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39th IAJGS Conference on Jewish Genealogy Jul 28-Aug 2, 2019 Cleveland, Ohio

Merchants and
The Textile Industry

View of Paterson Textile Industry

Paterson Factories 1906

In the early 1900's, the peak period of Jewish immigration, Paterson the textile city was a magnet for Jewish immigrants. From the textile centers in Europe, Lodz, Bialystok, and Odessa, skilled workers poured into the city and settled in the "over-the-river section" near the mills built along the Passaic River. Some became manufacturers and others joined the large textile labor force.

Those unskilled in textiles struggled along as peddlers, walking from house to house with heavy packs on their backs. As they prospered, they traveled by horse and wagon going from place to place advertising their wares in singsong voices. This was the "age of the man" -- the ice man, coal man, seltzer man, dairy man, linen man, clothing man, the scissors and grinder man. Many sold their wares on credit of one dollar per week.

Eventually, the peddlers became the merchants on River Street, Washington Street, Lower Main and Upper Main Street, and Market Street. Day and night the streets were alive with people, and the variety of merchandise was endless: butter, eggs, baked goods, meat, dry goods, furniture, clothing. At one time, a Curb Exchange operated at Washington and Market Street in front of the Hamilton Trust Company. Here in a miniature stock exchange, Jewish textile manufacturers traded in silk yarns and textiles.

Unceasingly the immigrants labored to provide their children with the education that they themselves lacked. From these humble beginnings came a new generation of professionals: the doctors, dentists, lawyers, judges, public officials, poets, musicians, writers, film and theater actors and producers, accountants, scientists, and educators. This new Jewish intelligentsia made a significant contribution to American cultural life.

The Charles Goldman Judaica Library has a list of 150 Jewish merchants who once prospered in Paterson; a few still remain. However, the number of Jewish businesses has declined with the exodus to the suburbs and the rise of highway shopping centers.

The Silk Mills of Paterson

Click on the above link for more information about Jewish participation in the silk industry.

[More still to come at a later date.]

Our Paterson Jewish Heritage
(1987), pp. 28-29