This is New Jersey: Today we have a story of scissors and shears.

This is NJ 78 spm record label This is New Jersey, a weekly radio series by the State Conservation and Economic Development in cooperation with the New Jersey Manufacturers Association, broadcast "A Story of Scissors and Shears." Arlene R. Sayre, editor.
This was broadcast sometime after the November 1948 publication of the The Story of Shears and Scissors book being discussed in this broadcast. It is very likely then that the ghostwriter of the book is also Arlene R. Sayre.
This MP3 audio file (Length: 15:02) was made from two 78-rpm records (three sides).
Full transcript is below.



Narrator: This is New Jersey.


Narrator: Today we have a story of scissors and shears. A shortcut through history that leads to Newark, New Jersey. There are more than 150 different styles and sizes of scissors and shears made in Newark, with the craftsmanship that has made that city a world capital in this industrial field. This is another in the series "This is New Jersey" transcribed for broadcast over this station each week at this time, by the State Department of Conservation and Economic Development, in cooperation with New Jersey Manufacturers Association.

Our story opens with a quiet conversation that might be taking place right now between a man and his grandson. The scene, a grandfather's study in the Wiss home, in a suburb of Newark, New Jersey.


Grandfather: Reading son?

Grandson: No, grandfather. I just picked this out because our name was on it. A Story of Shears and Scissors. A whole book. What's it about?

Grandfather: Just what it says, and we could have filled many more books. Here, let me show it to you. Back in 1948 when our company was 100 years old, we were feeling rather historic, and we thought it might be a good idea to review those years. Well, there was a clear path in our company records straight back to my grandfather Jacob, who started the business. But then we became more curious and it wasn't so simple. There was a lot of information about shears and scissors, that's true, but it was scattered all over the place. In libraries and in homes in America, Switzerland, Germany, France, and England. Nobody had ever gathered it together. So we did it in this book for the first time, as far as we know. Do you know, son, libraries all over the world are still writing to us and asking for copies of this book?

Grandson: Great-great-grandfather Jacob didn't invent scissors, did he?

Grandfather: [laughs] No, I should say not. See here? That pair of shears on the cover goes back to the 3rd century BC. Think. Cleopatra might have used them. The archaeologists were pretty excited about those shears.

Archaeologist #1: Look here, look here, this is amazing.

Archaeologist #2: It looks to me, sir, like an ordinary basket.

Archaeologist #1: Look what's in it. A woman's work basket, son. A remarkable find. Imagine, three centuries before Christ and here are pins, and needles, and combs, and shears.

Archaeologist #2: They're beautiful.

Archaeologist #1: Look at the artistry. It must have been done sometime after Alexander came to the Nile. Bronze inlaid with silver figures.

Archaeologist #2: Male and female figures, sir that meets the blades touch.

Archaeologist #1: Even male and female sphinxes. Romance of a pair of shears. These obviously belongs to someone of rank. Maybe even the queen herself.


Grandfather: Well son, those are the earliest pair of shears in existence today. They were found in a tomb at the end of the last century, but shears are older than that. We found it's probable they're as old as the use of metals.

Grandson: But what about Grandfather Jacob?

Grandfather: Well... Jacob Wiss left Switzerland and came to the new world in 1847. That was quite a period.


Narrator: In 1848, when Jacob Wiss, the young cutler and gunsmith started his business in Newark, New Jersey, the ferment of Europe's affairs had come to a fast boil. England with its vast empire had poverty at home, and there was a potato famine in Ireland. The floodgates of a troubled continent were opened and people poured into the coastal cities of America to become both producers and consumers of an endless flow of goods. Goods of all kinds.

Grandfather: Yes, when Jacob arrived in Newark, it was already an industrial center. A man named Seth Boyden had invented a process for making iron castings which could be welded or faced with steel.

Grandson: Then great-great-grandfather Jacob was the first one to makes shears and scissors in American, right?

Grandfather: No, we couldn't discover who was first, son. We do know, however, that by 1847, a man named Heinisch had a cutlery business here. Orders came to his factory in Newark, New Jersey from the trading centers of America.

Grandson: Did Jacob know him?

Grandfather: Yes, he did. He worked for Heinisch before he started his own business. Many years later in 1914, after grandfather Jacob's company and our Heinisch and sons had made our city the leading shears and scissors manufacturing center in the United States, we bought the Heinisch company and made J. Wiss & Sons of Newark, New Jersey, the largest producers of fine shears and scissors in the world.

Grandson: Is this the first shop?

Grandfather: Yes, that's a drawing of the inside of Number 7 Bank Street [laughs]. As you see, a St. Bernard dog in a treadmill supplied the power for the grinding and polishing wheels.

Grandson: A dog? A real dog?

Grandfather: Oh, it was a pretty small operation then. By 1854, grandfather Jacob had moved to a larger place, at Number 13 Bank Street, and then down the street to Number 26. He lived a few doors away, in the house where his sons were born. My father, Frederick, and Uncle Louis. While my father was still in his teens, he learned the business and it's a good thing he did, for in 1880, Jacob died and Frederick took over when he was only 22 years old.


Narrator: This was a period of tremendous growth. Homespuns were giving way to the yard goods of the cotton and woolen mills. The pride of a home was often a cushion of good needles and a pair of Wiss scissors. Not many precision tools were made in America prior to the war between the states, but during that war, a Wiss craftsman supplied the manufacturers of our uniform as they were to do in two wars to come. In World War II, Wiss shears performed many unique services. In addition to cutting uniforms, they were used in the making of parachutes, shoes, pontoon boats, rubber life rafts, and barrage balloons, but in the 1880s, European craftsmen had the edge over their American cousins. And the Sheffield cutlery and French and Swiss silverware and watches were preferred by American buyers, but in actual use, the English or Continental products lacked the strength, balance, and cutting edge of the Newark shears and scissors.

