Ensign Bickford Collection

The Simsbury Free Library is pleased to house the The Ensign- Bickford Company Collection. It is one of our oldest and largest collections, spanning the years of 1851 – 1980 and occupying two dedicated rooms. It provides a unique glimpse into the company’s rich history in Simsbury, Connecticut at its inception and through the early 1900’s.

William Bickford’s safety fuse patent changed the nature of mining in the 1830’s in Cornwall, England and the trajectory for all industries that used explosives technology worldwide due to its safety and dependability.(Ellsworth, p. xiii – xiv) Bickford, a leather merchant, set about to develop a solution out of concern for those in his community who suffered from mining accidents.(p.7-9). On Sept 6, 1831, Royal Patent No. 6159 “Safety fuse for Igniting Gunpowder used in blasting Rocks, Etc..,” was granted to William Bickford who invented a machine and process to wrap gun powder in flax, hemp or cotton, spinning the cord to make a continuous line and then counter twisting it covering it with stronger twine, bathing the line in varnish, and then coating the final product to prevent sticking which was then cut to various lengths. The safety fuse could be used under water or on land. (Ellsworth, p. 9-10).

The partnership Bickford, Smith & Davey was established in 1835 in England. In 1836, Richard Bacon, superintendent of the Phoenix Mining Company at the site of the Newgate Prison in Granby, Connecticut, travelled to Cornwall England to meet with George Smith about the safety fuse. Bacon became the agent for sales of the fuse in America. In 1837 a partnership was formed and machinery was shipped from England. Many records for Bacon, Bickford, Eales & Company were destroyed in the fire of 1851. The Simsbury Free Library is proud to house the records that survived including invoices from 1848 – 1851, corporate communications from 1851 – 1852, portraits of the earliest founders and company buildings, blueprints as well as company financials, scrapbooks, photographs and more.

Ensign Bickford

Copyright has been transferred to the Simsbury Free Library for materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) in this collection.

Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Where we are

Tuesday & Thursday: 11:00am–5:00pm
2nd & 4th Saturday: 10:00am–2:00pm

Simsbury Free Library • 749 Hopmeadow Street, P.O. Box 484 • Simsbury, CT 06070 • 860-408-1336