Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Edison Portland Cement Plant

Edison Portland Cement Plant
Written by Anonymous

On a cool fall afternoon I ventured out to check on rumors of Thomas Edison’s historic concrete plant in western New Jersey. The location is not a place you might suspect had a great historical significance, as from the street it is very unassuming. No signage to designate this place had any cultural significance at all, which is disappointing in itself. Only did the building near the front entrance give away its elderly age, with 1906 stamped into the concrete façade. 

Opened in 1901, this once sprawling complex had over 60 buildings, underground passages for conveyors and a rail system directly to the plant from the quarry at Ogdensburg (Stirling Mine). At the peak of operation, it employed 600 workers (traveling as far as Easton, PA) and was partially self-sustaining with its own farmland.

Edison’s cement plant was a by-product of the Edison Ore-Milling Company, started in 1881. It introduced major technological developments for the iron ore milling industry but overall was unprofitable. Edison did not accept failure and found the potential the ore-milling company had to the cement industry. This was because Edison knew that during the milling process it created a large amount of waste sand, which he then sold to cement manufacturers. The potential for his own business growth was too much to ignore, so in 1899 Edison joined the cement business and formed Edison Portland Cement. In true inventor's fashion, Edison made significant improvements to the way cement is processed. His mill featured the world’s first long rotating kiln at 150 feet long. This kiln was licensed out to other cement manufacturers and eventually led to over production in the industry.

Another cement industry innovation by Edison was his 10-ton rock crusher, which helped to make operations more efficient by ensuring that most materials that came to the plant did not have to be returned to the quarry for re-blasting. This saved time and money. This mill also featured an elevated electric railroad, which had replaced the steam trains that pulled in the limestone to the mill.

This plant was used exclusively to create roads (including the Concrete Mile, New Jersey’s first concrete highway in nearby Franklin Township in 1912), buildings (the original 1922 Yankee Stadium built with 180,000 bags of concrete), and several concrete homes in Essex, Union, and Warren counties, including Edison’s personal auto garage and gardener's cottage.

Edison’s cement plant wasn’t very profitable and wasn’t without its share of bad luck. In 1903, it suffered one of the area’s largest and deadliest industrial accidents; beginning with a small explosion, followed by a larger one by ignited pulverized coal dust. Six men were killed instantly and many others were injured. There was 15 total deaths, many related to burns. The exact cause is not known, but it is certain a cigarette did not ignite it as smoking was prohibited in Edison’s factories long before it was a common practice because of fire concerns. Damages were estimated between $60,000 to $200,000 at the time. Edison was not easily deterred as the plant was promptly rebuilt. 

All that remains of this once sprawling campus are several concrete homes in town that were built as worker’s homes, concrete silos, the skeleton of a manufacturing building, the currently used 1906 building and rail lines that once led to the quarry. History was created here, even if they didn’t know it was at the time. Once limestone resources in the area had been depleted, the Edison Portland Cement Company found itself on the way to bankruptcy. Edison’s son, Charles, had taken over the business upon his death in 1931. The plant was shut down in 1935 and out of the business by 1942.

A historical marker for the former plant can be found at this link and the GPS coordinates 40°42.74' N, 75° 5.48' W.

This site is abandoned and on private property. Trespassing is not condoned by the author of this article and www.thehistorygirl.com. To enter may be unlawful under state and Federal law. The purpose of this article is to present historical information. Should you choose to enter the property, you do so illegally. www.thehistorygirl.com and its administrators will not be held responsible if you choose to enter the site. The information within this article was collected using publicly available sources.

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