Jim started Sundial Wire a couple of decades ago, in 1992. We are a true mom-and-pop business that Jim started because he was doing set design for the movie Billy Bathgate, based on an E. L. Doctorow book set in the 1920’s. Clearly they didn’t have plastic wire then, so Jim went hunting for cloth-covered wire in hardware stores that had old, old stock. But none was to be found. So Jim, in those days before the Internet and Google, doggedly called every cloth-covered wire manufacturer he could find, getting the names off old spools he’d scrounged here and there, such as the one below.
Finally he found a place in Providence, RI, that was still in business and would make him a few thousand feet. That first foray into cloth-covered wire set Jim on the path to founding Sundial Wire. Here is that first Sundial Wire on the set of Billy Bathgate:
Not too long afterwards, Jim found a factory in Massachusetts that produced the wire for us with a high level of quality. Hilary was working as a software engineer but shipped wire after hours while Jim continued travelling the country doing set design. We really did start in our garage (warehouse), and basement (spooling and packing), and sun room (office work). Before we finally moved the business out of our house, you could not move in the garage except through tiny alleys that threaded through the pallets that held boxes and boxes of wire. I wonder if it was like that for Steve Jobs?
Early on we were contacted by quite a few people usually wanting one particular thing. One of our earliest customers wanted our twisted pair wire in putty with gold tracer to wire a headlamp to his vintage bicycle. The American Fan Collectors’ Association wanted particular configurations of wire for head wires and power cords for fans. That is how we started carrying our 16-gauge 3-conductor overbraid cord. We were also contacted by the Mechanical Musical Instrument people, for whom we started making our single-conductor 14-gauge black cotton wire for player pianos. There were lots of people looking for cloth-covered wire for their antiques as well. This is a recent use on an antique drum. (Drums, when they still used animal skin for the heads, needed a light inside to warm the skin.)
Many films and TV shows have used our wire over the years and are still using it. Some of the more recent shows are The Walking Dead and The Knick.
Eventually, both of the factories we used early on, sadly, either shut down or stopped doing the kind of braiding we need. So we decided to do the braiding ourselves, in our own factory, a long, long way from the garage/basement/sunroom! Today at Sundial Wire we make many different styles of cotton and rayon braided wire in dozens of colors and patterns.
In this blog we plan to bring you some of our stories from this journey of lighting things up and plugging them in.
– Hilary & Jim Kent