John R. Evans
& Company


The John R. Evans Company at manufactured leather at its factory at 2nd and Erie Streets in North Camden. John R. Evans was a major employer in Camden, and one of the largest of several leather factories in the city. Founded in 1858, the business employed up to 700 people before its closing shortly before the December 19, 1971 fire which destroyed the entire five-building complex. The plant had been involved in or threatened by fire at several times previous in its long history.

Four John R. Evans employees, Francis J. Knox, Norbert C. Rowan, Morris Wilson Rickenbach Jr., and Raymond Price, gave their lives for America during World War II. 

Another company, located nearby at 72 Erie Street, was also in the leather manufacturing business for many years. Known at different times as McNeely & Company, Allied Kid, and the Julius Brand Leather Company, this factory remained in operation into the early 1970s.


Camden Courier-Post - February 22, 1928
$225,000 FIRE RUINS 5 UPTOWN PLANTS

HOW FLAMES GUTTED BIG INDUSTRIAL BUILDING

RESIDENTS FLEE AS FLAMES RAGE IN BIG BUILDING
Factory of Evans Leather Co. Saved by Valiant Work of Firemen
APPARATUS IS DISABLED; DEBRIS BURIED FIRE PLUG
Metal Stamping Firm, Textile Concern Heavy Losers; Pattern Shop Saved
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Click in Images to Enlarge

Camden Courier-Post - February 22, 1928

FENCE THAT HAMPERED FIREMEN

The upper view shows the fence at the end of Segal Street, above Erie Street, which firemen say hampered the during yesterday's big fire which caused $225,000 damage. The insert shows how a fireplug was blocked. The lower sketch is a bird's eye view of where the fences are located in relation to the big blaze. Officials of several plants destroyed by fire say they will demand from city officials an explanation as to why the fence was built.


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Letter to the Editor - February 22, 1928
Click in Images to Enlarge

Letter to the Editor - February 29, 1928
Allied Metal Stamping Company - John R. Evans Company
Bernard Gallagher - George W. Johnson  
North 2nd Street - Erie Street - Front Street -
Segal Street

Camden Courier-Post - March 12, 1930.

Camden Courier-Post - June 24, 1933

Stricken by Food in Camden Factory

Two girl employees of the RCA Victor Company who are among nearly 100 persons suffering from ptomaine poisoning as the result of eating from "box lunches." Miss Clara Schaeffer, left, of Gloucester, and Miss Violetta Brown, Brooklawn, were confined to their beds at their homes last night after receiving treatment at Cooper Hospital.

60 OVERCOME WHILE AT WORK IN  RCA VICTOR; PROBE STARTED
New York Ship Employees Sent to Hospital From Ptomaine
WORKERS OF 4 FIRMS LISTED AMONG VICTIMS
Sandwiches Served by Philadelphia Caterer Believed to Be Responsible

Nearly 100 Camden factory and shipyard workers were poisoned yesterday after eating food contained in box lunches.

More than 60 of the workers, stricken at their machines in. the RCA Victor Company plants, were rushed to the company's dispensary and local hospitals. Many are reported in serious condition.

At the New York Shipbuilding Company others became ill after partaking of the lunches. Four are in West. Jersey Homeopathic Hospital recovering from the effects of the poisoned food. At least three more were stricken at the leather plant of the John R. Evans Company, Second and Erie Streets.

In Philadelphia more than a score of laundry workers were carried to physicians and hospitals, all said to be victims of contaminated foods. Physicians believed all would recover.

Dr. David D. Helm, city sanitary inspector, believed the ptomaine condition resulted from the eating of egg sandwiches.

Dr. Helm, along with Sergeant Rox Saponare and detectives, last night questioned Ray Konst, 3313 D Street, Philadelphia, owner of a Philadelphia box lunch concern.

Put Ban on Sales

Following the quizzing, Konst was ordered to refrain from further selling of the box lunches in Camden, pending the result of an investigation. He also must obtain complete approval from the Philadelphia Board of Health before being allowed to resume operations here. 

The boxes, distributed by Konst, are labeled "The Majestic Lunch." Konst declared that never before had complaint reached him as to the quality of his food. 

"I have ordered distribution of Majestic Lunches in Camden be stopped," Dr. Helm said, "until the investigation has been completed and the health authorities in Philadelphia to whom all evidence will be given because they supervise this company, give them a clean bill of health."            

Two of the box lunches have been obtained by police and will be chemically analyzed today by order of Dr. A. L. Stone, city health officer.

Konst assured police he would assist in any manner possible to learn the source and nature of the foodstuff causing the illness.

