The Zinc Works

by Jack Keegan


As a youngster I often heard my Father and Grandfather talk about "The Zinc Works". It never really occurred to me to really question them about the locality or what it produced. I do know that many immigrants of Irish Birth were employed there. Coming from the Old Sod with little or no formal education. Remember that Irish Catholics were forbidden to attend school, among other things Ireland was ruled by the minions of the Royal Family in London. The newcomers, mostly farm boys had rudimentary industrial skills. With a scintilla of learning they were offered the most meaning less jobs. Coming to a section of the nation that was part of the industrial revolution, they were ill fit to partake of he more skilled occupations. However they were able to overcome the prejudices against them, went on to feed their families and help them gain an education.

My Grandfather was employed there and my Father made a few pennies collecting lunches from neighborhood wives and delivering them to the workers at The Zinc Works. Remember this was long before Ziploc, refrigeration, thermos bottles and frozen jell to keep food cold. The lunch box had on top a container with a large opening and cover for liquids, below a place to keep sandwiches. The liquid container was filled with tea or soup. Sandwiches were placed in the lower part of the pail with perhaps hard boiled eggs and if available a piece of fruit. All this was done just before lunch, now it was up to the delivery boy to get those lunch pails quickly to the workers. For which he would usually receive a small remuneration.

Over the years I have been trying to get answers about the so called Zinc Works. Most of my requests fell on deaf ears. It was only when I contacted The Newark Public Library that y knowledge about the facility opened up. Thanks to Mr. Charles Cummings and his able assistant April Kane who supplied me with much of the insight that I needed.

It seems that the Zinc Works was in reality the New Jersey Zinc and Iron Company. It was located on many acres of land bounded by Brill and Chapel Streets, the Passaic River and the Morris Canal and it employed about Four Hundred people in its operations. Raw ore from Sussex was transported to the plant by train or barges on the canal or River. The virgin zinc material was then converted, by smelting into useful metals and oxides. In addition iron ore was reduced to pig iron for use in making iron castings. It apparently functioned around the clock six days a week. Perhaps unhealthy by today's standards it certainly gave much needed work to many inhabitants of down Neck. With a yearly output of several millions of dollars worth of zinc and iron products per year, it was a very successful business.


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