The historic Roebling plots have been in the city of Trenton for a little over one and half centuries. For Historic Trenton’s Day in the Life, we’re looking back through newspapers from the beginning and examining everyday problems, solutions, and needs during historic Trenton’s past. Today, we are looking at the history of those factories and the birth The John A. Roebling’s Sons Company.
According to the 100th-anniversary booklet published in the 1940s, John A. Roebling received his qualifications in engineering from the University and Polytechnic Institute in Berlin, before migrating to the United States, where he would find himself in Pennsylvania.
He brought with him, an obscure German engineering paper. It was about how someone had been conducting experiments on how to make rope out of wire. This was the beginning of the famous Roebling’s wire rope.
In 1837, Roebling gained employment in Pennsylvania, working under contract with the Pennsylvania canal construction project. This is where he would test out his newest invention.
Large barges had to transported through the mountains at various points along the canal. This was tiresome for many reasons, but it allowed Roebling the opportunity to test America’s first wired rope. He pitched his rope in 1840 to the State Board of Public Works to no avail.
In 1841, he ended up selling his first batch to the Pennsylvania canal construction project; it was crude, it was created with second-hand equipment, but it worked, and it worked well.
With a diameter of 1¼ inches, it was more convenient and durable. He set up shop in Pennsylvania, where he had success building a bridge across the gorge of the Niagara River. Here he was able to show off the bridge by moving a fully loaded freight train across it. The success of Roebling led him to move from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.
He created The John A. Roebling’s Sons Company, the largest employer in Trenton and a world leader in the construction of suspension bridges. He moved his factory from Pennsylvania to Trenton in 1848. He chose Trenton for numerous reasons; one being that it was near Cooper Iron Works, which was his source for wires.
In the 18150s, central power plants needed Roebling Wires to transmit power mechanically. In the 1860s, the Otis brothers used Roebling Wires for the elevators and throughout the latter half of the century, Roebling Wires were a part of the backbone of American industry.
According to ellarslie.org, the Roebling Company manufactured wire rope for many other uses including elevators, cable cars, tramways, airplanes, shipping, mining, construction, and ski lifts. The company also made wire for electrical lines, telegraphs and telephones, wire cloth and screens, and pre-stressed concrete.
Soon the Roebling Company was building suspension bridge cables for many bridges and continued over the next 80+ years. Their designs let commuters cross rivers from Canada to South America, including the George Washington Bridge connecting New York and New Jersey and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
In Trenton, Roebling held different facilities like a Paper Insulated and Lead Encased Cable Shop, a Waterproof Wire and Cable Department, a Magnet Wire and Coil Shop, and of course, Rope Shops, among others.