Woman First Victim

'The first illness occurred shortly after 3 p. m. at the RCA Victor plant. A young woman was overcome after partaking of a glass of water. She was taken to the dispensary where Dr. Reuben L. Sharp said she was suffering from ptomaine poisoning. 

Within a short time several other girls and men in various sections of the plant were stricken. Some fainted at their machines and had to be carried to the dispensary.

Soon Dr. Sharp and his staff of nurses had more than, they could handle. Private automobiles were pressed into service and many of the victims taken to Cooper Hospital, where stomach pumps were used to clear their bodies of the poisonous food.

One man, B. H. Poole, 40, of 144 North Sixtieth street, Philadelphia, was admitted and his condition described as serious.

Others were treated and sent to their homes, where many were at­tended last night by their personal physicians.

Girl Describes Scene

Miss Clara. Shaeffer, 19, of 226 South Fifth Street, Gloucester, employed at the RCA Victor, told of the scenes near her shortly before she became ill and was rushed to Cooper Hospital for treatment.

"I saw many of the girls running upstairs to the restroom," Miss Schaeffer said at her home, where she is confined to bed, "but paid little attention to them, although several had to be assisted up the steps.

"Suddenly I felt sick at my stomach and had a desire for a drink of water. I asked the girl next to me to get me a drink, but she was unable to leave her machine at the time and I walked to the fountain.

"After taking the drink everything seemed to whirl about and I thought I was going to faint. I told my foreman and he ordered me taken to the dispensary.

"When I arrived there the place was filled and someone took me to Cooper Hospital, where the doctor gave me some medicine and I was taken to my home."

Miss Schaeffer said she grew worse after she arrived home and her parents summoned a physician.

Fall at Machines

Others told similar stories of the scenes as worker after worker was stricken. Plant officials said many had fallen where they stood, the ptomaine attack seizing them so suddenly they had no time to summon aid. 

Konst told Detectives Benjamin Simon and John Opfer that he sells more than 200 box lunches in Camden daily. He has agents at the RCA plants, New York Shipyard and at the leather companies.

He also sells more than 500 box lunches daily in Philadelphia.

The lunch yesterday was made up of a cheese sandwich, an egg and lettuce sandwich, a piece of apple pie, cupcake and fruit. Some of the lunches contained tuna fish sandwiches.

Man's Condition Serious

According to Dr. Helm, all of those taken ill had eaten the egg sandwiches, some had partaken of the tuna fish and others of the cheese.

One man became ill when he ate half an egg sandwich given him by a fellow employee late in the afternoon. 

The laundry workers affected were employed at the Forrest Laundry, 1225 West Columbia Avenue, Philadelphia.

One of these, John Gilligan, 52, of 1923 East Willard Street, was taken to St. Luke's and Children's Homeopathic Hospital in a critical condition. 

Police were checking other hospitals to learn if additional victims were unreported. 


Camden Courier-Post - June 30, 1933
Bears Gift to Pope

PRESENT FOR POPE MADE IN CAMDEN
Records of Choir Singing Made by RCA Victor and Binding by Evans Co.

Two products of Camden are linked together in a gift which Pope Pius XI will receive in Rome in a few days.

The gift will be an album enclosing records of the recent RCA Victor recording of a Gregorian Requiem Mass, sung by the Pius X School of Liturgical Music, College of the Sacred Heart, New York City. The leather used in the specially made album was prepared by the John R. Evans Company.

'The record set, issued domestically in the Musical Masterpiece Series of RCA Victor, represented one of the most unusual advances being made in the restoration of liturgical music. In both the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches a revival of interest has been manifested in these settings, especially in plain song.

The liturgical music revival in the Roman Catholic Church has come principally through the influence of the Benedictines, whose Solesmes recordings of earlier date are now well known, also under Victor auspices. The restoration of proper church music in the Episcopal Church has come through the Oxford Movement in England and the consequent Catholic Revival in this country.

The album set, of the standard Red Seal type, was bound in white kid leather, with an accompanying explanatory booklet bound in similar material. The presentation inscription on the cover was completed at the Victor plant in gold leaf.

RT. REV. JOHN J. DUNN Bishop of New York City, who is en-route to Rome bearing an album of RCA Victor religious records to Pope Plus XI. The records were made here and leather for the album also was produced in this city by the John R. Evans Company.

The set is at present on the high seas. Rt. Rev. John J. Dunn, bishop of New York, taking it aboard the Conte de Savoia en route to an audience with the Pontiff. Mother Stevens, executive director of the Pius X School, whose choir sang the recordings, made arrangements for the presentation.    


BLUE COLLAR WORK
Robert A. Stanton 

During the summer of 1942 I worked as a laborer at a large factory, and my experience there has affected my opinions on labor relations ever since. 

