Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Blasius & Sons Piano Works

Hope manufacturing co: Hexamer general surveys, volume 24, plate 2331. Retrieved from http://libwww.freelibrary.org/diglib/ecw.cfm?ItemID=MHGSAY00064
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As president of the Board of Trade in 1888, G.G. Green successfully convinced city council to waive local taxes for five years for new industries in attempts to bring more businesses to Woodbury. I'm uncertain of the level of success for this move but it at least spurred the building of the massive Hope Manufacturing factory in 1889 located near the train tracks on Green Avenue and Hopkins; which back then continued across the train tracks. They are listed to have manufactured, "Glass, Iron and Paper Show Cards, and Frames," and employed "250 to 300 hands." The factory itself was built by prominent contractor, Allen Bearley Rorke (shown above). He constructed many fine offices, warehouses, churches and other large structures throughout Philadelphia including the former Horticultural Hall in Fairmount Park. (Encyclopaedia of contemporary, 1890)


Hope Manufacturing had a short existence owing to financial troubles and closed in January 1892. At the time of closing Hope employed 200 hands some of who were owed up to 5 weeks' wages. G.G. Green and other wealthy citizens aided the distressed workmen, but some refused to accept charity (Distress at Woodbury, 1892). G.G. Green purchased the building at Sheriff's sale and in June of 1892 and then sold it to A. Seigel of Philadelphia who announced a paper manufactory. Instead, Seigal sold the building to Blasius later in July of the same year. "Blasius & Sons of Philadelphia was established in about 1855, and they built exceptionally well made, expensive pianos until the Great Depression era. In 1887, Blasius took control of the Charles Albrecht Piano Company, one of the oldest piano manufacturers in America. Along with the Albrecht name, Blasius & Sons also built pianos under the "Regent" brand name as an affordable alternative to the costlier Blasius brand... Because of their high cost when new, Blasius pianos were never built on a huge scale like many other American piano manufacturers. Sadly, they are not very common today." ("Blasius & sons") According to a vintage Blasius trade card "the World's Greatest Acoustician, THOS. A. EDISON says: "My experiments prefer the 'BLASIUS' in Tone, Finish, Workmanship and Construction" The BLASIUS PIANO surpasses all others."


*** These guys...

... in here...
a Blasius Upright Piano
... made this!
"Unable to fill their orders with their present accommodations [in Philadelphia], the firm of Blasius & Sons will remove their extensive piano manufacturing plant to Woodbury, N. J. The excellent pianos manufactured by this enterprising firm have been ordered so heavily from all over the United States and Mexico, that with their present facilities they are unable to fill their orders. The firm consequently had to seek enlarged quarters. The delay in building would cripple the firm seriously in filling their orders, and a large manufactory suitable for the purpose was sought. It was found at Woodbury, N. J., in the old plant of the Hope Manufacturing Company, which was bought at Sheriff's sale for $180,000. All the employees of the firm of Blasius & Sons met at the Chestnut street store at 1 o'clock to-day and were taken to Woodbury, where they were received by a committee of citizens and royally welcomed. The employees then selected temporary homes, which will be occupied until the new homes for them, which Blasius & Sons will build, are ready. On Tuesday next ground will be broken for 300 houses on the outskirts of Woodbury, where a new city is to be built. The place will be lighted by electricity from the plant at the main factory, and an opera house, gymnasium and reading-room will be erected for the workmen. The removal of the plant will also commence on Tuesday, and the work of Blasius & Sons will in a short time all be done at the Woodbury factory. This will at the start take over four hundred people to Woodbury, which will be a big addition to the population of that beautiful New Jersey town.—Philadelphia Call." ("Will move their," 1891)

Blasius building in back w/ steam train.

Charles Blasius died in his Philadelphia home March 16th, 1894. Eventually, on September 20th, 1919, Blasius filed a certificate of dissolution in the state of New Jersey. I believe they may have continued operations in Philadelphia until around 1925 when they completely folded. Around 1916 Philip Wuest, organist for the Kemble Church and friend Preston F. Rice, former Blasius superintendent, began leasing space in the building and continued the manufacture of Pianos and also sold various phonographs (see ad) under the name of Rice-Wuest Piano Company. Philip Wuest was also previously involved with Blasius in some capacity as he was named assignor to a musical instrument patent for Blasius in 1909. In 1917 it was announced that the Philadelphia Wood Art Company would be renting the first floor of the Blasius building in the manufacture of gun stock for the war effort and employed about 50 men. ("To manufacture gun," 1917) Later in 1918 the third and fourth floor were rented and used by the U.S. Ordnance Department where "several thousand empty shells are stored, under a guard of Uncle Sam's soldier boys." ("Blasius building sold," 1919) ("Blasius building for," 1918) It was reported in early 1918 that the U.S. Government was interested in leasing the entire building and most likely would have taken steps in this direction had the Great War not ended later that year. Eventually, Rice-Wuest moved to the Old Castor Work building near the Woodbury Creek and the Wood Art Company was evicted for non-payment of their rent. Early in 1919, Philadelphia firm, Belber Trunk Company purchased the building to operate their manufacturing of quality travel bags and wardrobe steamer trunks. Belber employed around 200 hands. In 1949, following a union dispute, Belber removed to Altoona, PA.

