At its Annual Meeting in Hershey, the Society of Automotive Historians gave Mercer Magic: Roeblings, Kusers, the Mercer Automobile Company, and America’s First Sports Car by Clifford Zink its Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot Award for Outstanding Book of 2015. Tim Kuser, grandson of one of the Mercer Automobile Company founders and a longtime SAH member, accepted the award for the Roebling Museum along with the author. Tim’s generosity with his archive and fathomless knowledge of Mercer history contributed greatly to the book’s success. The first edition is now virtually sold out.
Henry Ford’s 1904 automobile factory on Piquette Avenue in Detroit’s Milwaukee Junction was saved from the wrecking ball in 2000 by the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex. The non-profit museum has done a fine job preserving the National Landmark building and interpreting the revolutionary Model T that Ford began producing in the factory in 1908. Exhibits include several fine Model Ts and other Ford models as well as other manufacturers’ cars from the early era of automobiles. Knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guides bring the history alive in this unique site of American innovation history.
To make some interesting historic research more accessible, we proposed the Discover History Series in a mobile-ready pdf format for viewing on large screens, tablets and smart phones, the latter held horizontally. The Navesink Military Reservation pdf is on the Park System’s Hartshorne Woods Park page (scroll down to see it): https://www.monmouthcountyparks.com/page.aspx?ID=2524. The Brookdale Farm pdf is on its Thompson Park page (scroll down): www.monmouthcountyparks.com/page.aspx?ID=2539. Linking these via QR Codes to signage will enable visitors to access the summary stories onsite. Comments about the Discover History Series and inquiries about helping to bring your research and stories to light are welcome.
A new phase of redevelopment at the ROEBLING WORKS in Trenton begins in March with the groundbreaking for HHG Development Associates’ historic rehabilitation of the 1917 Clark Street Rope Shop on Roebling Block 3 for 138 ROEBLING LOFTS. The John A. Roebling’s Sons Company erected the Rope Shop, aka Building 101, during World War I for production of small diameter wire rope, including Roebling Aircord for aircraft control. The Rope Shop embodied the new industrial design of the daylight factory with enormous steel sash windows and skylights on the top floor.
The 1 and 2-bedroom Lofts will have replica full-height energy efficient windows, 16 to 20 ft. ceilings, and 759 to 1,553 SF of space. The Mercer County Improvement Authority competitively awarded the 7-acre Block 3 redevelopment to HHG for its proposed ROEBLING CENTER, which will include additional apartments plus office/tech and hospitality space in rehabilitated and new buildings. CLARKE CATON HINTZ is serving as the project architect and HHG expects to complete the first phase Roebling Lofts in early 2017.
C.W. Zink has assisted the ROEBLING CENTER project by nominating ROEBLING BLOCK 3, above, to the National Register of Historic Places to recognize its historic significance and make it eligible for Historic Investment Tax Credits. The view above shows Building 101 from the southwest.
“On Wednesday, January 27th, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m, the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum will host a book signing by Mercer historian Clifford W. Zink. Mercer Magic is the first complete history of the Mercer automobile.” In his book – The Spirit of Competition – Museum founder Dr. Fred Simeone writes: “The thing about the Mercer, besides its great looks, is one’s experience behind the wheel. The design and experiential history has catapulted the Raceabout above all its contemporary road speedsters.”
Dr. Simeone calls the 1911 Mercer Raceabout 35J in the Museum’s collection a “superior pre-World Wa I production sports car.” The car will be featured at the event and Dr. Simeone will talk about its history. First built in 1911, the car was set up for racing with a 1913 Mercer engine and four speed transmission and has Michelin tires on quick demountable rims. It may be the only actual racecar among the 24 or so extant 1911-1914 Raceabouts.
MERCER MAGIC – The story of the Mercer Automobile Company and America’s First Sports Car, has just been published by the Roebling Museum. The book covers the remarkable story from the founding of the company through the development of the Mercer Raceabout, Mercer’s multi-year racing campaign that achieved national success winning the American Grand Prize in 1914, and the surviving Mercers in notable private collections and automobile museums. Mercer Magic is available on Amazon and at the Roebling Museum – 609.499.7200.
One hundred ago Trenton was a center of innovation, entrepreneurship, and skilled employment, and a new exhibit at Ellarslie, the City Museum in Cadwalader Park, highlights the accomplishments of the City’s greatest enterprise – the John A. Roebling Son’s Company.
The exhibit features many rarely seen artworks, publications, and objects illustrating the vast scope of Roebling products for national and international markets.
The most notable artwork is an 1898 ink and gouache painting from the collection of the New Jersey State Museum of the Roebling Works on South Broad Street and the Delaware and Raritan Canal. The Roebling brothers, Washington, Ferdinand, and Charles, commissioned the painting to capture the tremendous growth in the fifty years since their father, John A. Roebling, founded the factory with a single wire rope shop in 1848.
