Archive for January 2017

Left Behind in Elizabeth – The Singer Manufacturing Company, Part 2

The demand for Singer’s products steadily declined after WWII for various reasons, and with it went near guaranteed employment for “Singer families”. At one time, almost every citizen in Elizabeth knew a relative, friend or neighbor that worked there. But by 1980, the company’s employee roster had shrunk to about 2,300 people, with Singer diversifying its business to the point that sewing machines were a very small part of the manufacturing operations in Elizabeth.

Singer Plant Closing: A Way of Life Ends read the headline February 19, 1982 in the New York Times

The Singer Company is closing its mammoth plant here. Moving on to a marketing strategy of more cost-effective foreign production and diversification in aerospace products, it is finished with this aging city now.

 So intertwined have their lives become – this company and city – during their 109 years together that many people here can only shake their heads and say, as Morris Finkel did, “It just doesn’t seem possible.”

 It has been more than a professional relationship, and the community now feels scorned. “Working at the Singer plant, was a way of life,” said Mr. Finkel, who was there for 44 years. “It was the natural thing for a young man coming out of high school to do. Everyone in town seems to have worked there at some point.”

Left Behind in Elizabeth – The Singer Manufacturing Company, Part 1

This past November, my daughter and I found ourselves in Elizabeth, NJ searching for a soccer field, and I quickly discovered that although it’s just a few miles from my suburban home of 18 years, I knew almost nothing about the area. Passing through streets along the waterfront, I saw beautiful 19th and 20th century factory buildings that had signs of past glory, but were now generations removed from their original purpose. One such building caught my attention due to its immense size and architectural style, which intrigued me enough to seek its past once I got home.

It didn’t take much searching on the web to uncover that the building that peaked my interest was once the Singer complex, formally called the Elizabethport Works of the Singer Manufacturing Company. Having outgrown its New York City facility due to the success of their patented sewing machines, Singer sought a suitable site to start a new factory and found it across the harbor in Elizabeth. Ideally situated on the water and adjacent to the Central Railroad of New Jersey mainline, construction started in 1873 on the first buildings.