Smith-Worthington Saddlery was established by Normand Smith and has been in continuous operation since 1794, making it (most likely) the oldest still-operational saddlery in the United States. Its slogan declares: "Saddle Makers Since Washington Was President." The company produces leather tack (saddles, bridles, etc.) and initially specialized in women's side saddles. Over the decades, the saddlery has adapted to meet market demands. Factory workers have produced leather goods for military use, as well as harnesses for a variety of animals, from camels and elephants to ostriches, seals, and dogs. In 1958, Smith-Worthington was visited by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the shah of Iran, who ordered 12 custom-made saddles for horses in his court. Today, riders can continue ordering both custom- and ready-made tack from the saddlery.
Backstory and Context
For decades, Smith-Worthington's business thrived during wartime. During the Civil War, the company produced tack for both Union and Confederate armies. In 1895, it supplied leather goods to Cuban revolutionaries. Business increased dramatically during WWI, when the company produced a variety of leather products, including machine-gun harnesses and ammunition belts in addition to tack for army horses. The factory even employed Hartford police officers to keep potential German spies out. After WWI, the saddlery's business declined. WWII and later conflicts relied less on horses and created much less demand for tack. Moreover, the rise of the automobile industry further reduced demand for equestrian gear. In recent decades, Smith-Worthington has therefore catered primarily to recreational riders.
Notable Customers and Custom Orders
For over 200 years, Smith-Worthington has earned a reputation for both top quality work and a willingness to tackle unusual products. When Richard E. Byrd was planning his 1928 expedition to Antarctica and needed gear for his dogs, he placed the order with Smith-Worthington. When Shah Pahlavi needed to outfit his court horses, he went to Smith-Worthington, trusting in its reputation for the finest custom-made tack. In 1991, camel racers in Abu Dhabi inquired about ordering custom leather shoes for their camels.
The former factory, a large building on Sigourney Street, was demolished in 1961; Interstate 84 now runs through the space. The company currently resides at 287 Homestead Avenue, where it maintains a smaller operation.
Borsa, Lauren. "Smith-Worthington Rides High on Saddles: Manufacturing: The 200-year-old Connecticut company produces about 2,000 seats each year." Los Angeles Times, October 04, 1993. http://articles.latimes.com/1993-10-04/business/fi-42128_1_smith-worthington-saddles.
Ryan, Bill. "In Hartford, the Latest Desert Boot Comes in Pairs of Four." New York Times, December 20, 1992. http://www.nytimes.com/1992/12/20/nyregion/in-hartford-the-latest-desert-boot-comes-in-pairs-of-four....
Skahill, Patrick. "Saddles Fit For a Shah." Connecticut Explored 9 (Winter 2010/2011). Republished in Connecticut History. https://connecticuthistory.org/saddles-fit-for-a-shah/
"Smith-Worthington Saddlery." Connecticut Museum Quest (CTMQ). Accessed May 22, 2017. http://www.ctmq.org/smith-worthington-saddlery/.