From clockmaking to hoopskirts—to advances in plastics and aerospace, the Barnes Group Inc. has been at the forefront of innovation in Connecticut.
Founded in 1857 by Wallace Barnes, Barnes Group manufactures aerospace and industrial components. With a focus on innovation, collaboration, and integrity, the company produces springs for airframes, electronics, machinery, stamping presses, and turbine engines.
About the Founder
Born on Christmas Day in 1827, Barnes grew up in Bristol, CT. He is a direct descendant of Ebenezer Barnes, who became the first permanent settler of Bristol in 1728.
Barnes’ work experience began in his family’s hotel and general store, which specialized in clocks. The store also sold drugs and general merchandise. Barnes became an expert druggist and launched a startup druggist shop. When the startup didn’t produce enough income. Barnes turned to clockmaking.
At the time, Bristol, CT was known as the clockmaking capital of the United States. At first, Barnes was contracting to supply parts to local clockmakers. However, the clock industry fell on hard times during the Panic of 1857. At the time of the Panic, Barnes was working for clockmaker A.S. Platt, who became unable to compensate Barnes monetarily for his services, so made a deal to accept hoopskirt wire as payment.
An Eye for Business
A resourceful businessman, Barnes brought the hoopskirt wire nearby Albany, where he traded the wire for a haberdashery store. Instead of remaining in Albany to run the store, Barnes traded it for a farm in Missouri.
After returning to Bristol, Barnes traded the Missouri farm for a blacksmith shop, which he sold for $1,600. Barnes then used those assets to purchase A.S. Platt. The purchase included assorted equipment and raw materials—as well as the rights to an undisclosed method of tempering steel springs.
Barnes partnered with E.L Dunbar—a longtime friend and an experienced manufacturer. The two contributed $2,000 to the venture and set up a shop in Bristol where they brought on several employees and made springs and hoops for skirts. Their workforce grew in the wake of the hoopskirt fashion craze. Barnes and Dunbar relocated to a larger shop, and by the end of the year had 150 employees.
After the start of the Civil War, Barnes and Dunbar began making other items including musket springs and powder horns. The two partners split in 1863 and Barnes continued operating the business, creating new product lines and patenting several new springs and production techniques.
Undeterred by a fire that burned down the factory in 1866, Barnes continued with his springmaking operations and was employing a workforce of 35 by the mid-1870s.
At this time, Barnes was known in his community as a trader of Jersey cattle than as a manufacturer, according to Funding Universe. During the 1880s, when his spring business was not doing well, Barnes was presumably making more money from the new livestock drug he had developed and patented and was selling internationally.
Barnes died in 1893 at the age of 65. He left an estate appraised at approximately $70,000.
The Barnes Group Is Formed
In 1963 the Associated Spring Corporation, which grew out Wallace Barnes’ spring manufacturing company in the 1890s, became listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Wallace Barnes’ grandson—who also named Wallace Barnes—was named president of the group that same year. The Associated Spring Corp. supplied the springs for Apollo 11 when it landed on the moon in 1969.
The Associated Spring Corp. was officially renamed the Barnes Group in 1976. The following year, Barnes became the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, which he served as until he announced his retirement in 1991.
A Legacy of Leadership
A former Connecticut State Senator, Connecticut Gubernatorial candidate, and Bristol Republican Town Chairman, Barnes has practiced law and has served on the boards of several public and private companies. In addition, he has been a delegate to eight national GOP conventions.
After retiring as CEO, Barnes continued to serve as Chairman of the Board until 1996. He had served on the board since 1963. He had also served as Chairman of the Management Development Committee and as a member of the Executive Committee and the Committee on Directors of the Board.
Barnes has also been a director of many Connecticut-based companies and groups, including the Metro Hartford Chamber of Commerce (now the MetroHartford Alliance), the Manufacturer’s Association of Hartford (where he served as president from 1965 to 1968), the Automobile Insurance Company of Hartford, and the Rogers Corporation, which supports innovations in printed circuit boards, power, and electronics.
Awards and Notoriety
Barnes has been the recipient of many awards and attributes—in Connecticut and beyond.
- 1955 – The Connecticut Jaycees honored Barnes as the “Outstanding Young Man of the Year.”
- 1967 – Tthe Boys Club of America gave Barnes the “Keystone Award,” which recognizes leadership and service.
- 2008 – Tunxis Community College in Farmington, CT named their new art gallery The Wallace Barnes and Barbara Hackman Franklin art gallery.
- Barnes is listed in many Who’s Who publications.
Barnes Group – Innovation in Plastics Technologies
Barnes Group has a rich history in manufacturing and industry. The company has pioneered many first including super plastic forming and suffusion bonding, and pneumatic die cylinders.
- August 2012 – Barnes Group completed the largest acquisition in its 155-year history with the purchase of Synventive Molding Solutions, a preeminent hot runner systems manufacturer for the plastics industry.
- August 2015 – Barnes Group acquired Thermoplay, a leader in the design, development, and manufacturing of hot runner solutions for plastic injection molding applications.
- October 2015 – Barnes Group acquires Priamus System Technologies, a technology leader in the development of advanced process control systems for the plastic injection molding industry.
Barnes Aerospace – Rich with Innovation
In 1981 Barnes Group entered the aerospace field with the acquisition of Central Metal Products of East Windsor, CT. A year later, Barnes Aerospace was formed with the acquisition of Windsor Manufacturing of Windsor, CT.
Barnes Aerospace has a history of innovation, including:
- First to introduce the Sutton core process, which produces hollow diffusion-bonded and superplastic formed (SPF) titanium parts
- First to use numerical simulation of industrial superplastic forming of titanium
- First to use the double-back forming or zero-degree angle forming of shrouds
- First to combine superplastic forming and diffusion bonding
- First to use numerical simulation of industrial superplastic forming (SPF) of titanium to reduce expensive trial and error rework during the development of various complex aerospace parts
- First to develop an innovative spark-erosion grinding (SEG) machine for honeycomb segments
“It’s been an amazing experience to work at a company with so much history in innovation,” says Khaqan Ahmed, Manager of Strategic Programs at Barnes Aerospace. “Knowing the company is continuing to pioneer innovations in manufacturing gives me a sense of pride in the work I do.”
Barnes Group encourages philanthropy, compassion, and change through the Barnes Group Foundation, which was founded in 1945.
Education – Through a matching gift program, the Barnes Group Foundation encourages Barnes Group employees, directors, and spouses to financially support primary and secondary schools, colleges, universities, and community learning facilities.
Healthcare and The Arts – The Barnes Group Foundation provides matching gifts for employees, directors, and their spouses to financially support the arts and healthcare organizations. The matching gift program helps Barnes Group reinvest in art and healthcare services that improve the quality of life in local communities.
United Way – Through annual contributions to United Way, the Barnes Group Foundation helps empower local organizations to assist people in their own communities.
Preserving the Environment –The Barnes Group Foundation contributes to the Indian Rock Preserve and the Harry C. Barnes Memorial Nature Center, which permanently preserves several hundred acres of forestland in the Bristol, CT, area.
Barnes Group celebrate its 160th anniversary in 2017.