This post is an excerpt from the book, The Life and Times of Warren Webster, by Warren Webster, Jr.
From 1919 to 1930, the tat-tat of pneumatic riveters resounded from Coast to Coast and border to border as tens of thousands of buildings rose all over the land.
In New York, that city of skyscrapers, there was added to the Woolworth Tower (767′ 6″) and the Metropolitan Tower (657′), the New York Life Insurance Company Tower (619′ 3″), the Manhattan Tower (927′ 5″), the Chrysler Tower (1046′ 11/2″) and, finally, the tallest building on earth—the Empire State Building, (1454′). This last building, erected on the site of the old Waldorf-Astoria, was contracted for on September 20, 1929, and delivered to the owners on May 1, 1931, the cost being nearly $53,000,000.
The craze for high buildings was nationwide, and in most cities, as for example in Philadelphia, the skyline was entirely changed by new buildings towering into the air.
Warren Webster & Company enjoyed the greatest volume of business in its history and for a time was compelled to concentrate on supplying the needs of new buildings. But even at the peak of the boom, with rush orders pouring in, Warren Webster foresaw that this condition could not be permanent, that the period of lavish spending must come to an end. So the Organization was set to work developing a steam heating system that could be offered when economy again became the paramount objective.
This new system was perfected by the end of 1928 and became known as the Webster Moderator System of Steam Heating. Such were the economies of the new system that it was possible to go into the majority of buildings and effect a saving of 25% or more in heating costs.
Thus it was, thanks to Warren Webster’s foresight, when the new building market vanished in 1930, there was no thought of closing down or of radically reducing the Organization. A policy was ready to be put into operation—it was to “go after modernization.”
And under this plan thousands of buildings were surveyed in 1931-1932-1933 by Webster engineers, many contracts closed—and the business never stopped right through the depression.
At that time, too, our capacity was fully developed. It will be remembered that the business under the name of Warren Webster & Company was founded in June, 1888, at 491 North Third Street, Philadelphia. The first factory was built at Point and Elm Streets, Camden, N. J., in 1895. Considerable additions were made to this factory in 1903 and again in 1918-1919. In 1923, since the factory was in the direct path of the Delaware River Bridge, it was sold and razed, and the Company moved to the present factory on Federal Street between 16th and 17th Streets, on January 2, 1924. The plant was again enlarged in 1927.
In no year since its incorporation has the Company failed to pay a dividend. No outside capital has ever been employed and all development and expansion have been financed solely from the profits of the business.
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Warren Webster’s entire life was a wise balance of work and play, blended with those joys and sorrows which inevitably come to an affectionate and unselfish heart. His private life was as clean, kindly and lovable as his business life was straightforward and honorable.
He was always natural, cool and self-possessed, no matter the situation. He liked good food, the theater, social gatherings, and was never happier than within the inner circle of his family, relatives and close friends. He was not outwardly sentimental, but there was a world of deep, old-fashioned sentiment in his make-up. To the end of his days he retained that freshness of mind, humor and happiness observable only in natures too big to pretend sophistication and who have preserved their interest in the all-important little things of life.
My father was extremely fond of his parents. His father had reached the age of eighty-one at the time of his death in 1912. His mother was ninety years of age when she died in 1922. Thus they had the mutual happiness of being together for many years. His oldest brother, Elwood S., for whom he had a special affection, died in 1891.
When Warren Webster & Company was incorporated in 1895, his two other brothers, A. Spencer and Theodore L., were joint incorporators, Warren being president and general manager. Theodore L. was killed in a railroad accident in New Jersey in 1908, and A. Spencer withdrew from the business in 1923.
In 1910, E. Kessler Webster, son of Elwood S., came with the Company. After a period of apprenticeship he took Theodore’s place as secretary and later was made assistant general manager, I became connected with the Company in 1924.
My father was married on July 2, 1891. My mother’s maiden name was Frances Marguerite Siegrist. They had three children—Marguerite, Pauline and myself.
My father took his bride to a home he had just purchased at 121 North Centre Street, Merchantville, N. J. After nearly two years, they moved to a house which they had built at 41 West Walnut Avenue, Merchantville, giving 121 North Centre Street to A. Spencer Webster on his marriage. We lived at the Walnut Avenue house until 1912, when my father bought the old Curtis home at 626 Cooper St., Camden. For many years my parents spent most of their winters in Florida, and in 1925, they took up their permanent residence at Pass-a-Grille, Florida.
They also had a property on Barnegat Bay where the family spent many happy days. My father liked this place very much, and in speaking of it would say: “It was a real Swiss cottage. It was brought to this country from Switzerland and set up at the Centennial. A certain rich bachelor wanted to live in seclusion and bought a farm of 600 acres on Barnegat Bay, about four miles from Tom’s River across from Island Heights. He bought the cottage at the Centennial and had it taken apart and set up again on the farm. About 1906 I bought the cottage from him, along with about 22 acres of the land. I have a private bathing beach there.”
My father’s hobbies were sailing, fishing and travel—and so much the better if the traveling were over water. From early childhood his love of boats and all things maritime was manifest. Some of his boyhood sailing adventures were told in early chapters.
Later he owned the 60-foot schooner-yacht Ibis, and was a member of the Island Heights, N. J., Yacht Club, the St. Petersburg, Fla., Yacht Club and Vice-Commodore of the Philadelphia Yacht Club. He was also a member of the Manufacturers’ and Penn Athletic Clubs, of Philadelphia, and for years served as a trustee of Cooper Hospital, Camden.
Said my father: “I had always looked forward to the time when I could take the family abroad. So, in 1924, Mrs. Webster and I, with our daughter Pauline and our son Warren, started on a European trip. We sailed from New York on the Majestic on June 28th and arrived in Cherbourg on July 4th, and we returned to New York on September 5th—just a little more than two and a half months. We had studied the guide books and planned the trip so carefully, that everything went smoothly. We journeyed through France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland and England—and we had a glorious time. I kept a memo of our trip and the places we visited and gave a copy to each of my ‘business family’ on my return.
“The next year we were off to California, the National Parks and the Grand Canyon.
“In 1926, Mrs. Webster and I, with my daughter Pauline, and my grand-daughter Pauline Lucas, went on a trip to Alaska and the Canadian Rockies.
“In 1927, the same party of four sailed on a North Cape Cruise. There were 400 passengers and 450 employees on the ship.
“We first went to Iceland, stopping at Reykjavik, the capital. We expected to see ice—feet thick, but there was no ice, not in July.
“The Gulf Stream comes around the island or they would have a terrible time with the cold.
“From Iceland we went to Hammerfest, Norway, the most Northern city in the world. From Hammerfest we steamed 1000 miles down the West Coast of Norway. We sighted two white whales—the only ones we saw on the voyage.
“We visited Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen. I was greatly impressed with Copenhagen. They have the cleanest parks I ever saw. The whole population, from ages two to a hundred, seems to use bicycles—men, women, boys and girls. And everything is wonderfully organized. There were one hundred and four taxicabs at the Pier, all numbered. Each passenger was assigned a certain number—ours was No. 4.
“In 1928, Mrs. Webster and I made a trip to Canada, visiting Quebec.
“They were great holidays and I am truly thankful that we took the time to take the trips.”