Town of cottage industries becomes a manufacturing empire

Industry and Commerce
Published April 30, 1998

Town of cottage industries becomes a manufacturing empire

| Published April 30, 1998

The Lister Brothers Passaic Carbon and Agricultural Chemical Works was located at the foot of River Street during the 1800s. The Newark Public Library

Asbestos to zippers. Whatever the product, it probably was made in Newark.

Although Newark was founded as a rural theocracy in the 17th century, the seeds of manufacturing, industry, and commerce were found in its very origins. The Puritan temper called for self-sufficiency, but still there were certain products even the most self-contained settler could not supply. As a result, traveling or itinerant artisans were encouraged to visit or settle in the community. This need for certain items, shoes for example, led eventually to their local manufacture along with many other products. When put together with good local, regional, and national transportation, this helped Newark to develop into an important manufacturing center.

With the building of roads connecting the old township with New York to the east, the completion of the Turnpike to New Brunswick to the south, the formation of regular service along the various stage lines, the opening of the Morris Canal from Phillipsburg to Newark and Jersey City, and the completion of the railroads in all directions, the way was open to bring in raw materials and export Newark-made goods. Add to this low taxes, thrifty residents and a skilled work force, and the industrial community had the ingredients for unparalleled development. Soon the arrival of a host of great inventors drew even more industry to the town, and the face of old rural city was gone forever. Seth Boyden, for example, a Massachusetts-born Newarker, invented the nail-making machine, patent leather, malleable iron, all sorts of steam engines, built locomotives, and even perfected the Hilton strawberry in his old age. He and other great American inventors shared their genius with Newark's manufacturing community, and made it all the richer in the process. The next century and a half changed Newark into one of the nation's most important industrial heartlands, and made it a diverse manufacturing center. At the same time Newark's commercial empire was to emerge for more than a century and a half of banking and insurance supremacy.

'Birmingham of America'

For the next few weeks let's look at some of the products and factories that helped to contribute to making Newark 'the Birmingham (England) of 19th century America,' a city that made everything from asbestos to zippers and exported them to the nation and the world. Early references to Newark as a manufacturing center are sprinkled throughout its literature. In addition to an occasional reference to business in the old Records of the Township of Newark, there is an elaborate newspaper account of an important patriotic event with an accompanying enumeration of its participants' occupations as far back as 1788. That year a local militia company of grenadiers, artillery and light infantry paraded down Broad Street and fired 10 cannon shots in honor of the 10 states that had recently ratified the United States Constitution. The men then participated in an elegant dinner in which they proposed 10 toasts: to the United States, to the 10 states that had already adopted the new national constitution, to the state of New Jersey, to Newark, to Gen. Washington, to the officers of the late American army, in memory of fallen comrades, officers and militia of Newark, to the day, to the farmers and mechanics of Newark, and to the Constitution, 'may it last until the days come to an eternal pause, and the sun and moon shall be no more.' It is interesting to note that in a community thought to be mostly agricultural, the parade participants included tanners, curriers, cordwinders, carpenters and joiners, quarrymen and stone workers, masons, blacksmiths, scythe makers, coach and chair makers, painters, wheelwrights, comb makers, tailors, saddlers, harness makers, coopers, butchers, bakers, weavers, dye makers, fullers, tobacconists and furnace men.

Perhaps no other early publication shows the importance of Newark as an emerging industrial center than the 1806 'Shoemaker' map of Charles Basham of Newark Academy. It is referred to as the 'Shoemaker Map' because of the drawing in the lower left corner, but essentially the map displays a Newark stretched out between Old First and Trinity churches. The important thing for us, however, is the description accompanying the drawing of the little cobbler and the following quotation: 'Newark is one of the most pleasant and flourishing Towns in the United States. It is on the main road between New-York and Philadelphia nine miles from the former and eighty seven from the latter. Its stone quarries are visited by travelers from curiosity, It is noted for its Cider—the making of Carriages of all sorts, Coach-lace, Men's and women's Shoes; In the manufacture of this last article one third of its Inhabitants are constantly employ'd.' Another contemporary account describing the town said that 'perhaps no town in the Union has more steadily advanced, or experienced a more healthy growth, since the introduction of business and manufacturing.'

