Schenectady

GE chemist’s varnish company evolved into SI Group

Howard Wright’s vision with varnish helped him build a prosperous and long-lasting company
W. Howard Wright left GE and in 1906 and started Schenectady Varnish Co. on Congress Street.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
W. Howard Wright left GE and in 1906 and started Schenectady Varnish Co. on Congress Street.

Categories: Business, Life & Arts, News, Schenectady County

Of W. Howard Wright’s many accomplishments, none of them probably matched winning the heart of Beulah DeForest.
 
Wright, the founder of what is now Schenectady International Group, started his company in 1906 on Congress Street with the financial help of his wife and her father, Henry Schermerhorn DeForest, one of the richest men in town.
 
“He went to Beulah and asked if he could borrow some money to start his own company,” said Heather Ward, a family descendant and board chair of the Wright Family Foundation. “Her father was a U.S. congressman and a mayor in Schenectady, he was a broom maker, and he was into real estate. According to family lore, Howard borrowed the money from Beulah and then paid her back, every cent, with interest.”
 
Wright, the son of a Union College professor, was a chemist at General Electric before leaving the company and starting his own business, the Schenectady Varnish Co. In the 1950s, he moved the plant to its current site in Rotterdam Junction where his son, Henry D. Wright, took over and changed the name to Schenectady Chemicals in 1962. In 1968, the W. Howard Wright Research Center was built on Balltown Road in Niskayuna.
 
“Howard had this great solution for varnish but GE had no real interest in making it,” said Ward, who is the unofficial family historian. “They told him if he wanted to do that he would have to go elsewhere. So he left and I think it was harmonious. There was no contentiousness.”
 
While Wright’s vision with varnish — it’s used to help reinforce lamps, disc brakes and tires — helped him build a prosperous and long-lasting company, he wasn’t the only one with smarts.
 
“Beulah was no dummy,” said Ward, who is the Wrights’ great-grandaughter. “I found one of her old notebooks and there’s all kinds of financial information in it. It has her notes on stock investment and a number of other things. She was a smart cookie.”
 
Along with the intelligence and creativity Wright demonstrated by building his business, he instilled in his children the idea of helping others. The Wright Family Foundation, which contributed $1.2 million to charitable organizations in 2016 alone, is part of Howard’s philanthropic legacy.
 
Beulah, however, may have also played a big part in the family tradition through the example set by her father.
 
While DeForest may have been one of Schenectady’s first millionaires, according to former Schenectady County Historical Society president Frank Taormina, he also gladly shared his wealth.
 
“When you read about DeForest you can’t help but like him,” Taormina told The Daily Gazette in 2007. “He became very rich because of his real estate dealings, but he supposedly never foreclosed on anybody. And if you bought some property from him, he would do everything he could to help you. He wanted you to succeed.”

Leave a Reply