Grandfather: Young as I was, I can remember the motto that hung in my father's office. It said, "The recollection of quality remains long after price is forgotten." And my father was right. Once, when he was in England visiting Sheffield, the center of England's cutlery manufacture, in a spirit of mischief, he went into a cutlery shop and stared into a large case of Sheffield ware.

Shopkeeper: Good morning, good morning, sir. What can I do for you?

Frederick C.J. Wiss: Good morning. Uh, let me see your finest pair of shears.

Shopkeeper: My finest pair? Yes, sir. They're not in that case, sir. Just a moment, I'll get them for you.

Frederick C.J. Wiss: A very elaborate chest you have there. I expect these will be quite something.

Shopkeeper: Here you are, sir. They're imported. From America. From the City of Newark. In the State of New Jersey.

Frederick C.J. Wiss: Um... Why, why, they're Wiss! That's the Wiss trademark.

Shopkeeper: It is indeed, sir. From America.


Narrator: The shears manufacturing business felt an additional impetus from the industrial expansion of the '80s and the sons of Jacob Wiss, acquired a large tract of land facing Littleton Avenue on the hill in Newark, and built a new factory to meet the production needs of the business. The wheels on the new plan started to turn in 1887, and they are still turning at the same location vastly modernized and enlarged, of course, to meet continuing growth.

Grandfather: I started at the Littleton Avenue Plant, and so did my brothers and cousin, the son of Louis. Then later your father and his cousins.

Grandson: Then I'll be the fifth generation, won't I?

Grandfather: That's right, son. And you know, there are at least 106 fathers and sons, sisters and brothers among the employees in our plant today.


Narrator: Through the years, the Wiss plant kept pace with inventive improvements. And in 1906, the first power drop hammers for hot forging steel shears frames were installed in the Littleton Avenue factory. These enabled Wiss to weld tough high carbon steel blades to rugged steel frames, making for the first time shears and scissors which were virtually indestructible. This Wiss-perfected inlaid blade process is today one of the reasons for the superior performance of all Wiss scissors and shears. Newark has been the home of much of the pioneering and the manufacture of shears and scissors.

Grandfather: Wiss was the first to make its own screws, bolts, and nuts exactly to fit to watchmaker accuracy so they won't loosen as most do. The company first applied the technique of shear-making to the production of garden cutting tools. Developments in production enabled it to introduce pinking shears on a national scale, and to produce kitchen shears which can be used to remove the caps and unscrew the tops of bottles, in addition to their cutting jobs.

Narrator: Today there is an infinite variety of shears and scissors and an equally wide number of jobs for them to do in the modern world. For example, in the average home today, there are seven basic types of cutting jobs and seven different scissors to perform them. Dressmaker shears, sewing scissors, embroidery scissors, cuticle and nail scissors, kitchen shears, and pinking shears. Scissors and shears have become specialized precision instruments.


Narrator: On the average, the manufacturer of a fine pair of shears requires 176 separate operations.

Speaker: And 75% of these depend on highly skilled craftsmen. Die-making is the first operation. Here the form of the shears is sculpted out of a solid block of steel, sometimes weighing as much as 500 pounds.

Speaker: The shears are then forged with drop hammers, trimmed and prepared for the welding of crucible steel cutting edges. Then, more trimming and a long succession of grinding and fitting operations.

Speaker: Then they're hardened and tempered evenly for greater strength. Moreover, all Wiss blades are individually matched and kept together all through the manufacturing processes.

Speaker: Next, they are polished and plated, after which they go on to the finishing department where the mates are joined, adjusted, and tested by skilled artisans.


Narrator: It would be impossible to describe in a limited time all of the uses of shears and scissors. In the modern world, they penetrate to so many levels of ordinary everyday activities that their usefulness is often taken for granted. It is difficult, however, to imagine daily living without scissors. Many people could not earn a living or could not do their work properly. People like artists, barbers, chiropractors, doctors, draftsman, dressmakers, editors, electricians. The tailoring trade has huge fierce-bladed shears up to 16 inches in length, which cut eight inches and several thicknesses of cloth at a bite. Also, buttonhole scissors, with special slotted jaws, and pinking shears, with a curious side-bite and molars of a shark. The sheet metal industries require many sizes of short jawed tinner snips. All these are expressive of the progress that has made America great during the past a hundred years.


Grandson: Grandfather, I hope I can help for the next 100 years.

Grandfather: You can, son. You certainly can. So long as free enterprise survives in a world of free people, J. Wiss & Sons Company of Newark, New Jersey expects to continue to make the finest quality shears and scissors and sell them all over the world.

Narrator: This has been another in the transcribe series, This is New Jersey. Brought to you each week at this time by the State Department of Conservation and Economic Development, in cooperation with the New Jersey Manufacturers Association. Arlene R. Sayre, editor. Next week's program is Today's Pilgrims. Be listening then.



• NJ State Department of Conservation and Economic Development existed from 1948-1970
• Arlene R. Sayre was an historian in Trenton. She was still working on January 19, 1964, when she was engaged to prepare the 1966 history of The Medical Society of New Jersey. And she published a series Jersey Voices From the Past in 1964. Twelve volumes for children with a teacher's manual.