“Investing” in Connecticut’s nonprofits—including Connecticut Explored Inc.—also contributes to our quality of life. Our Friends of Connecticut Explored do just that, and their annual contributions are helping us bring Connecticut history and the resources of historical societies and museums across Connecticut into the classroom as part of the state’s new social studies frameworks. We created and posted our first “toolkit” for teachers to our website last fall, created with Friends support by social studies teacher Tony Roy. Steve Armstrong of the State Department of Education was thrilled with the toolkit as a model for others and got the word out to teachers across the state via the education department’s website and that of the Connecticut Council for the Social Studies. Friends gifts also support teachers’ discounted access to Connecticut Explored and a year of Connecticut Explored as a prize for state winners of History Day (with both students and their teachers receiving it free for a year). I can’t think of a better investment for Friends of Connecticut Explored than in our future historians—and entrepreneurs!
Friends gifts of $100 or more received by December 31, 2015 will be listed in the Spring 2016 issue. Give online at ctexplored.org/Friends.