How a Bergen St. Booklender's Son Changed the Look of Library Books

by Nat Bodian


In 1939, the Bro-Delle Book Shoppe at 1049 Bergen Street, between Lehigh Avenue and Harding Terrace in Newark's Weequahic section, was running a thriving lending library out of their book store premises.

The only problem was that after a relatively short time, the thin paper jackets on the rental books frayed and tore easily, shortening the book's lending life.

The shop owners, Ruth and Samuel Brody, had talked about this jacket problem with their 19-year old son, Arthur -- a recent Weequahic High School graduate (Feb. 1939). After some thought, he came up with an idea that he believed might be able to get his parents' bookshop a longer rental life for their books

He went to a place that manufactured sheets of clear plastic and experimented with various thicknesses, eventually finding a thin sheet that he found to be foldable without special tools.

He cut the sheet down to book jacket size and made the folds in the plastic by using the rubber wringer rollers from his grandmother's wringer washing machine.

He then placed the resulting protective plastic cover over the paper covers of a number of rental book jacket covers in his parent's book rental library.

Nineteen-year old Arthur Brody's idea worked. The paper book jackets, when protected by the plastic covers, were virtually indestructible.

Excited by the success of the plastic jacket covers in the Bro-Delle Book Shoppe, Brody decided he would gamble his modest savings by placing an advertisement for the covers in a publication that reached librarians.

He found that Library Journal, based at 1180 Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue) in New York City, reached nearly every public and high school library in the United States.

He went to Library Journal, obtained a meeting with their longtime advertising manager, Les Cooley, and told Cooley what he had done. Brody said he thought Libraries might be interested and asked Cooley to create an ad in Library Journal for his covers for the amount of money he had available.

The ad ran in Library Journal.

It brought in orders from scattered libraries, and Brody kept repeating the advertising, using the income from library orders to buy repeat ads1.

Thus was born the Brodart Company in 1939, and the birth of a new industry -- the plastic book jacket industry.

Today, it is a multi-divisional company which Arthur Brody still heads as its active CEO. It has headquarters in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and well over 1,000 employees.

And today, plastic book jacket covers are manufactured in plants worldwide, and there is hardly a public library in the United States -- or, for that matter, in any large library in any country of the world, where at least some of the books are not protected by a variation of the plastic book jacket covers created by Arthur Brody on Bergen Street in Newark in 1939.

Currently, in addition to book jacket covers, for which all of Arthur Brody's early patents have long since expired, Brody's company, The Brodart Company, sells a complete line of library supplies, equipment, and systems, as well as books, to libraries worldwide.

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(An earlier version of this memory appeared in "The Joy of Publishing" by Nat Bodian, Open Horizons Publishing Co., Fairfield, Iowa, 1996).


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