Gorham Manufacturing Company's Works. Canal, Steeple, and North Main Streets, Providence, 1886
Gorham Silver was founded in Providence, Rhode Island, 1831 by Jabez Gorham, a master craftsman, in partnership with Henry L. Webster. The firm's chief product was spoons of coin silver. The company also made thimbles, combs, jewelry, and other small items. In 1842, the Congress enacted a tariff which effectively blocked the importation of silverware from outside the United States, which aided the American silver industry. Jabez Gorham did not take full advantage of this opportunity, but in 1847 Jabez retired and his son, John Gorham succeeded him as head of the company.
John Gorham introduced mechanized production methods, enlarged the premises in downtown Providence, improved the designs, and expanded the product line. In 1852, Gorham toured many of Europe's silver workshops and manufacturers, speaking with individual specialists, including master craftsmen and toolmakers. He sought highly skilled foreign workmen to train his American workers and hired George Wilkinson, a premier designer and workshop manager, from England. In 1865, the Rhode Island legislature granted a charter in the name of Gorham Manufacturing Company and in 1890, the company relocated to a factory on Adelaide Avenue in Providence.
During the heyday of American silver manufacturing, approximately 1850 - 1940, Gorham was highly influential. William C. Codman, one of Gorham's most noted designers, created the Chantilly design in 1895, which has become the most famous of Gorham's flatware patterns. The company has produced matching holloware in both sterling and silverplate.
In 1884, the company opened a store in the Ladies' Mile shopping district in Manhattan, New York City, but moved in 1905 to a Fifth Avenue building which it commissioned from architect Stanford White. In 1906, Gorham purchased another long-time rival, New Jersey-based Kerr & Co.
Textron purchased the company in 1967, a move that some critics claim decreased quality due to management's lack of understanding of Gorham's specialty, producing high-quality sterling silverware and holloware. Textron began planning to sell the unit in 1988, completing the sale in 1989 to Dansk International Designs. Brown-Forman Corporation acquired Gorham from Dansk in 1991. The unit was sold in 2005 to Department 56 in the Lenox holdings transaction, with the resulting company renamed as Lenox Group.
However, in 2009 Lenox Group filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and it was subsequently acquired by Clarion Capital Partners, now operating under the name Lenox Corporation, which has three operating divisions, Lenox, Dansk, and Gorham.