Beer, shears and steam engines

Industry and Commerce
Published May 7, 1998

Beer, shears and steam engines

| Published May 7, 1998

The original Hewes and Phillips machine works at Ogden and Orange Streets. The Newark Public Library

This week we are going to delve into old Mother Newark's industrial cornucopia and look at several significant companies that not only were known locally but helped carry Newark's name throughout the country and into the most distant corners of the world.

Ballantine Brewery

One of the city's earliest and greatest industrial enterprises was the Ballantine Brewery founded by Peter Ballantine, a Scottish-born immigrant from upstate New York who opened his company here in 1840. Established as Patterson and Ballantine, Peter Ballantine soon bought out his partner and set up the first of two important industrial locations on the Passaic. The initial site was at Front Street, today's McCarter Highway, near Rector Street. Here, a series of large imposing brick buildings became the center of brewing operations for years. The property included a five-story brewery and an eight-story malt house. The malt house stood as the old Essex Warehouse before it was destroyed by fire. Another building served as home to the University of Newark, Rutgers-Newark, and now Science High School. Within a short time the original brewery earned a reputation as one of the 'fastest-growing establishments of its kind in the country.' Its position on the Passaic provided a natural highway for the transporting of grain, coal and other materials in manufacturing and for the exporting of a finished product to markets. In 1871 a new office building was finished. It served as the company center until 1912. Within 10 years of the company's founding Peter brought his three sons, Peter H., John H. and Robert F., into the firm, and adopted the famous three rings that stood for purity, strength and flavor as the company logo. Until the 1880s the firm had limited its output of beer to a heavy porter and ale, but 85-year-old Peter successfully argued with his three sons for a new lighter beer for the changing tastes of the city's predominantly beer-drinking German community. If Newarkers wanted German beer, Peter Ballantine would oblige and profit by it. When the Depression of 1873 hit Newark, the old Schalk Brothers Brewery was absorbed. All company operations, including the production of lager beer, ale and porter, were transferred to the Freeman Street location in the Ironbound. Once more the company began bringing in heavy profits. In fact, so successful had the Ballantine operations become that it was soon selling its malt liquor to other companies, but Prohibition was an unhappy chapter in the company's history, and Ballantine's was barely able to survive the era. It tried to stay alive by selling 'near beer' and by providing malt liquor, which many people used in their own home brew; however, the end of Prohibition saw the company taken over by Carl W. and Otto Badenhausen, and by 1944 it had re-emerged as one of the nation's ten largest breweries. But changing times, competition from other breweries, social unrest, tax problems and a major strike resulted in the sale of one of Newark's largest employers, a century and a quarter tradition in Newark ended with the purchase of Ballantine by the Falstaff Company.

J.M. Quinby Co.

The J.M. Quinby Carriage Co. was located at 836 Broad Street and founded in 1834, two years before the establishment of the modern City of Newark in 1836. It was the 'oldest house in the country, with one exception, engaged in the manufacture of fine carriages.' The company's founder, James M. Quinby, was 'known and honored wherever the name of American carriage making is done. Few men have done more in the promotion of a single branch of American industry than he as a pioneer in carriage manufacturing.' An advertisement for the company in an 1873 publication 'The Successful Business Men of Newark, N.J.,' published by Van Arsdale and Co., described the Broad Street company as having in stock or able to build hearses, clarences, coaches, phaetons, buggies, light road wagons and the such.' The advertisement noted that the Quinby product was 'warranted equal to the best New York made in style, material and workmanship,' and in the Civil War the federal government made extensive use of them for field ambulances and gun carriages. Upon the founder's death the company was dissolved but quickly reorganized and continued under the leadership of his son and partners, and it too continued to make vehicles of 'every description from light road wagons and clarence coaches to landaulets for sale to New York, South America and Europe.' So the next time you are visiting an out-of-the-way carriage or transportation museum tucked away in some corner of America, South America, or even Europe or Africa, see if that is a Quinby in a back storage room in the museum inventory.

