"One of Us: Men Making Greater Newark" Column: Frederick C.J. Wiss

The Newark Sunday Call, December 9, 1928


President, J. Wiss & Sons Company.

Over eighty years ago a young Swiss came to Newark and established a company which has become the leading manufacturer in the world of high-grade shears and scissors. Its product is sold in every country-even Great Britain is its largest foreign buyer-and its articles have considerable sales in Sheffield, the cutlery center of the world. Jacob Wiss, however, did not intend to come to Newark when he left Switzerland. He was on his way to Texas, where he had been offered a job, but his money gave out when he got this far. Being an expert cutlery maker he secured a job in a local factory. Work became slack and the young man lost his job, but he had to remain in Newark because the factory owed him some back pay. It is interesting to recall that the firm which he established later bought the concern which had owed the money.

While waiting here for that back pay Jacob Wiss gave up the idea of continuing to Texas and in 1848 opened his own plant-a modest shop at the corner of Bank street and Library court, now the northwest corner of the main building of the Prudential Insurance Company. He began to forge out surgical instruments, and a few pairs of shears-a trade he had learned thoroughly in Europe. He worked slowly and with infinite care, and presently people began to say that his shears were the best they had ever used. Some of the first pairs are still in use after eighty years of service.

Dog-Power in Factory.

The factory's power was furnished by a dog which worked on a tread-mill and in the first year of operation the power was increased to two dogs. Taxes did not prove burdensome in those days, for a tax receipt dated August 1, 1848, signed by D.J. Camfield, collector, gives a total tax of $4, which was for the two dogs. And such was the start of a plant which now occupies nearly a large city block and employs between 500 and 600 workers.

The founder of the company married and until his death, in 1880, lived above the store in Bank street. Frederick C. J. Wiss, the elder son, was born there in 1858. He went to local schools, including the old high school on Washington street. However, the day for him started at 6 o'clock, when he fired the boiler so that steam would be ready for the workers at 7 o'clock. By this time dog-power had been supplanted by steam. From the time Frederick Wiss was 12 years of age he was a competent fireman. Gradually he extended his activities and in 1875 took over the management of the company.

In 1887 the first unit of the factory on Littleton avenue was erected and the following year, when the Prudential Insurance Company bought the Bank street corner, the retail business was transferred to 755 Broad street, near Bank street, and the manufacturing and wholesale departments were extended.

2,000,000 Pairs Sold Annually.

The business was divided into three corporations in 1890. They are J. Wiss & Sons Company, the manufacturing division; Wiss Sons, Inc., the retail division with a store on Broad street, and the Wiss Realty Corporation, which owns and operates several centrally located buildings, including the Wiss Building, the first modern office building on Broad street north of the canal.

Manufacturing is now concentrated on shears and scissors and over 2,000,000 pairs are sold annually. The company makes 250 varieties from the raw material of bar steel. All of the product is of the finest high grade, retailing as high as $25 for a pair of tailor's shears. During the war practically all of the surgical and bandage scissors were made at the Wiss plant. The company, too, was the first to make stainless shears. Mr. Wiss has stuck to the idea of making only a high grade product, not only because he believes it impossible to handle two grades and that the manufacture of the finest grade is more profitable, but also because the workmen would not know how to make anything else. One man has been with the company for fifty years, several for forty years and all the firemen are of at least twenty-five years' experience with the Wiss plant.

It is not hard to understand that among other things Mr. Wiss knows the business of shears and scissors. He was born in it and takes as much interest in his enterprises at seventy as he did when he fired the boilers at the age of twelve. It is said that he is one of the first men at the factory in the morning, even when he commutes from his summer home at Avon. For over thirty years he lived at the corner of Thirteenth and Fairmount avenues, but moved a few years ago to East Orange. He has a daily routine which brings him to the factory around eight o'clock in the morning: eleven o'clock finds him at the store on Broad street; then he is back at the factory until 5.30 at night.

Sons, too, Worked at Bench.

Naturally, most of the information in this article was given by Mr. Wiss, but it took a life-long friend to persuade him to supply any of the facts. Probably this is the first time that a family here for eighty years has permitted more than a mention in the newspapers. The following information, however, was given by a friend of the family: Mr. Wiss is a benefactor and he is so unassuming about his charity, as he is about all things, that his family often learns of it through someone else.

Mr. Wiss married Charlotte Lange, of an old Newark family, forty-one years ago. They have a daughter, Mrs. Denton Taylor, and two sons, Robert and Norman. Both sons are officers of the Wiss companies and, like their father, they learned the cutlery business by working from the bottom up at the factory. Jerome B. Wiss, a son of Mr. Wiss' brother, Louis, who died in 1908, is in charge of the Broad street store and the realty corporation.