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NEWS STORY

1929: Pratt & Whitney Builds a New 'Bee Hive' in East Hartford

Thursday, July 16, 2015

On Saturday, May 11, 1929, Pratt & Whitney announced big news for the Greater Hartford area. The company was moving from its original Hartford home in the old Pope-Hartford car plant to what was termed "The New Bee Hive" across the Connecticut River on 600 acres in East Hartford.

"The new plant has been made absolutely essential," President Frederick Rentschler said, "due to the enormous demand for Pratt & Whitney Wasp and Hornet engines." By 1929, Pratt & Whitney represented 60 percent of all engine shipments in the United States.

Another reason to move was the Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool Company wanted the space back it had leased to the engine company in 1925. And the partnership that involved was also going away. Rentschler, George Mead, William Boeing and Chance Vought had formed the United Aircraft & Transport Corporation, severing ties with Pratt & Whitney Machine Tool.

Not only would the facility be "the most modern and complete aeronautical engine manufacturing unit in the world," it would house the new corporate headquarters. The East Hartford site would soon not only house the Chance Vought and Hamilton Standard factories, but would be home to "one of the finest landing fields in the eastern part of the United States." In 1930 that would become Rentschler Field.

Mrs. Rentschler and her daughter Helen officially broke ground for the new $2 million plant on July 16, 1929. The factory and office buildings would be 400 feet wide by 1,500 feet long, some half million square feet. Enough land was available to almost double this. The "modern restaurant" in the basement of the engineering building could serve 1,500 employees and could be expanded to serve 3,000.

Standardized design and building methods, so-called monitor construction, were used and the new facility took shape quickly. By late 1929, 89 car loads moved on trolley tracks and 212 truckloads of material and machines were being moved. On December 30, 1929 Dan Jack, machine shop superintendent, started the first machine in the new plant, a radial drill in the crankcase department.

A footnote: The Hartford Courant reported on April 29, 1930 that the new $40,000 cafeteria at had served its first meal to about 450 employees. "The employees will be served a 40-cent luncheon or a 75-cent luncheon. All employees whether they bring their own lunch or purchase them at the restaurant are invited to use the dining hall," the Courant reported. No menu or restaurant review survive.