Pageants of industry

As the 19th century rolled by there were other industrial parades similar to the that first one in 1788 designed to show off Newark's manufacturing potential. In 1818 a march showed off a great contingent of 20 different trades. This was followed by a similar event in 1821, which displayed an even greater number of trades. Year by year new industries were becoming part of New Jersey's Birmingham. In 1826 Newark's first industrial census added still more trades to the city's industrial inventory, including iron and brass foundries, cotton mills, tin and sheet metal shops, coach spring factories, chocolate and mustard works, tobacco factories, a looking glass factory, a soap factory, three distilleries, two breweries and numerous grist mills. By the arrival of the Civil War, Newark's industrial face was to undergo a complete change. No longer was it simply a center for cottage industries making silver candle sticks, fancy chairs and cabinets or any number of home-crafted items of an 18th century type. By the mid-19th century, Newark had become a center for dozens of gigantic factory complexes. Some were the largest in the nation. As the War Between the States commenced, Southern customers were shut off from their Newark suppliers. But Newark's Southern market was soon replaced by lucrative wartime contracts from Washington, and prosperity soared. By 1872 local manufacturers took time to celebrate nearly a century of progress with the opening of the Newark Industrial Exhibition of 1872, which was housed in a skating rink at Washington and Marshall streets. The exhibition opened on August 20, and was attended by the president of the United States, Horace Greeley, and more than 130,000 Newarkers and visitors. Those who came saw a 'glittering array of Newark products. They saw a harness valued at $10,000, gold-plated sleighbells worth up to $200 a set,' and hundreds of other Newark-made items of all sorts for the home and factory. Clearly by the close of the last century Newark had become one of the two or three most important manufacturing centers of America. Alexander Hamilton's desire that America would make its own goods had become a reality. Although he had come to Newark nearly a century before, and helped with the establishment of the Society for Useful Manufacturing at Paterson, his dream of a strong industrial America had become true, in part right here in Newark.

The years roughly extending from 1830 until 1930 were truly a remarkable era in Newark's past. The city was transformed and a new community emerged tempered by national events, by transportation and immigration as well as by being viewed as a great industrial city. It was an era when Newark's name was carried all over the world on spools of Clark Thread, on Wiss scissors, Ballantine bear and ale, and 10,000 other locally made products. Each finely produced item served as a mini-ambassador attesting to pride of craftsmanship as well as manufacturing ability. To produce every type of product known to man, it was necessary to have hundreds of factories of every size and shape, from a simple home where piecemeal products could be produced, to structures occupying acres and, in some cases, city blocks, each performing a function in the completion of a product. Samuel Miller, colonial silversmith, could produce a silver servingspoon at his home, while William Clark needed 17 buildings to make a simple spool of linen thread for export. From a federal-style house on 18th century Broad Street to an environmentally disastrous factory site or the 1890s castle-like French chateau, Tiffany Works in north Newark, the factory was, for well over a century, king of the city during the manufacturing years. With the decline of manufacturing in both Newark and the nation, many of these building have disappeared without a trace, save for being recorded in a few wonderful publications such as Terry Karschner's 'Industrial Newark,' (1985), Renaissance Newark's 'Cultural Resources Survey of Downtown Newark,' also published in 1985, and a dozen or so books like 'Industrial Interests of Newark, N.J.,' by William Ford (1874).

Architecture of ingenuity

Briefly we are going to look at a sampling of some of interesting structures that once housed our industries. These include the old Hewes and Phillips firm at Orange and Ogden streets, the Heller and Brothers file factory on Summer Avenue, the Newark Tea Tray Co. in High Street, John Jelliff's home and workshop on Broad Street, the Lister Brothers Co. on River Street, and the Newark Liquorice works at Bloomfield Avenue and the old Morris Canal (Newark City Subway). Heller and Brothers was located in north Newark at Summer Avenue, established in 1865 as one of the nation's leading makers of files and rasps. A portion of the original factory still exists along the railroad line that crosses the upper end of Mt. Prospect Avenue. The family name has been preserved in Heller Parkway. Demand for the 'celebrated American horse rasp' had so increased by 1873 that production that year amounted to $50,000, a sizable amount 125 years ago. The Newark Tea Tray Co. at 395 High Street was one of the city's most unusual enterprises. Walter M. Conger developed a fancy tea tray using a mechanical process that replaced the handrubbed versions sold in England, and after much experimentation was able to corner the American market, making an annual production by 1874 of $125,000. One of Newark's most respected companies was the John Jelliff Co. at 794 Broad Street. A historical account states that 'the business was established in 1836 by the senior partner John Jelliff. Through his early efforts and strict adherence to a high standard of business integrity is due in a large degree to the wide reputation which the firm now enjoys for the high quality and excellence of their productions.' The business operated under Mr. Jelliff until ill health resulted in the addition of Henry H. Miller to the firm. The company's most important products included parlor, library, dining room and chamber furniture. It also excelled in the manufacture of elegant mantles and pier glasses, cornices and lambrequins, and its 40,000 square-foot factory did an annual business in excess of $100,000.

The Lister Brothers Passaic Carbon and Agricultural Chemical Works was located at the foot of River Street. At first the company produced fertilizers and collected cattle bones from great distances for processing. Later, a line of fine toiletries and soaps was developed. Annual production soon passed $1 million dollars. The finer smelling products were shipped throughout the United States and on to South America and parts of Europe. One of Newark's most interesting manufacturing plants was the Newark Liquorice Works at Bloomfield Avenue at the Morris Canal. This was the only one in the nation. Operations were carried on by an English firm. Bulk licorice was brought from the Mediterranean and processed. Most of the business was in the Southern and Western states, where it was used in tobacco flavoring. In the coming weeks we are going to look at more of the factories and warehouses that contributed to making Newark one of the manufacturing capitals of America.