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Waterfront: Business and Manufacturing - Center for Brooklyn History

Freight Trains at the New York Dock Company Docks, Red Hook, Brooklyn, v1973.5.878. Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection, v1973.5, Brooklyn Historical Society.

This guide is intended to aid researchers looking for material related to the history of items manufactured within and around Brooklyn at Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS). For comprehensive, current and more advanced research, search terms including Manufacturing, Industry, Factory, and subject headings including Industries — New York (State) — New York, Trade Catalogs, and Factories should be searched in the catalog and archival finding aids portal.

This guide does not include material related to industry and manufacturing within the Brooklyn Navy Yard. For information on collections relevant to the Navy Yard, please see Brooklyn Navy Yard Research Guide.

This resource guide is divided into five sections: A. Online Resources, B. Archival Materials pre-Consolidation (1898), C. Archival Materials post-Consolidation (1898), D. Published Materials, and E. Select Bibliography. Within each section, items are organized alphabetically by collection name. Please note that archival materials are broken into two sections, pre- and post- borough consolidation (1895).

Archival Materials are available by appointment for viewing in the library. To schedule an appointment or for further information about these collections, please contact the library via email at [email protected] and review visitor guidelines.

Online Resources

These online, publicly accessible databases are available from home and may aid in research into companies and products including determining location.

Brooklyn Directories (1796, 1822-1913, 1933)
Link to Resource.

Hosted by the Brooklyn Public Library, the digitized Brooklyn directories feature four different varieties data: city directories (residential information), business directories, “Elite” directories (organized by address), and Blue Book (society listings).

Historic Atlases (1855-1920)
Link to Resource.

Historic atlases can help determine information including a buildings age, a locations former use and changes in structures over time. The NYPL has a selection digitized, but select years are also available in person at BHS (see the Atlas Index here for more information on the BHS collection).

Brooklyn Daily Eagle (1841-1955)
Link to Resource.

The Brooklyn Public Library has scanned and made freely available the full run of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (1841-1955), Brooklyn’s largest newspaper and one of the most useful resources available for any type of 19th and 20th century Brooklyn research.  Searching the Eagle can yield a wealth of information about past residents of a particular address, construction and architectural details, notable events and occurrences at the building, or advertisements for employment.

Archival Materials: Pre-Borough Consolidation (-1898)

Primary source materials in this section may be viewed in the library reading room by appointment. To make an appointment, interested users can email [email protected] This list of materials is not intended to be comprehensive and interested users should also search BHS’s finding aids portal for additional materials.

American Sugar Refining Company records, 1876-2001
Call Number 2008.042
2.25 Linear Feet
Link to finding aid.

This collection includes annual reports describing the business operations of the firm (1907-1951), publications featuring photographs and stories about some of those workers (1876-circa 2000), and items relating to a Domino Sugar refinery labor dispute (1999-2001).

Charles M. Higgins papers, 1854-1929
Call Number: 1978.114
1.4 Linear Feet
Link to finding aid.

This collection contains the personal papers of prominent ink manufacturer and creator of Higgins American India Ink Charles M. Higgins (1854-1929). His company’s operations were located in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope.

Edward L. Megill Company records, 1870-1881
Call Number 1994.005
0.5 Linear Feet
Link to finding aid.

The Edward L. Megill Company records consist of account books, daybooks and ledgers of the company (established in 1869), which manufactured gauge pins invented by Edward L. Megill for the Planten Printing Press.

Thomas Burkhard Coppersmith Company records, 1883-1909
Call Number: 1991.044
1.25 Linear Feet
Link to finding aid.

This collection contains account and production books, as well as advertising handbills, customer lists, order books, and clippings for the Thomas Burkhard Coppersmith Company. Founded in New York City in 1836 and moved to Brooklyn in 1891, the company was a leading manufacturer of copper kettles for the confectionary and pharmaceutical industries during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Urbahn Family papers, circa 1880s-1920s
Call Number: ARC.307
1 Linear Foot
Link to finding aid.

The collection consists of photographs, artifacts, and ephemera relating to the Urbahn family of Brooklyn, New York, dating from circa 1880s to circa 1920s. The family operated a textile manufacturing business under the name A. Urbahn’s Sons, and the collection includes samples of goods such as spun and dyed silk, silk ribbons, terry cloth, spools of thread, a woman’s stole, and hat ornaments. It also includes family photographs, business and trade cards, hair belonging to Norma (Urbahn) de Castillia, and genealogical information on the Urbahn family.

