A BRIEF HISTORY OF MANUFACTURING IN NEW JERSEY FROM THE COLONIAL TO MODERN ERAS | PART 1
written by Ken Schwemmer
America’s history has always been impacted by manufacturing. Manufacturing has a rich history across the United States, from the colonial cottage industries to the massive industrial plants that were in the “Rust Belt.” While it is easy to point to the famous car factories that were in Michigan, or the steel plants in Pennsylvania, there was another state that also has deep historical ties to manufacturing, New Jersey. New Jersey has a very long history with manufacturing that stretches far back into colonial times and was considered one of the main manufacturing centers in the United States for decades. This essay is going to provide a historical overview of New Jersey’s manufacturing sector and its impacts not just within the state but also how it impacted the rest of the United States.
Colonial New Jersey did have some manufacturing enterprises operating in the colony from the late
1600s to the 1700s. With the accounts and documents that exist for this period, two specific examples of
manufacturing industries that operated in the colony were glass manufacturing and paper mills. One of
the oldest documented paper mills in New Jersey was in Elizbeth and owned by William Bradford. Only
two newspaper advertisements mention the paper mill, but it seems Bradford’s paper mill operated some time during the early 1700s. Concerning glass manufacturing, some of the first successful glass manufacturing enterprises in the United States seem to have started in Salem County, New Jersey. In an article from 1885, the author noted that one of the first glass manufacturers in New Jersey was founded
by Caspar Wistar in 1738. Though Mr. Wistar’s glass manufacturing business is possibly one of the first
glass manufacturing companies in New Jersey, there is little evidence to explain what happened to the company after 1781. These are just two cases of the early manufacturers that were operating in New Jersey during the colonial period. They show the longevity of manufacturing in the state.
After the American Revolution, came a renewed focus on manufacturing. This renewed focus in manufacturing was due to Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s 1791 report on manufacturing, which laid out the arguments for encouraging manufacturing in the United States. Hamilton was so passionate about increasing industry in the United States that he heavily invested in The Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures (S.U.M.), which focused on developing manufacturing. This group and Hamilton would eventually choose to build manufacturing facilities on a small plot of land in northern New Jersey and named it Paterson so they could gain support from then-Governor Paterson. Despite S.U.M.’s efforts to make Paterson a manufacturing city, the facilities they established would only last until 1796 and manufacturing somewhat stalled. Though Hamilton’s Paterson project was not a success, Paterson would eventually become a major manufacturing center by the 1820s for New Jersey. In the following decades, Paterson and other industrial centers would see a boom in manufacturing and find New Jersey supplying many manufactured goods to the rest of the country.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, New Jersey started to industrialize which allowed for manufacturing to grow by leaps and bounds. One of the main innovations to cause this advancement in manufacturing was commercialization of inland farming after 1815, which led to an increase in domestic
demand for different manufactured goods. This new economic environment led to Paterson having a surge in factories, mills, and forges sprouting up. By 1827, Paterson had grown so much that it had become a manufacturing city of 6,000 people. Then in 1830, Paterson would have seventeen cotton mills and they were producing around five million yards of cloth. Paterson’s growth and optimal location even made Sam Colt, the famous inventor of the repeating rifle, open a gun mill in the city in 1835. What once was Hamilton’s dream of creating a manufacturing city had finally started to become a reality in Paterson; however, another city would also industrialize around the same time and become one of New Jersey’s most famous manufacturing centers, Newark.
Newark was and is still considered one of New Jersey’s main industrial hubs. The city has a rich history of
industrial development and being a manufacturing juggernaut for multiple decades in New Jersey.
Originally founded as a Puritan settlement in the 1660s, Newark was meant to be a religious community that revolved around agriculture and devoting oneself to God. However, by the end of the eighteenth century, Newark had emerged as one of the main hubs from which New Jersey’s agricultural products were shipped to New York to either be used by locals or shipped to different markets. The reason this occurred was due to the town’s proximity to lower Manhattan and the development of roads that were able to make Newark a good stopping point between the Hudson and Delaware Rivers. This led the town to develop and grow into a manufacturing hub for New Jersey.
By the end of the 1700s and into the first half of the 1800s, Newark became known for variety of manufactured goods. Newark was able to manufacture shoes, hats, saddles, carriages, jewelry, trunks, and
harnesses. There were people like Seth Boyden Jr., who moved from Massachusetts to Newark in the early 1800s and opened the nation’s first malleable iron foundry which aided the production of buckles, harnesses, and other parts used in the carriage industry. There was also the chair manufacturer David Alling, who was producing “fancy chairs” as early as 1803 in Newark. Then there was the shoemaking industry, which by 1826, one-third of the city’s labor force was producing cheap to high-end shoes. Newark became such a manufacturing hub in the first half of the nineteenth century that by 1840 eighty percent of Newark’s labor force was engaged in manufacturing. The reasons for this success and growth of manufacturing in Newark came from different innovations and infrastructure projects that occurred in the first half of the nineteenth century, but it was also due to a large amount of trade that was done with the American South.
Newark’s boom in manufacturing was due in part because of several trends that were occurring in the first half of the nineteenth century. There were the technical innovations that allowed for steamboats and
trains to cut down travel time, infrastructure projects like the Morris Canal which brought different materials from around New Jersey and other states, and there were markets in southern states that bought the manufactured goods in large numbers. The Morris Canal, which was completed in the 1830s, allowed for raw materials to flow through New Jersey and get to places like Newark so that the materials could be made into manufactured goods. The completion of a railroad line to Jersey City in 1834 reduced
the travel time to New York and the steamboats allowed for faster travel to New York as well as other
states. These improvements made Newark a manufacturing hub for New Jersey; however, one of the biggest reasons for manufacturing’s success in the city would be due to its trade with the South.
Newark’s manufacturing success did come from selling manufactured goods to New York and from technical innovations and infrastructure projects, but trade with the south in the first half of the 1800s was a major contributor to Newark’s success. As early as the 1790s, Newark was already manufacturing shoes and boots for southern trade. This trade continued to grow with the American South to the point that numerous southern states had conceded entire manufacturing industries to manufacturing cities, which in turn gave Newark massive profits for their manufactured goods. A perfect example of this is David Alling, the Newark-based chair manufacturer, who had his first documented account of manufactured chairs going to New Orleans in 1819 and by 1835 three-quarters of his chairs went to the American South and Latin America. Newark developed such a strong relationship with the south that it was dubbed a “Southern workshop” because around three-quarters of manufactured goods were sent to southern states. By the time of the Civil War, Newark’s success in trading manufactured goods had made it become one of New Jersey’s biggest exporters of manufactured goods to the rest of the United States as well as to other parts of the world.