The year was 1927 and the future had hardly ever looked brighter for the City of Camden. Times were prosperous, business and industry were booming, and the city was full of recently constructed public buildings, civic improvements, schools, the new Delaware River bridge and its new highway to the suburbs. The stock market crash of 1929 and the Depression that followed were in the unimagined future.
It was in these times that Camden prepare for its 100th anniversary, and in this spirit of optimism that the city fathers under the direction of Mayor Winfield S. Price commissioned the booklet whose text you will find below.
Camden is Center for Manufacture of Steel Pen points and Glazed Shoe-upper Materials
Camden has almost 400 industrial establishments. This total in itself is substantial testimony to the desirability of the city as a location.
But, diversification is an important element to be considered by the manufacturer searching for the admirable territory in which to place a plant.
As has been said in these pages, Camden has a slogan which tells the story of the diverse products turned out in its factories ”EVERYTHING FROM A PEN TO A BATTLESHIP.”
Most industrial cities boast of some business which is a pioneer in its particular line.
Camden prides itself in having among its industries, the firm which was first to manufacture steel writing pens in America. For many years this form of product has been made in foreign countries. It remained for Richard Esterbrook and a band of expert workmen to establish the first pen factory to start operations in America. They started in a tiny shop in Camden and from that first day to the present, Esterbrook pens have found their way from this original font to the marts of the civilized world.
Today the big, modern Esterbrook factory on Cooper Street, in Camden, N.J., employs 350 persons and the product of which they are proud finds its way into the castles of royalty, the mightiest business houses of the world and the humblest home.
“Esterbrook Pens go on forever,” is a saying people use around Camden.
Esterbrook pens have been used on documents which have had a part in making the world’s history.
It is legend among the trade and especially the army of employees who have worked in the Esterbrook factory, that quality comes first. It was the determination of this pioneer pen maker that quality should never be sacrificed for quantity or profits. So closely has this determination been adhered to, both by the originator of Esterbrook pens and his successors, that today these steel writing points are recognized in foreign countries as well as in America, as the standard pen product.
The Esterbrook works in Camden is the largest and most modern of its kind in existence. It turns out more pen points per year than all other plants in America.
Camden also has another pen factory which has created an enviable record in this line of manufacture. This is the C. Howard Hunt Pen Company, which enjoys an extensive market for its wares. The Hunt Pen factory gives employment to 125 persons and combines with Esterbrook’s in making Camden the real steel pen point center of America.
There are a dozen plants devoted to the various processes through which light leather finds its way, in Camden. This business is another to the list of products in which the city leads.
Camden is recognized as the light leather center of the United States.
This distinction is another evidence of the undoubted desirability of Camden for industries, as these light leather industries are far removed from the centers in which the product is made into shoes.
Patent leather, glazed kid, colored kid and other forms of light leather form the products of the tanneries and factories which employ 2500 persons in this work. These leathers are used mostly in the manufacture of shoe uppers. They go from Camden to the leading shoe factories of the country.
The Keystone Leather Company is one of the leaders in this line with a great modern plant employing more than 500 persons.
The Keystone Leather Company was organized in 1895 for the manufacture of black glazed kid for use in high grade shoes. Later the company began to specialize in the tanning of Russian colt skins and India goat skins for patent colt and kid. Recently a new product, “Perlustre” was added to the line. This is a washable kid in all colors.
Today the normal production of the Keystone Company is 20,000,000 square feet of leather annually, and this amount can be increased with the existing plant capacity.
Originally the Keystone works occupied a small space at Sixteenth and Mickle Streets. Today the plant occupies three solid blocks bounded by Sixteenth, Seventeenth and Federal Streets, and the Cooper River. The site covers about ten acres and the buildings have 468,464 square feet of floor space.
This location is another of those so ideal in Camden, the plant having both railroad sidings and its own wharfage on Cooper River.
The Keystone Company has another plant at Bristol, Pa., devoted to the manufacture of patent leather.
Another great leather works in Camden is the plant of the John R. Evans Company at Second and Erie Streets. Here thousands of goatskins from India, Venezuela, China, Spain, Argentine and Russia, are tanned on every working day. The number of these skins runs to about 17,000 a day. They are glazed and tanned for shoe uppers and then find their way to the shoe factories of the country.
Here will be found in process of operation the “chrome” method which was invented in 1884 by Robert Foerderer. The name “Foerderer” has been associated with the leather industry almost since its inception in America.
Only those persons intimate with the business can imagine a leather tannery not prominently associated with stench and odors.
But, modern methods have done away with the repugnant feature in this big Camden tannery. The revolting feelings which overcome the ordinary citizen are absent when one makes a trip through the Evans plant.
An idea of the enormity of the business done is provided when it becomes known that 1,000,000 goatskins are in storage at all times awaiting their turn to start on the tanning and glazing trip which occupies about sixty days for each skin.
When the skins come out of storage they are softened in vats, cleaned, and tanned, then they go through the glazing or other finishing processes. All machinery in the plant is electrically operated, each process unit having its individual motor.
One of the interesting features of the plant is an oven, open at both ends and many yards long. It really is a heated tunnel, through which the skins, hung upon rods that are carried by endless chains, move very slowly, taking three hours to traverse the length of the oven and emerging at the far end completely dried.
Contrasting with the oven, is the cold room for storing the patent leather. Ventilation of the room, which is refrigerated by electric machinery, makes it possible to disregard the well-known tendency of patent leather to stick together in hot weather.
The Evans Company is said to have the largest individually owned plant of its kind in the world.