T.P. Howell

Theodore P. Howell arrived in Newark by 1820 and lived with his uncle, S.M. Howell, a local tanner and currier with whom he went into partnership in the 1840s in a tannery at Washington and Market streets. After a fire destroyed their original factory, they moved to a new location 'on the outskirts of town' along the Morris Canal and New, Wilsey and Nuttman streets, where they built a facility that later in the century was to become widely touted as 'the largest leather manufacturer in the world.' Here, Howell was to develop one of Newark's first great industrial facilities along the Canal—another example of how excellent transportation assisted in a successful manufacturing enterprise. With the death of S.M. Howell in 1855, T.P. reorganized the firm as T.P. Howell and Co. and made it into the nation's first Russian leather works, a place where birchbark tanning produced an unusual type of leather product once only available from Europe. So successful was the operation that by 1874, after Howell's two sons had joined the firm, the company employed more than 400 men, and was tanning a quarter of a million hides annually. Expansion brought the addition of a New Jersey slaughterhouse and the acquisition of a New York state tannery. Soon the company's lion's head trademark was appearing on products all over the country. The Newark works had expanded to five acres and annual production topped $1 million. In 1873 a full-page advertisement in a local trade journal enumerated some of the company's more popular products, including bridle leather, sheepskin skivers, harnesses, oil tanned leather and Chamois. Fancy sheepskin mats of all types were available at the Wilsey and New Street offices in Newark as well as in the New York City salesroom at 77 Beekman Street. Today, portions of the original factory have been saved and incorporated into the Lock Street Apartments across from the New Jersey Institute of Technology's athletic field, a successful example of an adaptive reuse of an important 19th century facility for a 20th century purpose.

Wiss Co.

One of Newark's best known products was scissors or shears. They were first made here by Rochus Heinisch, and later by Jacob Wiss. Heinisch, who arrived here from Austria in the 1820s, created a substantial business. Wiss came here from Switzerland in the 1840s. He worked briefly for Heinisch and then went into business for himself, using his two great St. Bernard dogs to power his small grindstone. Over the years the scissor makers were great rivals. Their sons knew and interacted with each other most of their lives. Both firms made surgical shears and tailor's scissors and both boasted that their products were used even in Sheffield, England, the greatest cutlery center of the world. In 1914 the Wiss Co. finally won out and absorbed the Heinisch business. The company that emerged under the name of Wiss included its own retail stores and a real estate division as well. Employees were allowed to go door-to-door selling the product on their own time. During World War II the company was deeply involved in wartime production efforts. In the 1950s and '60s Wiss continued to prosper and a new office building was built here in 1970. The end of the line came in 1976 when Wiss was purchased by Cooper Industries. Operations began moving south. Today, perhaps the only tie left to Newark is the pair of shears found in a household sewing basket bearing the phrase 'Made in Newark, New Jersey.'

Johnston and Murphy

Johnston and Murphy, which operated in Newark from 1850 until 1957, made the most expensive men's shoes in America, custom fitting most of the U.S. presidents from the 1850s to the present as well as many famous personalities, such as Diamond Jim Brady. The firm was started by William J. Dudley of Northampton, England, who moved to Newark where men's shoes and children's footwear were manufactured along with boots and gaiters for the southern market. In 1870 the company made 150,000 pairs of shoes. In three years, it doubled this production record and continued to add new products including firemen's boots, dress pumps and slippers. In 1891 the company name had become so well known that it was copyrighted. By that time, the three-story factory occupied 60,000 square feet, accommodating more than 500 employees who produced 50,000 pairs of shoes on a weekly basis. The J&M trademark was synonymous with quality, thus the company was proud to 'produce the highest priced shoes in the country.' In 1957 the 70-year old factory on Lincoln Street closed because of the 'lack of skilled workmen and the condition of the old factory building.' The operation was moved to Nashville, Tenn., where it continues today. Sound familiar? Economic sagas like these are all too familiar to the Clevelands, Hartfords, Trentons, Chicagos and Detroits of America as well to countless smaller communities across the Northeast and the Midwest, not just here at home.

Balbach Co.

