Forstmann Worsted Mills
Passaic, New Jersey
Forstmann & Huffmann, Passaic, New Jersey was founded in 1904 by German entrepreneurs who came from a long line of prosperous and skilled woolworkers dating back to 1563. The Forstmann family was descended from citizens of Flanders in today’s Belgium. The family was one of the original members of the Weavers Guild, the oldest of guilds, which had been established during medieval times by artisans to form merchant guilds to protect and maintain the high standards of their crafts. Julius Forstmann, of the Ruhr Valley near today’s Essen, emigrated to America to recreate the quality woolens then known in Germany. Forstmann decided to form a new venture in Passaic. Other Mills in Passaic.
Interview with Mr. Forstmann
Posselt’s Textile Journal, April 1909
Courtesy of Peter Metzke
Forstmann &Huffmann Mill
Courtesy Mark S. Auerbach
The woolens and worsteds coming from this mill were legendary and the company prospered. Workers were brought from Germany and all across Western Europe to work in the mills of Passaic. One such worker was Gerhard Wiegand who emigrated in 1912 and sent for his fiancée in 1916. The family survived the war and the difficulties imposed by the US government on anyone who was of German birth whether they were citizens or resident aliens. Read the Wiegand story elsewhere in the site. And read the story of a girl who grew up with the Forstmann Mills – and received a Forstmann Scholarship – Alice E. Johansen.
Bernard A. Rosenberg was hired to select styles, shades and finishes while working closely with major customers like Bergdorf Goodman.
Once the US entered the war against Germany, many of the German-owned properties were seized and sold to Americans. The New York Times headline on April 3, 1918, reported, “ Forstmann Denies Any German Taint, Declares He Never Saw Compromising Letters, and Bought Wool at Metz’s Suggestion.” Julius Forstmann, president of the $2,000,000 Forstmann-Huffmann Woolen Mills of Passaic… a loyal citizen of the United States … the mill was recently seized. In 1914, Mr. Forstmann was approached by the Hon. Herman A. Metz, then a member of Congress from New York City, and now wearing the uniform of an officer of his country… and Mr. Metz told him that unless some arrangement could be made to get wool and cotton into Germany the dye industry would suffer tremendously.” Such was the case for many German properties that openly did business in the US and were in no way connected with the war in Europe. On December 18, 1918, the Times reported further sales: The Garfield Worsted Mills, The Gera Mills, The Passaic Worsted Spinning Company, and The New Jersey Worsted Spinning Company, were sold even though “the enemy holdings in these mills are small.” 1
The war was difficult for these businesses, which struggled to restore their former business after the war. They eventually thrived in the Roaring Twenties. Gerhard Wiegand was promoted and worked side by side with Julius Forstmann to develop colors for the famous Forstmann Woolens. The Forstmann business grew and he became wealthy almost beyond measure. In 1923, Forstmann built a five-story mansion at 22 71st Street between Fifth and Madison Avenue. The five-story Italian Renaissance-style limestone survives to this day.
In 1928, Mr. Forstmann had amassed a fortune estimated at $50 million. In 1929, Forstmann had a custom yacht, the 333-foot Orion, constructed in the Kiel shipyards of Krupp. The ship arrived in September and, after seven weeks, the Forstmann family cruised around the world for seven months with a crew of over 50 while radioing orders back to his factory, business office in Manhattan, and his customers. An account was published by son, Julius. 5
SS Orion1929, USS Vixen 1940
Image: US Navy Archives
His interest in wool manufacture led him into many tariff and quality-related discussions following WWI. He was the author of a flexible provision of The Tariff Act of 1923 which called for scientific evaluations of woolens. During the Depression, he founded the National Quality Maintenance League to assure quality and maintain reputable production. 7
Forstmann became one of the leading companies on the strength of its employees. One, Werner von Bergen, emigrated from Switzerland in 1926 and joined Forstmann. An excellent scholar, von Bergen established an international reputation as an expert in wool and other protein fibers. He published articles and books, taught at Columbia University and was honored as the 1952 Olney Medalist by AATCC. 8,9
Portrait of Julius Forstmann,
Passaic Public Library
Werner von Bergen 1946
AATCC Olney Medal winner 1952
In 1938, Julius Forstmann became ill and died unexpectedly Oct. 27, 1939. Photo of Grave His son, Curt E., assumed the presidency and carried the business forward until his death in 1950. Obituary of Julius Forstmann
As war approached, the US Navy acquired the Orion in 1940 and re-commissioned her as the USS Vixen (PG53), a patrol gunboat. She served as flagship for four admirals, serving in World War II as the ship that kept the Atlantic coast defense coordinated.
Following the Second World War, business as usual resumed for these mills. In 1957, Forstmann Woolens became a part of J.P. Stevens & Co.
“Inside End” is embroidered on this skirt fabric.
A black worsted skirt-weight fabric from 1945 with the Forstmann Woolens truthmark printed in yellow.
Courtesy Irene Tyburski Kopens
In 1999, Victor Woolen Products acquired Forstmann & Co. and two plants in Dublin, GA.. Forstmann, like other woolen companies and divisions of larger companies went to Chapter 11 several times during the 1990s. 6. The company currently does business as Victor Innovatex.
Forstmann Cashmere Sweater Courtesy Alan Rosenberg Revere, grandson of Bernard A. Rosenberg, Chairman of Forstmann until 1956.
Life Magazine 1944
Life Magazine 1952
Courtesy: TJS Labs
Forstmann Brand Name Labels
Image: Textile Brand Name Dictionary
- http://www.fabrics.net/print/joan404.asp Joan Kiplinger 2004. Accessed December 29, 2007
- New York Times, April 3, 1918; December 18, 1918.
- www.navsource.org/archives/12/09053.htm Orion, then USS Vixen, Accessed January 7, 2008
- http://www.essen.de/Deutsch/Rathaus/Aemter/Ordner_41/Stadtarchiv/Geschichte_Forstmann_Julius_Junior.asp 1871-1939 Accessed 8 January 2008.
- Forstmann, Julius George. 1930. World Cruise of the Motor Yacht Orion November 5th 1929 – June 11th New York: William Edwin Rudge.
- Textile World, December 1999, p17.
- “J. Forstmann Dies; Textile Leader, 68,”New York Times, October 28, 1939. p15.
- “Ninth Olney Medal Awarded to Werner von Bergen,” American Dyestuff Reporter, Dec. 22, 1952, p866-873.
- Werner von Bergen, “Twenty-Five Years Progress in Woolen and Worsted Dyeing and Finishing Machinery,” American Dyestuff Reporter, Vol 31, No. 25, Dec. 7, 1946, p662-668.