The J. R. Evans Company Leather Factory at at 2nd and Erie Streets in Camden, New Jersey was established in 1858, and employed many men to remove wool from sheep skins and tan them into leather. It was a smelly, gloomy, hard working, no-nonsense place, but a lot of men made their living there. My job, along with several other 18 year olds, was to hang tanned wet skins on hooks in a dryer, and bundle them up as they came out dry at the other end. The skins had previously been treated with a sulfur compound, the wool scraped off, washed and sold, and then tanned. 

There was some razzing of "Little Joe" the general Foreman, who spoke several Slavic languages in order to deal with his many foreign-born workers, but there was no outward hostility. In fact, I classified this company as an old-time Patronial firm where the owners looked out for their employees. In addition to a medical office with a nurse on duty, there were graphic signs on every wall showing what an Anthrax infection looked like and what to do about it immediately. 

We came to work before 7 a.m. and started things going. At 9:30, the whistle blew and we all went to the cafeteria for cheap coffee and breakfast. At 12 noon, work stopped for lunch, then we stopped again at 2:30 for another snack break, finally going home at 5. I think I made less than a dollar an hour, which wasn't too bad for those pre-war days. However, late in the summer word was passed around that an attempt would be made to unionize the factory. We were all invited to a meeting elsewhere in the city, and Brother Goldberg from Union Headquarters in New York spoke to the many Evans workers. 

I will never forget his impassioned speech, which sounded like it came right out of the Karl Marx handbook. He said, "You men work, you work, you work your selves to death in a lousy stinking place. And what do you get? A few lousy dollars a week. And what do your rich bosses do? They eat all the best food off of silver plates with their gold knives and forks, and drink champagne from crystal glasses and enjoy all the money you made for them." This continued over and over in the exact same vein for forty minutes, and then he shouted, "We want a strike!" Some hollered, "Yes!" but that wasn't enough. He kept ranting the same thing until finally most of the men in the hall hollered "Yes!" because it was late and they wanted to go home. 

The next week they went out on strike and the factory shut down for a long time. My buddy and I left for good because school was starting in a few weeks and we could go back to cooking hamburgers somewhere, but the factory was never the same. The men probably got a few more dollars a week, with fewer hours per day, but it was a long time before they made up for those lost weeks. 

Since then, I have had many men working for me in chemical plants and I have always been concerned for their safety and welfare, as well as compassionate for the people who actually do the hard work. I still agree that unions were needed to protect workers from heartless management. However, I despise professional union organizers who generate class hatred in order to increase the size and prestige of their national union. 

Present day socialists and liberal writers continue to condemn successful business men as "Robber Barons" and "Cut-throat Capitalists" (See Smithsonian Magazine, January 2011. ) and are equally prejudiced against people who risk their money to start businesses. There have, of course, been many company owners who have misused and neglected their workers, but no union or political party has ever built a factory and created jobs for "blue collar' workers. 

Concern for the health and welfare of working men has been a controversial subject for centuries. In the early years of the Industrial Revolution, democracy was still a new concept and the welfare of the working man wasn't even considered. Factory owners assumed that people were glad to get jobs and would work in any condition. Unfortunately, as businesses grew, that attitude persisted. 

People now agree that the men who build the machines and things we use should have a safe and healthy place to work and there are many laws to insure that. But what about the man who invests his money to start a business? Shouldn't he also be allowed to make money by selling a product? 

A small business with a few employees is much like a family. The workers know the man who started it, work hard to make it succeed, and if paid well, do not resent the boss when he gets a return on his investment. After all, what other reason would a man have to invest his money to start a business if he didn't want to make money? 

Suppose his company grows bigger with many employees and foremen and supervisors to manage them. Fewer employees remember the man that started the company, but if their pay and working conditions are good, they have no reason to hate him. A man with a family to feed and a job with steady pay might wish for more but doesn't want to risk his family's welfare. This is probably the level where labor relations are not a problem. 

However, as companies grew bigger with stockholders and multiple factories, a disconnect between management and labor began to develop. Management began to consider labor as just one of the costs of doing business, and the laborers felt like unimportant cogs in their machine. Even small gripes turned into major problems if not handled properly. Poor management practices that ignored the welfare of the workers soon invited problems and were the exact reason that unions were formed. 

Today, it almost seems that we have come full circle. The treatment of employees by large companies is now fairly well controlled by health and labor laws, while large national unions seem to be in decline. The high cost of union labor has probably driven much of our manufacturing overseas. The unionizing of government employees seems particularly unnecessary, because the heartless management that oppresses them is none other than we, the American people! 

Time will ultimately sort out the correct roles of workers and investors. Less government control of business and more cooperation between Management and Labor should be of value to both sides. 



