Leominster is a city in Worcester County, Massachusetts, United States. It is the second-largest city in Worcester County, with a population of 40,759 at the 2010 census. Leominster is located north of Worcester and west of Boston. Both Route 2 and Route 12 pass through Leominster. Interstate 190, Route 13, and Route 117 all have starting/ending points in Leominster. Leominster is bounded by Fitchburg and Lunenburg to the north, Lancaster to the east, Sterling and Princeton to the south, and Westminster to the west.
The region was originally inhabited by various divisions of the Pennacook or Nipmuc Native Americans, who lived along the Nashua River. The river provided fertile soil for the cultivation of corn, beans, squash and tobacco. European settlers began arriving in the mid-17th century and in 1653, the area of Leominster was first founded as part of the town of Lancaster.
The European settlers and native people lived peacefully for a number of years, until the start of King Philip's War in 1675. The violent war between the native Indians and early settlers killed hundreds of people and drove off the inhabitants from the area. After the war, Lancaster remained virtually deserted until a new land grant was offered to residents in 1701. To prevent further conflict with the native Indians, the settlers negotiated with Chief Sholan of the Nashaway tribe for the land. It would be the only parcel of land to be legally purchased in Central Massachusetts.
Around the time of the Civil War, Leominster was a major contributor in the Underground Railroad. The Emory Stearn Schoolhouse and the John Drake home, led anti-slavery campaigns and helped house fugitive slaves.
In Leominster’s early existence, the town was primarily a small farming community, but towards the beginning of the 19th century, the economy quickly shifted into manufacturing. The town became a regional transportation hub around 1800, with the opening of the Fifth Massachusetts Turnpike and the connections of the Union Turnpike and Cambridge and Concord Turnpikes in 1808. However, manufacturing in Leominster was truly made possible by the opening of the Fitchburg Railroad that ran through North Leominster and into Boston, and the Fitchburg and Worcester Railroad that ran through the center of town. By the 1850s, paper mills, piano makers, and comb manufacturers had established factories along the Monoosnoc Brook and Nashua River. While the earliest settlers in Leominster were primarily of British ancestry, many immigrants soon gathered to work in Leominster’s expanding factories. The first group of immigrants was primarily Irish, followed by the French and the Italians into the early 20th century. These new waves of immigrants caused the population to surge from just 2,069 in 1840 to 19,744 by 1920. In 1915, Leominster was officially chartered as a city.
The second invention to revolutionize plastic production in Leominster was the development of modern injection molding. Samuel Foster, a Leominster resident of German ancestry, learned about an injection molding machine invented in Germany in the early 1920s. Foster soon requested a similar machine be made in his Foster Grant manufacturing factory in Leominster. The new technology would pay great dividends for the plastic industry in the city and the country. The largest plastic manufacturer in the city was the Viscoliod Company founded by Bernard Wendell Doyle in 1901. In 1914, the Viscoloid Company pioneered making toys out of pyroloxlyin plastic, and by 1923 the company was the largest employer in Leominster. Viscoloid would be sold to The DuPont Company in 1925, and renamed the Dupont Viscoloid Company. Soon the city would be coined the “Pioneer Plastics City” for its important history in the plastics industry. Leominster also boasted large manufactures Standard Tool Company, Selig Manufacturing Co. Inc, C.E. Buckle, Inc. and the Whitney Carriage Company, which was once the largest manufacturer of baby carriages in the world.
In 1956, the plastic pink flamingo lawn-ornament was invented in Leominster for Union Products. The famous lawn-ornament was designed by Don Featherstone, and was modelled after pictures of flamingos in National Geographic.
The Great Depression would slow the plastic industry in Leominster, but it was not until the late 20th century was there a full-scale decline in plastic manufacturing. Following the national trend, manufactures were moving out of the cities to cheaper alternatives across the country and overseas. Despite the changing landscape, the population of Leominster would continually rise into the 21st century, surpassing her twin city of Fitchburg in 2000 as the second largest city in Worcester County. The Latino communities of Leominster also saw huge growth towards the later half of the 20th century.
In recent decades, Route 2 and the building of I-190 have further altered the city into a more commercial and suburban landscape. The construction of the Twin City Plaza, Mall at Whitney Field and other shopping centers have all contributed to significant commercial growth in the city and have made Leominster one of Central Massachusetts’ largest retail destination. Inexpensive land cost has also made the city an attractive living destination for commuters to both Worcester and Boston. Nevertheless, Leominster still preserves some of its manufacturing heritage and many plastic manufactures retain establishment in the city.