Our roots go all the way back to 1934. In the midst of the Great Depression, Wally Croft established the W. M. Croft "Long Life Neon Tube" Company at 91 Broadway in Cambridge, Mass and charged a whole $1.00 for repairs.
“Wally” Croft would nurture and build up the company until 1966, whereupon he sold it to his secretary and part-time tube filler Mary. Back to that in a moment...
In 1946, a young Charlie Williams got a golden opportunity over at Jack Freeman Sign Supply in South Boston. Charlie worked in shipping, but on his lunch breaks learned how to repair broken neon signs. In a short time, he became their regular repairman. Twenty years later, we find Charlie at the University Brink Sign Company, bending miles of glass tubing for Boston's iconic Citgo Sign.
Here's a couple of pictures taken in 1949 showing the C. I. Brink men erecting some big downtown signs. No safety ropes!
Now an experienced journeyman glass bender in his prime, Charlie again set out for something new and got a job at the W. M. Croft Neon shop in Cambridge, managed by Mary. She employed one other glass bender, but when that fellow snuck a peek at Charlie's paycheck one day he promptly resigned in protest, leaving just Charlie and Mary. She sold the business to him in 1968, and Charlie renamed it C. M. Williams & Sons, as Charlie offered his oldest son Steven a job when he was discharged from the Navy.
Here's a great shot of a competitor's sign being built by the Frank Lowney Sign Company in Cambridge, around 1950.
Father and son (and even Arthur Croft, Wally's nephew) operated out of Croft's old shop at 20 Cambridge St in East Cambridge until 1981, when urban renewal forced a move to nearby Thorndike St. By now, the business was "growing by leaps and bounds" as Grace Williams, Steve's ever-faithful wife remembers. Grace became the shop's Business Manager in 1978, which is also the time Charlie's youngest son Dana picked up the trade.
By 1984, the brothers bought out their Dad who had been bending glass for 38 years. The shop was making hundreds of signs a year, famous signs like Pizzeria Regina, The John Hancock Tower, Museum of Science, Marriott Hotel, Harvard and MIT, and even Fenway Park's Pesky Pole (yes - it's neon!). Neon Williams Inc. boasted 17 full-time employees but the boom times wouldn't last forever.
A soft economy, changing tastes and new technology nibbled at the neon business, and the company tightened their belt as other shops closed around them. Steve, Grace and Dana kept the tradition alive and moved again to Allston.
But even though neon lights dimmed all across the nation, they never went dark. Neon has a peculiar glow, an attraction and intensity not found in any other light. It can achieve an almost endless variety of colors, and transformed by the hands of an expert, becomes a treat for the eye. Rediscovered, neon has enjoyed a tremendous resurgence and Neon Williams still operates its plant with the same commitment to quality that's lit up New England for 84 years.
But the story isn't over – in fact it's still being written. In 2018, the brothers realized they couldn't bend glass forever. A long-time customer was in the shop with a pattern for a vintage sign he was restoring when Steve let him know Neon Williams would be closing by the end of the year. Panic set in – the customer was Dave Waller, a neon sign preservationist who was mounting a major exhibit on the Greenway in Boston. Neon Williams was Boston's last neon shop! Dave consulted with his wife Lynn, who agreed and suggested their friend Tony Dowers might be interested too. Tony, a seasoned graphic designer, was looking for a new career direction and so the brothers trained him over the summer while Lynn and Dave busied themselves on the business end.
And by 2019, Grace and the Williams brothers retired. Happily, Lynn, together with Tony and Dave, continue to shine the light along with our newest addition to the team Nick. Continuing on in the tradition of the old glass benders, we stand ready to brighten your night.