John R. Evans & Company Factory
As Seen North on Segal Street - Summer of 1971

Segal Street Kids - Floyd Miller Jr., Vennie Miller, Bobby Reed, & Frank Houser Jr.
Photo Courtesy of Floyd L. Miller Jr.

On December 19, 1971, at 3:39 P.M., Box 1415 was transmitted for a reported factory at the John R. Evans Leather Company, Second and Erie Streets, North Camden. As units of the 1st Battalion left quarters to respond, a huge, menacing column of black smoke could be seen looming to the north. At the height of the fire, this column was visible as far away as Burlington County, over twenty miles from the City. First arriving units transmitted second, third and fourth alarms in quick succession as fire spread rapidly through three blocks of one hundred year old brick and frame buildings.

Numerous special calls for mutual aid, above the fourth alarm were made as fire extended to nearby dwellings. The entire five building complex was destroyed. This Camden landmark founded in 1858, closed just prior to the fire and had employed over 700 people. During the fire, Ladder Company 3 had its water tower in operation with aerial raised to maximum extension. Without warning, the turntable sheared from it's mount and lifted off the apparatus, plunging the ladder and Fire Fighter Thomas DiBiaso over fifty feet to the roof of an adjoining building. The turntable operator, Fire Fighter David Sanders, was also injured. Fire Fighter DiBiaso would be retired as a result of his disabling injuries. 

Five neighborhood juveniles were arrested and charged with setting the fire. 

At 5:29 PM on August 23, 1972 fire would again strike the old leather factory, with disastrous results. Remembered as the Poet's Row fire, a combination of high winds, low water pressure, apparatus awaiting parts to be purchased for repair, and a lack of manpower gave Camden arguably the greatest fire disaster the city had ever experienced, rivaling and in some ways surpassing the Hollingshead fire of July 1940. Flaming embers from the Evans buildings ignited homes in the Poets Row neighborhood of North Camden. When all was said and done, all the homes on both sides of the 200 blocks of Milton Street and Burns Street had been destroyed, as well as all the homes on the north side of the 200 block of Byron Street, and several on the south side. A number of properties on Erie Street were also heavily damaged.

As with the web page covering other Camden Fire Department events, if you can identify anyone that I've missed, please e-mail me. (I'm terrible at at names and faces). I'm somewhat behind as of this writing in captioning photos, as things have been quite busy since New Years Day! 

Phil Cohen
January 26, 2012

CLICK ON IMAGES FOR ENLARGED
AND HIGH RESOLUTION VIEWS

Camden Courier-Post - December 20, 1971
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Thomas DiBiaso
David Sanders
John R. Evans Leather Company
Pierce Avenue
Berkley Street
North 2nd Street
Erie Street

 

Dense smoke billows from former John R. Evans Company leather tanning plant in North Camden
Photo by Robert Cave

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Jack Plaskett - Joseph M. Nardi - James Bienkowski

Ladder Company 3 (second alarm Truck) gets water on fire at the former John R. Evans Leather Company leather tanning plant in North Camden on December 19, 1971. Firefighter Thomas J. DiBiaso operating the ladder nozzle. This incident went to a Fourth Alarm. Photo by Bob Bartosz


Photo taken moments after Ladder Company 3's aerial fell, severely injuring  Firefighter Thomas J. DiBiaso. Photo by Bob Bartosz

Photo by Bob Bartosz

Photo by Bob Bartosz


It took 3-1/2 hours to bring the blaze under control. This phot and the one below were taken shortly before the wall collapsed, as also depicted below and on the cover of FIRE ENGINEERING magazine's March 1972 edition. Photo by Bob Bartosz


Photo by Bob Bartosz

Photo by Bob Bartosz

John R. Evans & Company
 factory wall collapsing

March 1972 Edition
FIRE ENGINEERING
Magazine

The Fire
of
December 19, 1971
John R. Evans
&
Company Plant
Destroyed

Photo by Bob Bartosz


Camden Courier-Post - December 20, 1971
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Angelo D. Malandra - John Giletto - Harold Pike
Thomas DiBiaso - Thomas Grieff
John R. Evans Leather Company
Cooper Hospital
-
North 2nd Street - Erie Street

CLICK ON IMAGES FOR ENLARGED
AND HIGH RESOLUTION VIEWS

The two photos below were taken shortly before the wall collapsed, as depicted above and on the cover of FIRE ENGINEERING magazine's March 1972 edition.



March 1972 Edition
FIRE ENGINEERING
Magazine

The Fire
of
December 19, 1971
John R. Evans
&
Company Plant
Destroyed

Photo by Bob Bartosz


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