Edison Cement Plant

"N.J. Plant Cemented in History
by Jane Primerano for The Express-Times

It's called "The House that Ruth Built," but Yankee Stadium is also the house that Edison built.
Thomas Edison, that is.
The stadium was built with 180,000 bags of Portland Cement from the Edison Cement Co. in New Village. Cement from the Franklin Township plant was also used in buildings up and down the East Coast, as well as in sidewalks and concrete highways. Route 57 in Franklin Township was one of the first strips of highway constructed from Portland Cement. Today's Route 57 contains portions of the original cement roadbed, and another slab is on display at the Edison Museum at Menlo Park in West Orange, NJ.
Parts of the Edison Cement plant are now used by Victaulic Corp -- on Edison Road in New Village -- for galvanized plating operation. Ironically, Carl Brown, the man who found the site for Victaulic, is a confirmed Edison buff.
Brown, of Palmer Township, was "smokestacking" one day while selling vending machines. A salesman "smokestacks" when he looks for stacks towering over the landscape to find a factory that might need his product.
Brown spotted the Edison plant stacks and found the abandoned factory site.
When Victaulic was looking for a new site for its galvanized plating plant, Brown, also a Victaulic employee, recalled the New Village factory and suggested it to the firm.
It proved to be perfect, and Victaulic has occupied the plant since 1975.
Brown -- who said he's been a fan of the inventor since childhood
-- was pleased to discover the Edison site, which he had read about years before in a local history account.
Victaulic occupies one of the buildings on the cement plant site; most of the rest are in ruins. Brown said Vietnamese employees of the factory once asked him when the plant was bombed -- he admits it looks that way.
When it was built at the turn of the century, however, the Edison Cement Co. featured state-of-the-art equipment. Edison believed in the best quality for everything he did, Brown said.

Safe -- but still sorry

He also believed in safety. Despite precautions, the plant was home to one of the area's largest and deadliest industrial accidents.
At 5:10 p.m. March 2, 1903, it started with a small explosion, followed 10 minutes later by a larger explosion. A spark was believed to have ignited a supply of pulverized coal dust, which was used as a fuel to bake the cement.
Six men were killed instantly and many others were injured, according to the March 3, 1903, edition of The Easton Express. The death toll eventually rose to 15. Many of the victims died of burns.
The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad dispatched a special train from Phillipsburg carrying doctors and nurses. The train brought the injured back to Phillipsburg and then to Easton Hospital, the closest facility.
At a coroner's inquest, the firm was absolved of negligence. The cost of the explosion's damages was estimated at anywhere from $60,000 to $200,000. The plant was promptly rebuilt.
But whatever caused the spark, it probably wasn't a cigarette.
Edison banned smoking in his factories -- long before it was a common practice -- because of a concern about fires. He often forgot his own prohibitions, though, and had to be reminded by his employees to extinguish his cigarettes. Eventually, he took up chewing tobacco.

Cementing a future

Edison got into the cement business after failing at mining ore, Brown said.
On April 3, 1880, Edison received a patent for a magnetic ore separator. He put his invention to work at the Ogden Mine (the mine was apparently named after the inventor's great-grandmother) in Sparta Township, buying or leasing 19,000 acres of Sparta Mountain, according to research done by Howard Case of Sussex.
The ore separator worked, but the ore in the Ogden mine was heavily contaminated with phosphorous, which reduced its value.
When the Edison operation closed in 1902, after high-grade ore had been discovered in the Mesabi Range in Minnesota, the inventor had lost $4 million on the project.
Brown said Edison started thinking about how to recoup his losses on the way back to West Orange for the last time. He decided on the cement business, having constructed some cement houses for his workers.
Edison, interested in geology, helped the U.S. Department of the Interior with geological surveys, so he and his staff had no difficulty finding a location for the cement plant.
He settled on the New Village site, on the edge of the cement belt.

Innovative equipment

Edison included many innovations in the plant, Brown said. Edison's crusher, which could handle 10-ton rocks, made the operation more efficient. The crusher's capacity ensured that it could handle most materials that came to the plant -- an important asset, because if rocks were too large for the crusher, they had to be sent back to the quarry for reblasting.
The kilns were also larger than those commonly in existence at that time. Earlier kilns were about 9 feet long and 6 feet in diameter. Edison believed that with special supports, kilns could be constructed up to 150 feet long and be only 9 feet in diameter. It turned out that his theory was correct, and the larger size made the kilns more efficient.
The Edison works produced cement houses, some of which are still standing. Many built for Ingersoll-Rand Co. employees in Phillipsburg still stand behind the current Ingersoll-Dresser Pump Co. plant.
After Edison died in 1931, his son, Charles, took over operation of his entire business empire. He kept the New Village plant open until 1947. The property was used by several industries before Victaulic bought the property."

 

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Harvey Minchin / Warren County, NJ
This page was last edited on 10/31/96