Expertly rendered by H.B. Longacre, a Philadelphia artist about whom little is known, the painting illustrates the tremendous investment, employment, and productivity in Trenton during the height of America’s industrial age. From that first rope shop in 1848, the Roeblings expanded their works over three city blocks with dozens of mills and shops, including the first of several four-story mills. Longacre meticulously and precisely depicted the incredible bustle at the Works, with numerous billowing smokestacks and steam vents, and with workers, horses, steam locomotives, canal boats, and electric trolleys in motion.
In the center of the painting the house that John Roebling built in 1855 for his family at the intersection of South Broad Street and the D&R Canal presides over the Works as the Roebling General Office. Today the building is part of the Mercer County Administration complex in the former Roebling offices that the County acquired in 1969 as the Works gradually shut down.
According to Jenny Martin-Wicoff, the State Museum’s Registrar of Fine Art, the Museum acquired the Roebling Works painting from a couple in Louisiana in 1983 with funds provided by Ferdinand W. Roebling III. The painting was temporarily exhibited around that time, and in 1989 it was briefly exhibited at the Squibb Gallery in Lawrenceville. The Roebling exhibition at Ellarslie provides a rare opportunity for the public to see this marvelous representation of Trenton’s industrial power. The Trenton Roebling Community Development Corporation reproduced the painting with the permission of the State Museum in 1992 and with support from Leigh Photographics, today’s Leigh Visual Imaging in West Windsor. Prints are available at Ellarslie.
Richard Willinger, the Curator of the Roebling exhibit, has included four large paintings that the Roebling Company commissioned for its display at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The paintings include two iconic bridges in the Roebling legacy – the Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883, and the George Washington Bridge, completed in 1931 – and two scenes within the Roebling rope shops. When Mercer County purchased the Roebling offices, County workers found seven Roebling World’s Fair paintings in the basement, and the County donated them to Ellarslie in 1982. A donor recently paid for the cleaning of the George Washington Bridge painting, and Ellarslie is looking for a donor to support the cleaning of the Brooklyn Bridge painting. Two of the paintings are on loan to the Roebling Museum in Roebling, N.J. where the Roeblings built a steel mill and a company town in 1906.
The exhibit includes a watercolor of the Roebling Works by Tom Malloy, Trenton’s beloved artist who compellingly documented the City’s buildings, monuments and streetscapes over several decades. Tom worked in the Roebling wire mill during World War II and shared his experiences there in a 1993 oral history.
Besides producing wire and wire rope for landmark suspension bridges, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Roebling manufactured “unthinkable” miles of wire rope in Trenton for elevators, cable cars, tramways, airplanes, shipping, mining, construction, and ski lifts – and it made wire for electrical lines, telegraphs and telephones, wire cloth and screens, and prestressed concrete. The exhibit highlights the scope of Roebling innovations and production with wire and wire rope samples, Company brochures, and hand-made wooden patterns of machine parts.
At its height during World War I the Roebling Company employed 8,000 workers in Trenton and Roebling. Many employees were immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, and the steady work at Roebling fostered their assimilation and enabled them to raise their families within the American dream. When John Smith got a job at Roebling at the age of 19, his mother told him, “Now you’re set for life.”
But the challenges were great a century ago, as workers struck Roebling and other Trenton manufacturers for better wages and working conditions, and huge fires suspected of being arson or sabotage destroyed several Roebling mills. The Roebling plants were finally unionized in 1941 just before the U.S. entry into World War II. After four generations of family ownership, the Roeblings sold their plants to the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, which operated them into the 1970s. Today, thousands of residents in Trenton, Roebling, and surrounding towns count former Roebling employees among their ancestors.
And today, the town of Roebling and the Roebling Museum are thriving, former Roebling buildings in Trenton’s Chambersburg section house offices and senior citizens, and the Roebling Market is bustling with the City’s latest immigrants from Central and South America. Artworks’ Art All Night event at the City-owned Roebling Machine Shop annually attracts an incredibly diverse regional audience numbering in the tens of thousands. And HHG Development, a Trenton enterprise, is poised to start converting the four-story, 148,000 sq. ft. Roebling Rope Shop 101 into 138 loft apartments. Although it’s taken longer than expected, the redevelopment of the Roebling Works in Trenton is gradually fulfilling the mixed-use plan that I envisioned as a graduate student in 1984 and that the Trenton Roebling Community Development Corporation started promulgating in 1985.
The John A. Roebling Son’s Company exhibit at Ellarslie runs through December 6.
A Trentonian couple held their wedding reception in June in the 1890 Roebling Machine Shop at the Roebling Works in the city’s Chambersburg section. The raw industrial setting befit the celebration as the couple has spearheaded numerous renovations in The World Takes city. The wedding and reception were beautifully photographed by Cie Stroud (www.ciestroud.com/).
On June 21-22, Trenton Artworks and its hundreds of volunteers produced Art All Night 2014 in the 1890 and 1901 sections of the Machine Shop (below) and attracted nearly 30,000 visitors.
