Columbia Ribbon Company
Haledon, New Jersey
By Robert J. Baptista, January 20, 2008
John Grossegebauer, a German immigrant, started a silk business in Manhattan in the 1890s with only $750. He had one loom in a building on West Broadway, but was evicted. He moved the business to Newark and then to Straight and Ellison Streets in Paterson, where the Columbia Ribbon Company produced hatbands. About 200 men and women were employed there.
In March 1901 Grossegebauer increased the wages of his silk weavers 15 percent higher than most mills in Paterson where strikes were in progress. For a while the wage increase brought labor peace, but in June 1901 a mob of striking silk dyers’ helpers attacked the Columbia Ribbon building. Their leader was an avowed anarchist. The mob hurled stones, breaking windows, and tried to burst through the doors, which had been hurriedly locked. Grossegebauer ordered his workers to leave and the mob left to attack other mills in the area. The Paterson police finally put an end to the riot. The National Guard was deployed to prevent further outbreaks and the mills were able to resume production.
Grossegebauer moved his operation to Haledon’s Wicke Mill, but bad luck still followed him. In 1903 a fire broke out in the boiler room and quickly spread to the main building, completely destroying it with a loss of $150,000. Grossegebauer then shared a building in the Cedar Lawn area of Paterson with the National Ribbon Company.
Finally in 1909, Grossegebauer bought an inexpensive lot at 510 Belmont Avenue in Haledon and built a four story brick mill. The 40,000 sq. ft. building had massive walls and an advanced sprinkler system for fire protection. This was connected to the Haledon water supply and backed up with the mill’s own 200,000 gallon water tank. There were two electric elevators for freight and passengers. A smaller adjoining building served as the power plant, generating steam and electricity. A powerful Corliss steam engine operated the electric turbines.
An all-night party was held by Grossegebauer on May 1, 1909 to celebrate the grand opening of the mill. The office staff, salesmen, foremen, forewomen, and friends of the company gathered for dinner, speeches and even a variety show. At 8 PM the ladies were taken home but the men continued to party. There was a midnight luncheon and a bracing sunrise walk along the top of the nearby Preakness Mountains. It was an old German custom to see the sunrise from a high point on the first Sunday in May. The celebration concluded with breakfast at 5 AM.
Just two days later, another silk mill opened in Paterson. This was the A. & M. Levy mill at Bridge and River Streets. It employed 470 workers at its peak and competed with Columbia in ribbon making.
By 1918 the population of Haledon had grown to 3,000. Stations of the Erie Railroad and the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad served the town. There was trolley service to Paterson, a post office, banks, and telegraph and telephone service. The Haledon silk industry, although smaller than Paterson’s, was thriving and consisted of eleven mills employing almost 1,000 persons. At that time, Columbia Ribbon employed 300 and the nearby Oriental Silk Printing Co. employed 140.
But years of labor strikes, many accompanied by violence, in the Paterson and Haledon silk industry eventually led to the shutdown of mills or their relocation to the South. The Columbia Ribbon Company closed and various manufacturing firms occupied the building. In 1963 the Jeronal Corporation purchased the building for the manufacture of portable sample display cases. A few years later, DuAn Products, Inc. took over and had a metal stamping business there.
In 1974 the adjoining Harmon Colors pigments plant, then owned by Allied Chemical Corporation, purchased the mill building for use a warehouse and offices. Bayer acquired Harmon Colors in 1977. When the Harmon Colors operation was moved to Charleston, South Carolina in 1993, Bayer donated the former mill building to the Borough of Haledon. Haledon extensively remodeled the building for use as municipal offices and for the public library.
The former Columbia Ribbon Co. 4Story silk mill, Haledon, NJ, in background. The building in the foreground, once used as the mill power plant, was demolished. Photo: Robert J. Baptista, October 1993
Borough of Haledon Municipal Offices in former Columbia Ribbon Co. mill.
Photo: Borough of Haledon, ca. 2004
Borough of Haledon Meeting Room in former Columbia Ribbon Co. mill. Note 14-foot high ceiling. Photo: Borough of Haledon, ca. 2004
- “Silk Weavers’ Wages Increased”, New York Times, March 13, 1901
- TwentyFourth Annual Report of the Bureau of Labor and Industries of New Jersey for Year Ending Oct. 31, 1901, MacCrellish & Quigley, Trenton, NJ, 1902, pp. 467 – 468
- TwentySixth Annual Report of the Bureau of Labor and Industries of New Jersey for Year Ending Oct. 31, 1903, MacCrellish & Quigley, Trenton, NJ, 1904, p. 603
- Whitney Kvasager, “Now a Senior Center, Mill Opened in 1909”, Herald News, January 5, 2004
- Industrial Directory of New Jersey, Trenton, 1918, p. 234
- “4Story Factory Bought in Jersey; Former Columbia Ribbon Mill in Haledon in Deal”, New York Times, May 17, 1963