Weidmann Silk Dyeing Works


Weidman Silk


History & Integrity

Jacob Weidmann was one of the central figures in the development of the silk dyeing industry in Paterson. Weidmann was born in Switzerland in 1845 and was trained by his father, as well as apprenticed to silk dyeing works in Germany and France, gaining a wide ranging knowledge of the most advanced dyeing processes in use in Europe in the mid-19th century. He came to the United States in 1867, at the age of 22, first working for the Cheny Brothers, silk dyers located in Manchester, Connecticut, before relocating to Paterson in 1872. Weidmann established a dye works at the corner of Paterson and Ellison Streets, rapidly expanding it to occupy nearly 1.5 square blocks and becoming in the process the city's largest independent dye works. During the late 1870s to mid-1880s, a who's who of Paterson dyers worked or partnered with Weidmann including Claude Greppo, Charles I. Auger, George Morlot and Pierre Thonnerieux. Weidmann developed a high reputation for producing the heavy-weighted black silks then in high demand. He became known for adopting innovative processes including installation of rotary thrashing and washing machines that did away with the practice of hand-beating the silk to release dirt and loose fibres. Weidmann incorporated the Weidmann Silk Dyeing Company in 1881 selling stock to capitalize the business. Among the company's directors was Garret A. Hobart, the future Vice President of the United States.

 

In 1887, the Weidmann Silk Dyeing Company was presented with an opportunity to relocate its works from downtown Paterson to the city's Riverside section. In 1882, the Paterson Silk Dyeing and Finishing Company, established by one of Weidmann's former partners, Claude Greppo, had built a dye works on 5th Avenue adjacent to the Erie Railroad. The Paterson Silk Dyeing and Finishing Company works had an advantageous location with access to the railroad for delivery of chemicals and coal and to the river for processing water, but a fire devastated the works in 1886. Weidmann purchased the fire-damaged works and rebuilt it, and in 1887 moved his entire operation to Riverside, which, unlike the downtown location, had space for future expansion. By 1895, the Weidmann Silk Dyeing Company had a daily capacity of 8,000 lbs. of dyed silk and was employing 900 workers.


 Weidman SilkWeidman SilkWeidman Silk

Weidmann was described in a history of the silk dyeing industry as never being happiest as when he was constructing new buildings at his works. From 1895 to 1908, he was continually at work building two additional dye houses, expanding the original boiler house and adding a second boiler house, and building a subsidiary chemical works to the east of the Erie Railroad tracks, even adding a private tunnel under the tracks to connect the chemical works with the dye works. In 1899, the original suction pipe for drawing water from the Passaic was replaced with a new pump house that few water from the Goffle Brook, and in 1905-06, Weidmann began drilling over 50 artesian wells, mostly located on the north side of the Passaic and drawn across the Passaic by an underground pipe line. No other dye works in Paterson had as secure and clean a supply of private water. Weidmann was also known for staying abreast of scientific advancements and introducing many new technical processes to Paterson's dyeing sector. These included the introduction of logwood crystals for weighting, Janus colors for fast dyes, tin hydroextractors, dyeing of Chardonnet artificial silk, Schmid-Freres degumming machines, and substitution of anhydrous tetrachloride for tin for weighting.


By the mid-1900s, Weidmann was the largest silk dyeing works in the country employing approximately 3,000 workers. During the labor unrest of the early 20th century, unionizers organized Weidmann's workforce, which included many unskilled Italian immigrant dyers' helpers. The support of the dye house workers was considered essential to the success of any general silk strike, but the dyers had historically been resistant to supporting the throwsters and weavers, who mostly came from different ethnic backgrounds. In the years leading up to the great silk strike of 1913, the Italian dyers' helpers became increasingly militant, eventually joining the International Works of the World (I.W.W.) Local 152, in part because of resentment over private detectives hired by Weidmann to identify union leaders and fire them from their jobs. By early 1913, Weidmann's Italian dyers' helpers were primed to strike; armed with this knowledge, I.W.W. leaders felt more confident that a general strike could succeed in Paterson. As predicted, the Italian dyers' helpers walked off the job in February 1913 in support of the strike. Ultimately though, the strike was not helpful in wresting meaningful concessions from Weidmann.

 

In early 1909, Jacob Weidmann sold a controlling interest in the company to Gillet et fils of Lyons, France. He died two years later in 1911 while on a fishing trip in Canada, not living to see the labor unrest that idled the plant during much of 1913. The distant international ownership of Weidmann's was one of the arguments used by labor leaders to promote the strike. In 1923, Gillet et fils sold the works to the United Piece Dye Works Company of Lodi, N.J., which continued to operate the plant as the Weidmann Division until sometime in the 1930s. By 1950, the works had come to be owned by the Bengar Corporation, a real estate holding company, which leased various parts of the works out for a variety of industrial processes including paperboard and plastics, as well as textiles finishing. This remains the pattern today with industrial tenants occupying the buildings, which, remarkably, have not been greatly altered since the first quarter of the 20th century.



References

Scranton, Philip, Silk City, 1987.

Heusser, Albert H. A History of the Silk Dyeing Industry in the United States, 1927.

Paterson Daily and Weekly Guardian, "City of Paterson, N.J.," 1898.

Trumbull, L. R. A History of Industrial Paterson, 1882.

Hyde, E. Atlas of Passaic County, New Jersey, 1877.

Robinson, E. Atlas of the City of Paterson, New Jersey. 1884.

Robinson, E. Atlas of the City of Paterson and Haledon, New Jersey, 1899.

Mueller, A. H. Atlas of the City of Paterson, New Jersey,1915.

Sanborn Map Company Insurance, Maps of Paterson, New Jersey, 1931.

Sanborn Map Company Insurance, Maps of Paterson, New Jersey, 1915.

Sanborn Map Company Insurance, Maps of Paterson, New Jersey, 1899.

Sanborn Map Company Insurance, Maps of Paterson, New Jersey, 1887.


Associated Documents

Weidman Silk Dyeing Site Form

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City of Paterson, NJ

155 Market St
Paterson, NJ 07505
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