The threat of fire to this extraordinarily large building was always a concern. As early as 1899 Blasius upgraded their fire extinguisher system to address this concern. The new system included automatic alarms and an overhead sprinkler supplied from three 30,000 gallon tanks from the City water service, several hundred feet of hose, and a force pump; a fire prevention system that was surely revolutionary at the time. By 1970, Maurlee Co. Inc., manufacturer of heating and air conditioning ducts, occupied the building and on a Monday night in March a fire alarm was pulled outside the building. The Woodbury Fire Department responded quickly, however the building's fire extinguishing system had been shut off by the arsonist involved, a disgruntled Maurlee employee (Shryock, 2010)The Friendship Fire Company website describes the scene: "The fire burned going from window to window, floor to floor like someone was turning on light switches in each room. Fire companies from Gloucester and Camden Counties contained the blaze. The Woodbury water reservoir was dropped 13-ft. (about 7.8 million gallons) and the Woodbury lake system was lowered 4-ft (estimated at about 2.5 million gallons). The next day, the only thing left was the stair towers which were knocked down for safety. The basement although filled with water still contained the contents of a four story building and the pile that was left of the building smoldered until Saturday" (Garter, 2011). It is still to this day referred to the worst fire in Gloucester County. For more details on the blaze please visit Friendship Fire Company's history page HERE.

Image: Friendship Fire Co. #1
West side of Blasius building March 9-10, 1970
Another beautiful Woodbury Victorian structure lost to fire.
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*** Grand action finishing dep't, Blasius & Sons piano factory, Woodbury, NJ, ca. 1895
For more amazing images, like this one and the ones below of the fine workers at Blasius taken circa 1895, please visit the online collection at Hagley Museum and Library: http://www.hagley.lib.de.us/libimages/Blasius.html

Side glueing department, Blasius & Sons piano factory, Woodbury, NJ, ca. 1895
Office and cashier, Blasius & Sons piano factory, Woodbury, NJ, ca. 1895
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(1890). Encyclopaedia of contemporary biography, of Pennsylvania . (Vol. II, p. 213). New York: Atlantic publishing & engraving company. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=h68bAQAAMAAJ&pg=RA4-PA213&lpg=RA4-PA213&dq="hope manufacturing company" woodbury&source=bl&ots=FrOZuROeKa&sig=KGiauuO7Ruh8CJykJccOxer5nDQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=d0nKUKjkB5Tk8gS25oDwAw&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAw

(1891). Will move their plant. Music trade review, 555. Retrieved from http://mtr.arcade-museum.com/MTR-1891-A/MTR-1891-A-521.pdf

Blasius & sons. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.antiquepianoshop.com/online-museum/blasius-sons/

Blasius building for U.S. warehouse. (1918, Mar 23). Woodbury daily times, p. 1.

Blasius building sold. (1919, Jan 28). Woodbury daily times, p. 1.

Dillon, J. L. (Photographer). (1895). Charles Blasius & sons piano factory . [Print Photos]. Retrieved from http://www.hagley.lib.de.us/libimages/Blasius.html

Distress at Woodbury. (1892, Jan. 22). Philadelphia Inquirer

Gartner, D. (2011, Jul 3). Belber trunk fire. Retrieved from http://home.comcast.net/~dwaynegartner/FireStuff.html

Hexamer, E. (1890, Feb 3). Hope manufacturing co: Hexamer general surveys, volume 24, plate 2331. Retrieved from http://libwww.freelibrary.org/diglib/ecw.cfm?ItemID=MHGSAY00064

Shryock, B. (2010, March 21). Back in 1970, a blaze ignited that was so immense it changed the face of Woodbury. Gloucester County Times.

Struck plant starts up in new location. (1949, Oct 17). Altoona mirror.

To manufacture gun stocks in Blasius building. (1917, Apr 23). Woodbury daily times, p. 1.

Will Go to Woodbury. (1892, Jul 8). Philadelphia Inquirer.



2 comments:

Dwayne said...

I have linked this page from the Friendship Fire Company Belber Trunk fire page.

https://home.comcast.net/~dwaynegartner/hist_belber_trunk_fire.html

I happen to have a Belber Trunk.

As far as the fire at Gray Towers, the next chance I get I will look in the company minutes but most fires did not get reported on at the company meetings since it was a Woodbury Fire Department matter and it was a minor fire at that.

Dwayne Gartner
historian
Friendship Fire Company #1
Woodbury, NJ

Village Green said...

Thank you Dwayne! I enjoy your history page. Please do keep me posted about anything you may have regarding the Green Mansion fire in 1968. Probably the best way to message me is through my Facebook page for this blog: https://www.facebook.com/VillageGreenPreservationSociety