The City of Trenton and the Trenton Roebling Community Development Corporation preserved the Machine Shop in the 1990s with grants from the N.J. Historic Trust and N.J. DOT. The grants funded the initial rehabilitation of the Machine Shop for the Invention Factory, TRCDC’s planned museum/science center that unfortunately didn’t come to fruition, but the work has enabled Artworks to produce Art All Night in the building for the past seven years. The Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market is welcoming thousands to the Machine Shop three times this year, and other events are being planned. The City is open to proposals for the long-term adaptive reuse of the 52,000 sq.ft. Machine Shop.
As American and British soldiers stormed Normandy 70 years ago today, the chances of enemy attack on the east and west coasts had faded, but the U.S. Army’s Coast Artillery Corps remained on guard protecting the harbors of America’s major coastal cities. At the Navesink Military Reservation on the Navesink Highlands in Middletown, NJ, the 245th Coast Artillery Regiment manned the 16-inch guns of Battery Lewis (above, in 1944) and the 6-inch guns of Battery 219 overlooking the entrance to Sandy Hook Bay and New York Harbor. The Army established the 245-acre Reservation in 1942 as an extension of Fort Hancock on Sandy Hook, and the Monmouth County Park System has preserved it as part of the 787-acre Hartshorne Woods Park. We’re completing a National Register Nomination of the Reservation for the Park System, which is currently planning the rehabilitation and interpretation of the massive Battery Lewis (below, as it appears today) to open it to the public.
On May 21st, “Clifford W. Zink and the Somerset County Park Foundation (were) recognized for the beautifully illustrated book “Natural Beauty, Somerset County Parks,” which chronicles the 50-year history of the County Park Commission, including descriptions of each county park and its historic resources.” At the Somerset County Cultural & Heritage Commission awards ceremony, from left, Cultural & Heritage Commission Chairman Robert Bowman, the author, Somerset County Freeholder and Park Commissioner Pat Welsh, and Park Commission Director Ray Brown, who is also the Director of the Somerset County Park Foundation.
On Restoration Work Day, April 12th, the 245th Coast Artillery Regiment mustered at Battery Gunnison on Fort Hancock for restoration and maintenance work on the 1905 structure and its two 6-inch guns. The Regiment volunteers are part of the Army Ground Forces Association and they do a fine job maintaining the Battery and interpreting it to the public, including their replica Plotting Room, shown here, where crew members plotted the azimuth and range of naval targets. Battery Gunnison was part of the coastal defense of New York Harbor from 1905 until its deactivation in 1946. It is one of the few historic batteries in the U.S. that still has guns. This visit was part of our ongoing research on the history of the nearby Navesink Military Reservation on the Navesink Highlands.
In this presentation at Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, we’ll explore the innovation and entrepreneurship of Peter Cooper and his son-in-law partner Abram Hewitt and that of John A. Roebling, and how their contributions advanced the development of construction and transportation technologies. https://pppl.princeton.edu/events/colloquium-how-trenton-iron-and-steel-innovations-reshaped-america The presentation is linked to the Society for Industrial Archaeology’s New York-New Jersey Roebling Chapter’s IA tour of the town of Princeton and PPPL – http://roeblingsia.org/events.html
With exhibit platforms and performance decks covered by suspended canopies, and lovely gardens and reflecting pools, the New Jersey Pavilion at the 1964-1964 New York World’s Fair was both a quiet retreat and a lively showcase of the New Jersey’s history, products, and talent. Philip Collins, a 32-year-old Princeton architect won a competition among 115 New Jersey architects to design the pavilion for the New Jersey Tercentenary Commission. “We have sought a design,” Collins noted, “that will be open and festive, gay and exciting, inviting to the public, and representative of the vigorous spirit and progressive outlook of our State.” Published in Garden State Legacy, Issue 23, March 2014.
Peter Cooper, Abram Hewitt, Edward Cooper, and John A. Roebling established factories in the mid-19th Century that transformed N.J.’s capital city into a hub of iron and steel production. The businesses they created – the Trenton Iron Company, the New Jersey Steel & Iron Company, and the John A. Roebling’s Sons Company – lasted for more than 120 years. Published in the December 2013 issue of Garden State Legacy – http://gardenstatelegacy.com/index.html
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- Mercer Magic wins Outstanding Book Award from Society of Automotive Historians March 14, 2017
- 1904 Ford Piquette Plant Highlights Early Model T Production September 6, 2016
- Monmouth County Park System publishes Discover History in the Parks Series May 3, 2016
- Mercer Magic Review: “We give this book our highest level of recognition.” April 6, 2016
- Groundbreaking set for ROEBLING LOFTS redevelopment in Trenton February 22, 2016
- Mercer Magic at the Simeone Automotive Museum in Philadelphia on January 27 January 13, 2016
- Graceful lines and speed to spare…fastest car known anywhere December 4, 2015
- Ellarslie Roebling exhibit highlights Trenton’s greatest enterprise July 18, 2015
- CATHEDRAL OF INDUSTRY July 8, 2014
- The Coast Artillery on guard 70 years ago June 6, 2014