The Name of WISS -- Long Identified With Newark Industry

Newark Athletic Club Magazine, December 1941

1941-12-xx The Name of Wiss story

Third of a series of articles concerning industrial organizations having membership in the Newark Athletic Club

NEWARK has long been famous as a jewelry and cutlery center and no small part in the brilliance of this world-wide fame is due to the interesting history and growth of the Wiss enterprises.

In 1848 Jacob Wiss, a Swiss surgical instrument maker, opened a modest shop in Bank Street, Newark, to manufacture shears and scissors.

Born in Switzerland in the canton of Solothurn in December, 1817, at the age of 14, Jacob Wiss entered a technical school. He completed his course and then was apprenticed to a surgical instrument makers in France, Denmark, Belgium, and Germany, thus gaining broad and varied experience in his profession, in which he became skillful and proficient.

Seeking broader outlet for his talent, he sailed for New York in 1848. passing through Newark, New Jersey, on his way to Texas, he was attracted by the future possibilities of the town even in those early days. He decided to locate here-secured work-but in a short time opened up a small factory in Bank Street on part of the Prudential Insurance Company.

Lacking other motive power for his primitive machinery, Jacob Wiss used a treadmill operated by two large St. Bernard dogs which he had brought from Switzerland as his faithful companions.

The present tax burden did not trouble manufacturers in those days. A tax receipt still in possession of the company, dated August 1st, 1848, signed by D. J. Camfield, collector, gives a total tax of $4.00 which was for the two dogs used in his primitive power equipment. This was his only tax.

In this modest shop in the rear of the building, Jacob Wiss began to forge by hand a few pairs of shears and scissors, putting into them the skill and conscientious workmanship he had so ably learned. A front room was used as a retail store for the sale of the cutlery thus made.

The fame of these shears and scissors spread-trade increased-and large quarters were taken at No. 26 Bank Street, at the corner of Library Court. Business grew so fast that in 1887 the factory was moved to its present location on Littleton Avenue.

The manufacturing business has expanded steadily ever since, and the present four-story plant covers about 150,000 square feet of floor space and has over 500 skilled employees, many with long years of faithful service.

At the time of moving the factory to larger quarters, it was decided to separate the retail end of the business and so a new Wiss store was opened at 755 Broad Street, with the addition of other lines of merchandise besides cutlery, such as, silverware, cut glass, etc. Each year the name Wiss became more and more identified with quality merchandise and it became necessary to move the store to larger quarters as watches, jewelry and diamonds were added to stock. After occupying several locations on Broad Street, the present Wiss building was erected in 1911, at 665 Broad Street. It was the first "skyscraper" north of the old Morris Canal. In 1939 once again the Wiss store was enlarged and modernized and a high grade gift department added, so that today it is the largest jewelry store in New Jersey, occupying over 5,000 sq. ft. In addition to its large stock of fine diamonds, watches, jewelry, silver, china and accessories, the Wiss store has one of the finest equipped gem laboratories in the world. Out of the approximately 75 Certified Gemologists in the United States and Canada, the Wiss store claims two.

The Wiss Companies, now actively operated by the third generation, have continued to follow the precepts of their founder of "quality first" and just as "great oaks from little acorns grow," so J. Wiss and Sons Company has made steady progress from its modest "dog power" beginning in 1848 to its present proud position as the largest manufacturer of high quality shears, scissors and snips in the world, furnishing thousands of pairs to the Army, Navy and industries engaged directly in defense work. And the modest one room cutlery store has advanced to the preeminent state of New Jersey's leading jewelry store. Newark, therefore, has every reason to be proud of the name Wiss.