The Gilman Brothers Company had its origins in New York City, where in 1897, Nathan Gilman established himself in the bedding business. From the start, the Company had direct ties to Connecticut for, in Bozrahville (now Gilman) on the banks of the Yantic River stood the Bozrahville Manufacturing Company, which supplied him with raw material.
As one of the oldest manufacturing sites in New London County, the first large-scale manufacturing began here in 1814. Industrious and enterprising individuals were attracted to this site because of the rivers unique topography and ample volume provided the waterpower to drive their machines.
In 1905, Nathan purchased the holdings of the Bozrahville Manufacturing Company. These early years were marked by countless calamities. The first was the loss of his brother and business partner, followed by two fires. The second fire completely ravaged his mill, and Nathan was badly burned trying to save what so many had labored for. Faced with a long hospitalization and what appeared to be economic failure, Nathan was driven by his unflinching desire to see his mill a success. With the help of his loving wife, friends, and business associates, a new mill rose from the ashes. It stands today as a symbol of good will, friendship, and Nathan’s courage and test of will.
By the 1920’s, the mills production demands began to tax the available water resources. Mother Nature could no longer be relied upon, particularly in the summer months, and the mill was often shut down for lack of sufficient water. Nathan’s focus turned to seeking a new form of power to keep his machines humming…. Electricity.
Unable to get the neighboring utility, Eastern Connecticut Power Company, to extend electricity lines to such a “remote” part of the state. In 1921, he enlisted the help of two friends and neighbors active in state politics. Together they saw a bill through the state legislature and signed by the Governor granting a charter for the Bozrah Electric Company to sell electricity in Bozrah and Lebanon. Ambivalent partners, unsure of this new venture bailed out and Nathan was left to go it alone. With the help of the City of Norwich and employees from the factory, 6 miles of electrical lines were eventually erected and service began in 1926.
The Bozrah Light & Power Company as it was later named, was nurtured along by its largest customer and at the same time provided Nathan with a reliable source of power. The utility continues to source the Bozrah / Lebanon communities, although in 1995 the Gilman family relinquished ownership.
In the 1940’s, experimentation lead to new ways to use cotton batting, and high speed multiple stitching machines were installed to produce comforters. By the end of W.W.II, the plant had produced nearly three-quarters of a million comforters for the U.S. Army. Hoping to maintain some of the momentum into the post war years, they surged ahead in developing asphalt paper backed flameproof cotton insulation. The product was readily accepted by the building field and the company had to equip another plant in Stafford Springs to meet the orders.
By 1950, things had begun to change. Government price supports for cotton ceased and eventually made this commodity too high priced for an increasingly competitive market. A search began for an entirely new product to diversify the manufacturing operation. In a bold move, the plant was eventually retooled to produce something completely different… Plastic. Nathan’s sons Lawrence, Charles, and Seymour, realized the vast potential the field of plastics offered and they learned the business from the ground up.
The first product produced was a rigid high-impact polystyrene sheet. It was further processed by either vacuum or thermo forming to produce toys and packaging products. Around the same time, the Company began looking at other forms of styrene plastic to be used in the building insulation market. Molds to produce expanded polystyrene foam blocks or billets were purchased. The blocks were cut by hot wire or saws and sold as insulation, ceiling tiles, packaging material, and flotation.
Essentially, as the Company entered the 1960’s, the major product continued to be the rigid plastic sheet, and sales of this product lead to an addition to the mill in 1963. Successful experimentation in the late 60’s prompted the company to purchase a coating machine and enter the flocking business. Coating a rigid plastic sheet with a coating of fiber to produce a uniform velvet-like surface was an industry first. Stylor® was a revolutionary product in the packaging industry and was ideal for such things as perfume, jewelry, and cosmetics. The flocked sheet could now be vacuum formed to the shape of the desired insert for a perfect fit.
Determining to become a more “vertically integrated company” by producing their own fiber for flocking, lead to the construction of a spinning plant, for polyester fiber.
In the early 70’s, a 60,000 square foot addition was built to house new machinery to speed up production of their flocked product. Since the Company was already in the polyester spinning business, another move was contemplated… into fabric and a state-of-the-art machine was installed.
Fabric was getting so big at this time that the company saw no end to the volume it could produce. Unfortunately, the reality of the time’s hit the “high flying” company head on as it did for economics around the world.
Caught in the middle of an economic recession and the rising cost of petrochemicals, the lifeblood of the plastics industry, lead the Company to divest itself of its flocking and rigid sheet divisions in 1982. With their characteristic optimism, the Gilman brothers began to look at a product that had been pushed to the “back burners” with the success of the rigid sheet division… expanded polystyrene foam.
The foam products division was revitalized as the three brothers collaborated on designing and building a new production line. The new line would produce a paper-foam-paper-laminate. They did not know it at the time but the line rivaled the competitors’ line, which had speed limitations. It enabled The Gilman Brothers Company to come from virtual obscurity in this industry and become a leading manufacturer of foamboard.
Today as one of the originators and innovators in foamboard manufacturing, we continue to improve upon quality and provide for the market needs for this versatile product. Our full line of foam boards are utilized by graphic arts professionals looking to create a variety of finished art, in creating advertisement and merchandizing signage, photo mounted and screen printed art as well as displays, props, and exhibits.
All progress requires change, and it has been these changes brought on by innovative people with creative new ideas that have propelled the company through time. Our history is in fact a celebration of progress, and a testament to hard work and dedication of the employees who have made this progress possible.
As we view the “wide horizon”, our philosophy remains clear. To recognize and encourage the individual and their abilities to contribute to the endeavor. Provide a favorable work environment in order to conduct the business of manufacturing; and to produce and sell quality products at competitive prices, backed by excellent customer service and good will.