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Your Silent Neighbors: Clair M. Elston, Last Collins Company President

August 15, 2017 Community, History No Comments


By David K. Leff 
Town Historian 

Clair M. Elston (1894-1978) was appointed president of the Collins Company in July 1956, and was the last to wear the mantle of Samuel Collins. He was a lifelong resident of Collinsville and his great-grandfather and father worked for the company.  Elston graduated from Yale in 1916 and joined Collins as a chemist in 1919. He was named assistant superintendent in 1921 and assistant general manager in 1927 before becoming vice president for manufacturing in 1941.

As vice president, Elston’s job was to run the production side of the business.  “To maintain Collins’ reputation for high quality and do it economically is the lifework . . . of fifty-one-year-old Clair Elston,” wrote Fortune magazine in 1946. “To keep the company’s costs down, Mr. Elston must practice all sorts of special economies.”  Although union president George Soucy complained to the Fortune journalist of low wages and long hours, he spoke “with particular warmth of Mr. Elston as a man who goes out of his way to help workers in difficult situations.”

Ever civic minded, Elston served as chairman of the Canton Board of Finance and was a Board of Education member.  He was a trustee and president of the Collinsville Savings Society and president of the Canton Library and Ratlum Mountain Fish and Game Club.

Becoming president about a year after the 1955 flood wiped out a third of Collins Company buildings and seriously damaged another third, Elston faced some stiff challenges from the start.  But, one of the greatest was presiding over the company’s dissolution a decade later. Elston told the Hartford Courant that a major reason for the closing was that the company’s Latin American plants, established to avoid tariffs, were taking business away from Collinsville. Among Elston’s more interesting decisions during his tenure was a 1961 ban on exports to Cuba prompted by “outstanding bills, still unpaid by the Castro regime.”

Clair Elston died at age 83 in a convalescent home. He is buried in the Village Cemetery, Collinsville.

“Your Silent Neighbors” introduces readers to people out of Canton’s past.  It will appear on the first and fifteenth of each month.  Readers are encouraged to visit these gravesites and pay their respects to the people who have helped make our community what it is today.  Any suggestions, questions, or corrections should be addressed to Town Historian David Leff at onktaadn@comcast.net



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