NYAB.jpgIn 1872 Robert Hitchcock supervised the building of a factory known as "The Hitchcock Lamp Company". That building was later to become The New York Air Brake Shop.

In 1893, a law requiring standardized braking systems and equipment on all of America's railroad rolling stock was just what the three-year-old New York Air Brake Corporation needed. Created from purchasing the assets of downtown Watertown's Eames Vacuum Brake Company, NYAB quickly became a leading supplier of engineering and parts as the nation's railroads boomed.

In spite of two failed attempts to enter the automobile truck market, a Depression-era slump and helped by making heavy steel parts for military industries during both world wars, "the Air Brake" and its foundry employed thousands in a massive complex of buildings built in 1902-05 on Watertown's northeast edge. Acquisitions and mergers--most recently being purchased by Germany's Knorr-Bremse--has led to the company designing and building other train-related components and systems(1).

The local operation is now in one modern design-build center on the grounds of the original company. The original power house on Starbuck Avenue still supplies utilities to the plant while several of the other original Air Brake buildings house various tenants; the Watertown Industrial Center Local Development Corporation is the "landlord" and helps provide financial and other incentives as a "business incubator".

NYAB_Factory_Street.JPG
NYAB building on Factory St.
A massive fire destroyed much of the remaining large building on the site, leaving the remainder as an rusting remnant of the city's industrial past. The Air Brake's former landfill site on the north end of the property has been the target of investigations regarding possible toxic materials entering the local environment.

Having a local foundry came in handy in the late 1950's when foundry workers made new parts to repair the picturesque fountain that used to-and will again-grace Public Square.

But one of the Air Brake's most lasting legacies: company President John C. Thompson donated a parcel of hilltop property to the young city in 1905 for use as a park which bears his name(2)


See Also

Jefferson County Industry
Some Photos of a few Air Brake Buildings (external site)