Edward Balbach, a 44-year-old German immigrant, came to America in the later 1840s to settled in Newark. While the California gold rush was drawing some Newarkers west, Balbach found his gold and silver lining right here in Newark in his refinery. In 1851 Edward Sr. began refining gold and silver sweepings from the floors of Newark jewelry workshops. Thus, he created a new industry none had imagined. Within a short time, jewelry dust was arriving from all over the country for processing. In 1865 Edward Jr. patented the 'Balbach Desilverizing Process,' which permitted an inexpensive separation of precious metals from base metals. Soon Newark was well on its way to becoming a major national metals refining center. The quality of the Balbach refining was so good one of its ingots was as acceptable as those produced by the United States Mint. A byproduct of precious metals refining was the separation of copper, a product needed by the newly developing telegraph industry. An advertisement for the Newark Smelting and Refining Works of Ed Balbach and Sons appeared in a local 1873 publication and included references to the smelting of gold, silver and lead. In 1881 Balbach built the nation's first electrolytic copper refinery in Newark. From this operation copper wire became available for telegraph companies building the nation's early communication system. Between 1895 and 1903 additional copper refining plants were constructed in nearby Middlesex County.

Hewes and Phillips

Seth Boyden's influence on industrial Newark cannot be overemphasized or fully appreciated. His academic prowess was exceeded only by his inventing genius. Yet his influence upon the development of Newark in the American industrial revolution and in industry has never been fully appreciated. Boyden trained many of Newark's earliest manufacturing pioneers in an apprenticeship program. Such was the case with the operators of two of the earliest and most important machine-making companies of Hewes and Phillips and Watts, Campbell. Without Boyden's direct help and guidance, neither owner might have developed into the important companies they became in the last century. Hewes and Phillips was begun by J. L. and J. M. Phillips, who served as apprentices under the master inventor in 1846. In less than 40 years the company employed 400 men and turned out products worth more than $300,000. H and P exported to the world a variety of steam engines that headed for the gold fields of California, the sugar plantations of Cuba and the mines of South America. In 1873 the company described itself as a manufacturer of high- and low-pressure steam engines of all sizes, specializing in steam pumps, lathes, hydraulic levers, screw and drill presses, mill rollers, blowers, iron and brass steam and water valves, steam whistles of all sizes and iron and brass castings of every description. Located at the foot of today's Orange Street and McCarter Highway, the company had easy access to water transportation of its completed products from the Hewes and Phillips dock on the Passaic River. Last year the series of rambling three-story brick buildings was razed. The site will become the home of Newark's new minor league baseball stadium.

Watts, Campbell

Newark's other great early machine maker, Watts, Campbell, originally Watts and Belcher, was founded in 1851. It became the Watts, Campbell Co. in 1865 with the joining of George and William Watts, both also trained by Seth Boyden and Daniel T. Campbell. 'By 1875, the new company ranked second in Newark only to Hewes and Phillips in total output of steam engines, and machinist tools and sugar machinery,' said one account. From 1851 until 1930 Watts, Campbell was a major manufacturer of steam machines. Its great reputation rests upon the construction of the 'corlis engine,' the great steam engine which powered much of 19th century industrial America. So important was this device that one might almost say that the corlis machine did for Newark what the space program did for the development of Houston. The manufacture of this engine was a core product around which a great deal of our 19th century industrial superiority was built. Some of the hometown industries that relied upon it were the Clark Thread mills, the Ballantine breweries, the Celluloid works, the Weston Electric Co., the T.P. Howell leather works and the Wiss Co. In 1913 Watts, Campbell's chief rival, Hewes and Phillips closed, leaving Campbell as the largest of the 40 machine companies and the oldest functioning industrial facility along the Passaic riverfront. By the 1930s Watts, Campbell had also stopped making steam engines, but continues to this day as the state's oldest and most versatile machine shop. Chadd Watts, descendant of the original owners, runs this amazing industrial complex from a series of gray low-profile industrial buildings a few feet west of the Clay Street Bridge along McCarter Highway just south of the abandoned remains of the old Clark Thread mills. Here, one industrial miracle after another has been produced and mechanical problems solved for almost 150 years. Here, too, machinery was built that excavated the deepest South American mine or traveled with space ships that explored the heavens. We will hear more of this company in the future.