Passaic, New Jersey
A series of protective tariff laws passed by the Harrison administration in the late 1880s, would make it very expensive to import textiles and other items from Europe. Full implementation in 1896 loomed and companies took action. The first company to organize (1889) in Passaic was the Botany Worsted Mills, a company organized by a German corporation, Kammgarnspinnerei Stoehr & Co., Aktiengesellschaft (Stoehr Worsted Yarn Spinning Company, Inc.) of Leipzig. 1 The site chosen was a 116-acre site owned by the Vreeland estate. West of the Passaic River on a fairly level piece of land in the First Ward, the site was also adjacent to the Dundee Canal, completed in 1861, which brought virtually unlimited fresh water in from the Passaic River. 2 Ferdinand J. Kuhn, a wool buyer for the Stoehr family with international travel experience, was brought to the US and joined other members of the company to organize and run the operation. By 1899, the Botany Mills complex was the first totally integrated (processes included transformation from raw wool to finished woven goods) woolen processing plant in the United States. It soon became the largest operation of its kind in the world. Immigrant poured into the city from all over western Europe. Palko describes the pecking order as German bosses favored German hands, while other nationalities were hired for less desirable jobs. 5,6 Buildings grew and were replaced by other more substantial buildings. Sales reported by America’s Textile Reporter, grew from $9,500,000 in 1910 and doubled by 1916 using 2,000 looms, 80,000 spindles and employed 6,500. 3 At this time war clouds grew nearer and Germany became “the enemy”, German-owned property was confiscated by the US government under the Alien Property Custodian under the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 when the US declared war on Germany in support of France and the United Kingdom. After the war, lawsuits by these confiscated companies generally led to release to the original owners. 1 In 1927, under the leadership of Ferdinand J. Kuhn, president and Max W. Stoehr, treasurer, the company listed 2100 broad looms and 92,000 spindles to manufacture the fine worsted woolen fabric. 7
As World war I ended, the demand for worsted fabric declined. Labor wanted more money and fewer working hours as the demand declined. Unrest led to strikes. Labor settled with management in 1929 just as the Great depression began. According to Meadows, “…the weakened Botany Mills barely survived bankruptcy until World War II created a temporary demand for woolen cloth and a new byproduct, lanolin. The last profitable year for the Mills was 1950, after which it succumbed to the competition of synthetic fibers. It ceased production in 1955, and in 1956 was sold and converted into a multi-tenant industrial park.” 4
The site exists today as the Passaic Industrial Park with numerous small businesses occupying the various buildings.
The site borders Dayton Avenue with an ornamental brick wall with excellent dental work and a keystone with the founding date, 1889. The main office building, at the end of that wall contains a stained glass emblem of Botany trademarks in the windows along the spiral staircase leading to second story offices. An illuminated skylight is also composed of stained glass. At the foot of the stairs are two bronze plaques commemorating the 25th and 50th anniversaries of the founding of the company in 1889.
Thanks to Mark S. Auerbach and Margaret Bauer for help in assembling information for this page.
- US Courts 1921 Stoehr vs. Wallace, et.al., http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/US/255/255.US.239.546. html
- Scott, William Winfield, History of Passaic and its Environs, Vol. 2, 1922, page 186.
- America’s Textile Reporter, Vol 16, Issue 7, 1922. Page 614.
- Meadows, Robert A., City of Passaic Cultural Resource Survey, Passaic Department of Community Development, 1984
- Auerbach, Mark S., Historian for the City of Passaic http://www.cityofpassaic.com/assetspdf/HistorianHistoricalOverview.pdf
- Palko, Anna, http://www.tccweb.org/newjersey.htm#An_Overview_of_the_History_of_the_City_of_Passaic,_New_Jersey
- Davison’s Textile Blue Book, 1927 TS 1312 D3 1927
- Library of Congress photos of Botany Link Courtesy Peter Metzke
Botany Mills before 1900
View along Dayton Avenue.
Aerial view of the Botany Mills in 1900. Engraved postcard, printed in Germany.
Folded Postcard of the view after 1900 and before 1915. Note sales offices in major cities
Willie Wiese’ Examining Dept. 1913
View along Dayton Avenue 1915
View circa 1920
1889 Keystone Dayton Ave. Wall
Dayton Avenue circa 1920
Stained Glass and Plaques marking 25th and 50th Anniversary Main Office 2012
Office Building to Right
Main Gate 1986
Good Housekeeping Ad 1940
Better Homes & Gardens Ad 1950
Postcards courtesy of Mark S. Auerbach