By Dan Shine
The Bilco Company
“American inventiveness, and the desire to build developed because we were guaranteed the right to own our success.” R. Paul
George W. Lyons, Sr. was born in New Haven in 1894, and initially received formal education only up thru the eighth grade. Following that, he worked as an apprentice in an iron and steel mill. He was then able to resume his education through evening courses at Yale Business School; in addition, he took correspondence courses in engineering. Whether he knew it or not, he was laying the foundation for what would be his great success.
In the mid-1920s, after gaining considerable experience in the architectural iron business, Lyons decided to go into business for himself, for he had recognized an unfulfilled opportunity that he was prepared and equipped to capitalize on: The wooden basement entrance to his house was peeling and rotting and continually in need of maintenance and repair. What could he do to solve this problem and make a living from the solution? After experimenting with a braking press, welding torch and some twelve-gauge sheet steel, he had produced a prototype of the metal outside basement door which is so commonplace today! As a direct result the Bilco Company was incorporated in 1926 and production began immediately.
During the Great Depression, Bilco’s workforce was reduced to only include Lyons and his two sons. In that period of semi-idleness, product improvements were developed: Lyons added and patented safety devices and improved the overall sophistication of the door design itself. Also, by design, Bilco doors were intended to be installed by contractors or even by the home handyman, and this strengthened their position in the market. By now, imitators had come along to provide “me-too” products, but they could not compare with the more advanced Bilco products—thus Bilco maintained their products’ position as leader in their field.
As World War II drew to a close, Bilco realized significant growth and outgrew their New Haven location. Thus, in 1953, Bilco moved into a new, much larger manufacturing facility on Water Street in West Haven. That building, formerly owned by the defunct Steelcraft Power Boats offered five times the previous floor space available to Bilco and promised to be Bilco’s for many years to come.
Bilco remained a family operation for decades, and today has relocated back to New Haven, after a stay in West Haven totaling 62 years. During that period, many West Haven families found their employment and livelihood within the walls of The Bilco Company.
We wish to thank Debra Blevins for her considerable help in the telling of this story.