A History of Greenpoint in 25 Buildings: The Leviton Building

Leviton Building (via Brooklyn Relics)

The company is long gone, but the building remains. The Leviton Building just off McGuinnness Boulevard on Greenpoint Avenue has an interesting history. The Leviton Company was founded in 1906 by Evser Leviton and his son Isidor. They began by manufacturing brass mantle tips for the natural gas lights in Manhattan, and sold their goods on a pushcart on the Bowery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Then, Isidor designed a screw-in lampholder for Thomas Edison’s Electric Lamp in 1910 and within ten years the lampholders were being used in apartments all over New York, making the faimily rich! They started to make other electrical devices, especially light switches. By 1922 business was so booming that they didn’t have the capacity to assemble their more than six hundred products solely in Manhattan, so Leviton moved to Greenpoint. In 1936 they built the present day factory that occupied the whole block between Newell and Jewel streets.
Leviton employed a mostly female staff of seventeen hundred and they paid per piece. Workers had to rush like fiends to make any decent money and the hurried pace of production often led to accidents. The machines had guards, but the guards were down only during state inspections, because they slowed the breakneck pace of production. Many women suffered the loss of finger tips, half fingers or even whole fingers. At times there were as many as ten accidents in one day.

While the company provided some benefits, most employees did not find them good enough so they tried to unionize—which was fiercely resisted by the firm. There was a long and bitter strike from August 28th, 1940 to June 24th, 1941. During the strike the workers voted to be part of the Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on February 4th, 1941 made history when she became the first wife of a sitting president to publicly support striking workers. She showed support for the striking workers by delivering a speech praising the strike and unions. Finally, the workers won. At the end of the strike the Leviton employees managed to secure $15.50 a week minimum wage, a 10% raise for those already receiving at-least $15.50 a week and one week paid vacation.

Leviton left the area in 1975 and moved further out on Long Island. The building today is home to a number of small businesses.

About Geoff Cobb

Geoffrey Cobb is a Brooklyn high school history teacher and writer of the blog historicgreenpoint.wordpress.com. He has lived in Greenpoint for over 20years and is the author of a book on the history of the area, "Greenpoint Brooklyn's Forgotten Past."

1 Comment

  1. John Prufeta says:

    Hi Geoff, Interesting article regarding Leviton. A couple of points to add to the body of knowledge:

    Leviton was one of the earliest companies to provide benefits packages to factory workers. In addition, it was one of precious few large companies where Italians, Polish, Blacks, and Hispanics were hired and could rise in the company structure.

    The executive offices moved out in 1975 but manufacturing remained until the late 1990’s.

    Reply

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