Tag Archives: History

NJ: The Linoleum Production Capital of the World

Linoleum production was once big business for New Jersey and for neighboring Staten Island. Production boomed in the 19th and 20th centuries. Kearny, NJ proved to be the center of production for decades.

Production on an Epic Scale

In the December 15, 1940 issue of The Star-Ledger, author Edward J. Mowery wrote, “if there ever was an epic in manufacturing genius, you’ll find it at the 48-acre Kearny plant of Congoleum-Nairn, Inc.”

Linoleum production

Linoleum production at Congoleum-Nairn.

So how did this epic tale begin? Immigration and innovation. According to The Observer, linoleum production came to Kearny from Scotland. Beginning in 1886, the Nairn Linoleum Company purchased property that eventually “became a 63-acre complex that stretched along Passaic Avenue all the way from Belgrove Drive to Bergen Ave.”

Michael Nairn was behind it all. First, he sent a salesperson to rack up American orders of the flooring and shipping them from Scotland. Linoleum became so popular that he realized he needed to open a factory to keep up.

Later becoming Congoleum-Nairn, by 1939, 164 million square yards of linoleum were being produced in America. After a series of mergers, Kearny’s own Congoleum-Nairn was the largest producer of linoleum in the world.

“Hollywood would have a tough time setting the stage for this drama,” wrote Mowery. “The props are from all corners of the earth. They take linseed oil (from Argentine), jute (from India), cork (from Algiers), fossilized resin (from New Zealand), burlap (from Scotland), pigments (from everywhere), place them in plain American gyratory gadgets…and you get linoleum.”

This indeed is a story that only could have begun in the 19th and 20th centuries. Only after world trade became a true possibility. After all of these ingredients from all over the earth could be brought together.

Linoleum: An Economic Boom

An article from the Newark Sunday Call, March 2, 1941, continues the story:

“Fifteen hundred persons in the Kearny-Newark area owe their jobs to the fact that an Englishman, 80 years ago, made the startling discovery that he could walk on oil.”

After spilling the oil, the story goes, it solidified. Frederick Walton discovered he could walk on it, thus giving him the idea for linoleum.

The number of jobs created is staggering. Just consider that in 2008, out of 5,930,132 businesses in America, only 8,283 of those companies had more than 1,500 employees. Then consider that we are talking about 1940.

The scale of production is also amazing. Congoleum-Nairn had more than 100 buildings in Kearny, occupying more than 48 acres of land in 1941. Even the ovens, according to the Newark Sunday Call article, were “six stories high.”

After Congoleum-Nairn swelled to 68 acres, and after America entered World War II, the company shifted much of its production to military supplies. Which included, according to The Observer, “aerial torpedo parts and grenades.” The company still produced linoleum, but it was no longer its main product.

In 1943, tragedy struck when 13 people died in an explosion at the Congoleum-Nairn plant.

Linoleum Production: A Changing Industry

Throughout the following decades, Congoleum morphed, innovated, and invented a number of new products. But in 1986, the company was sold to Hillside Industries. It was exactly 100 years after Michael Nairn began purchasing property in Kearny.

In 2015 NJ.com reported that many factories had been demolished, and that “New York-based DVL, Inc. is constructing a retail development at the site, which once housed a Congoleum-Nairn manufacturing plant.”

Like so much of American history, it has been buried by new development and by demolition.

But linoleum lives on, especially with the development of products like Marmoleum. Just as Americans are turning more to organic foods, they are considering the health, environmental, and safety aspects of their flooring. Linoleum-based products are a viable option for many.

What is Marmoleum!?

What is Marmoleum and why is everyone talking about it?

When people want to know what is Marmoleum, there is some lore that it was originally the result of a truly happy accident that occurred in a crafts shop back in the 1800’s. It is interesting to note that all through history crafts shops used oils that were pressed and harvested mostly from seeds and used as cooking oil or fuel for lamps. There was really no sensible or economic use for oil other than those things because it was so dear and hard to come by.

The 1860’s was the heart of the industrial revolution and when coal was put into use in a very large wholesale manner as fuel and oil was being produced from large scale whale hunting, as well as from huge advances in yield productivity from mechanical farming methods. This all made oil a cheap and inexpensive commodity and people were using it as a base for paints and coatings to decorate everything in sight in Europe. Sailcloth which was harvested from the change over of ship’s sails was used for coarse inexpensive clothing but also as a primitive version of resilient flooring. Painted with oil paints and allowed to dry for weeks this hybrid of a carpet and a painted floor became all the more popular since it was easily to clean and was considered healthy and sanitary as it is today. In fact, the use of linoleum in residential kitchens went a long way to improve food safety and preparation because of it’s clean-ability.

In an odd twist if you were to google up images for linoleum you would see virtually only pictures of other floor products like VCT, asbestos tile, VAT and vinyl sheet material. It is really too bad that the vinyl and plastic industry has been able to dumb down virtually the entire world about the difference between linoleum and vinyl. If you are interested in learning more you can visit the Wikipedia page about Linoleum.

Linoleum Cross Section What is Marmoleum?

A Linoleum Cross Section. What is Marmoleum?

Fast forward to the present day and virtually nothing is unchanged in the production of linoleum or Marmoleum, which was the original and enduring brand of linoleum we still have today. Combining a few ingredients in exacting proportions and making a linseed oil dough that is colored, it is spread on a canvas back and pressed and rolled and combined and accented with all different colors to make the marbleized looking products we still see today. Technology has gone a step further to produce exacting color control to satisfy the fussiest specifiers in the design industry. Some remarkable textures like the crocodile patterns that are tactile and exciting fare bringing linoleum into a whole new design dimension as well. A combination of old, safe, durable and organic technology built on centuries of experience and a modern and constantly evolving design aesthetic makes Forbo Marmoleum a product that will never go out of style. Just kick off your shoes and find out what is Marmoleum.