World's Largest Shears Factory Is Marking Century of Service

The Newark Sunday News, February 8, 1948

1948-02-08 100th Ann story

Jacob Wiss Started Shop in 1848

In February, 1848, a young Swiss instrument maker opened a small grinding and cutlery shop at 13 Bank street. Today that small shop has mushroomed into the largest manufacturers of scissors and shears in the world-J. Wiss & Sons Co., whose products have carried the name of Newark to the far corners of the world.

Now one of Newark's outstanding industries, the firm was founded by Jacob Wiss, who brought to this country valuable experience garnered through years of apprenticeship to surgical instrument makers in France, Belgium, Denmark and Germany.

Young Wiss landed in Newark, bound for Texas. In order to repair his finances he first took a job with R. Heinisch Sons Works, at that time the largest, and probably the oldest, manufacturer of shears in the United States. Becoming attached to the city, he decided to stay and opened his business at 13 Bank street. Shortly thereafter he moved across the street to No. 26, the present site of another Newark business "giant," the Prudential Insurance Co.

Dog-Powered Machinery

At first concentrating on repairing, he soon expanded his field to forging surgical instruments, table knives and shears and his work began to gain a reputation. Power for his grinding machinery was furnished by a dog walking in a treadmill. In his first year in business he doubled his power output-he bought a second dog.

Frederick C. J. Wiss, the elder of Jacob's sons, was born in 1858 and as soon as he was old enough he joined the business with his father. He assumed control of the enterprise in 1875 when his father died and was joined 10 years later by his younger brother, Louis.

It soon was necessary to separate the two functions of retailing and manufacturing. The retail establishment devoted itself exclusively to repair work, grinding of shears and the sale of silverware. The manufacturing part concentrated on the making of shears.

The former business developed into the present Wiss Sons Inc., jewelry store in the Wiss Building at 665 Broad street, with a branch in East Orange.

Business Expands

Under the management of Frederick Wiss, the business expanded. Apparently he was active in every phase, because old letters attest to an advanced understanding of merchandising as well as a comprehensive grasp of finance and manufacturing.

A story frequently told concerns a trip Frederick took to England. Visiting Sheffield, one of the world centers of cutlery manufacture, he entered a store and asked the proprietor to show him the finest pair of shears.

Without hesitation, the tale goes the man drew from his showcase a pair of shears bearing the Wiss brand and told Mr. Wiss, who was a stranger to him, that although Sheffield excelled in the manufacture of much cutlery, so far as shears were concerned those made by the Wiss Co. in the United States had no equal.

Still in Family

Frederick had three children, J. Robert Wiss, president of the cutlery company; Norman F. Wiss, vice president and treasurer, and Mrs. Denton Taylor. Louis's son, Jerome B., is secretary of the cutlery firm and president of the retail jewelry store. Mrs. F. C. Sinon, daughter of Louis, is an officer of both companies. The sons of both Robert and Norman Wiss are employed in the Wiss Co. which remains fully owned by the family after 100 years.

The Wiss family believes that "13" is a lucky number for them. It was the number of the original store. The second store was 26. Frederick C. J. Wiss was married at 39 Market street and later lived at 39 Nelson place. The present factory is at 13-39 Littleton avenue.

A period of urban expansion in the United States started about 1880 and in 1887 the Wiss factory was moved to its present location in Littleton avenue, practically a cow pasture at the time. The first building at the new location still forms a part of the present factory.

Drop-Forge Shears

As a result of improvements in steel-making, before the turn of the century, it became possible to drop-forge shears, which until then had been constructed of malleable iron castings, to which carbon steel blades were welded. In 1906 drop-forging hammers were installed and the Wiss Co. proceeded to perfect the first shears that would not break, and could be used in industry more satisfactorily than any foreign make.

In 1888 and 1889 times were bad for many businesses, due to European competition at very low prices. In 1890 the McKinley tariff act was passed and the cutlery business expanded. During this period the manufacture of tailors' shears accounted for about half the production of the Wiss factory and sales were made largely to grinders and butlery stores.

About 1900 the Wiss Co. determined to expand and its salesmen began to call on hardware stores, which at the time handled mostly shears imported from England and Germany. The company greatly increased its output by these means. It also manufactured shears for wholesalers under their names.

Buys Heinisch Plant

In 1914 the company had grown to the point where it needed additional facilities and purchased the R. Heinisch Sons Works, the firm with which young Jacob Wiss had started life in the United States. The approach of war and the war itself produced a tremendous demand for shears of all types and the company prospered.

After the war Germany was permitted to dump on the American market large quantities of scissors, duty free, at 1/12 the prevailing domestic retail price and the local industry found itself in a desperate position.

In the meantime a new form of retail outlet, the department store, had appeared and Wiss decided to attempt the sale of quality scissors through these outlets. At first the department stores believed that only 39 and 49-cent scissors could be sold, but soon discovered the higher-priced Wiss products were preferred and their sales increased in leaps and bounds. Since that time the cutlery business of department stores has never ceased to increase.

Many Innovations

Operations of the Wiss Co. are not limited to household shears. It is estimated that at the present time 70 per cent of all the shears and scissors used in production works today are Wiss products. In addition to metal-cutting snips, the company has many innovations to its credit in the field of hedge, grass and pruning shears.

During its lifetime the company listed many "first" to it's credit. In addition to being first in the manufacture of drop-forged shears which revolutionized the industry the company also was first with welded inlaid blades of high carbon steel; first to manufacture its own screws, which in shears must be accurate to watchmaker tolerances; first to apply the art of shear-making to the manufacture of garden tools; first to make kitchen shears, and first to introduce pinking shears on a national basis.

The Wiss family always have been staunch boosters of Newark as an industrial center. J. Robert Wiss, president, appraises his native Newark in this way:

"It is a manufacturing center of first magnitude by means of its strategic location for the influx and processing of raw materials; unsurpassed transportation facilities land, water and air-for distributing its products throughout the world, and its high diversification of manufactures."