Archival Materials: Post-Borough Consolidation (1898-Present)

The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce publications, 1919-2004
Call Number ARC.165
0.63 Linear Feet
Link to finding aid.

The collection contains monthly and weekly periodicals, annual reports, one business directory, and the Brooklyn Manufacturers’ Industrial Exposition program (1922).

The Brooklyn Pharmacy and Medicine Bottles collection, circa 1880 to 1920
Call Number 2013.022
4.1 Linear Feet
Link to finding aid.

The collection consists of 29 pharmacy and medicine bottles of various sizes produced or used by Brooklyn druggists, pharmacies, and pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, dating from around 1880 to 1920.

The Clarence H. Wilkens collection of A. Schrader’s Son, Inc. records,  1916-1957
Call Number: 2014.021
0.1 Linear Feet
Link to finding aid.

The collection includes A. Schrader’s Son company photographs, correspondence, and ephemera, collected by Clarence H. Wilkens while he was employed by the company, dating from 1916 to 1957.

Drake Bakeries photographs, circa 1917 to 1949
Call Number: v1987.007
0.26 Linear Feet
Link to finding aid.

The Drake Bakeries photographs, dating from circa 1917 to 1949 and measuring .26 linear feet, consist of 61 black-and-white photographic prints documenting Drake Bakeries, Inc. Available in the reading room via Past Perfect database.

The Eberhard Faber Pencil Company collection, 1924-1988
Call Number ARC.028
1.5 Linear Feet
Link to finding aid.

The collection consists of materials relating to the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company, the oldest pencil manufacturing company in the United States. The collection dates from 1924 to 1988 and includes product catalogues, promotional materials, a company account ledger, an employee sales manual, photographs, and a publication describing the activities and history of the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company. The collection is organized into two series: Records and Photographs. The Photographs can be viewed via the Past Perfect database in the library.

J.A.R. Elliott Company records, 1900 – 1952
Call Number 1987.001
6.5 Linear Feet
Link to finding aid.

The J.A.R. Elliott Company records span the period 1900 to 1952 and mostly concern the manufacture and sale of the Elliott Perfect Ear Protector from the years 1903 to 1930. Additional records include Ear Protector testimonials, publicity materials, layouts, clippings, advertisements, ledgers, ephemera, bills, and a scrapbook containing correspondence and documents for foreign patents.

Manufacturers’ Association of New York annual banquet programs, 1908 – 1909
Call Number: 1986.004
0.1 Linear Feet
Link to finding aid.

This collection contains two items from the Manufacturers’ Association of New York: a program for the Association’s 15th annual banquet held at the Union League Club in Brooklyn, dated 1908. The program includes a seating chart and a list of diners.

Matthew Lewandowski jewelry dies and papers, 1975-2012
Call Number: 2012.018
12.25 Linear Feet
Link to finding aid.

This collection consists of steel dies (also called hubs) used for the stamping of hollow-form earrings and other jewelry. The dies were designed and manufactured by Matthew Lewandowski, owner of the Matthew Tool and Die company. In addition to the dies, the collection contains papers related to Lewandowski’s business, and digital files consisting of photographs, audio recordings, and video recordings.

Spiller collection of Brooklyn product labels, circa 1900-1930
Call Number: 2014.024
0.01 Linear Feet
Link to finding aid.

This collection contains 25 product labels produced by Brooklyn pharmaceutical manufacturers from the early 20th century. Companies represented in the collection include Brigandi Laboratories, Central Supply Company, Atlas Drug Company, and Barget Pharmacy. The type of products included are lipstick, oral hygiene products, haircare products, toilet water, mosquito oil, and a vitamin/iron supplement

Wellmade Glove records, 1941-1964
Call Number: ARC.224
2.09 Linear Feet
Link to finding aid.

The Wellmade Glove records are comprised of business and financial records kept by Louis Lebman, the owner and operator of Wellmade Glove, throughout the period 1941 to 1964. Items include account books, receipt books, checkbooks, and ledgers in which Lebman recorded expenses and transactions with leather manufacturers, accessory and clothing vendors, and various other businesses and individuals.

William J. Myers scrapbook, 1905 – 1931
Call Number: 1978.111
0.01 Linear Feet
Link to finding aid.

Loose pages from a scrapbook chronicling the life of William J. Myers as president of the National Association of Stove Manufacturers, the Manufacturers Association of Brooklyn, and Union Stove Works. Included are articles, clippings, correspondence and congratulatory letters, obituaries, and guest and seating lists from receptions and events. Also included is a copy of The Hardware Reporter from 1911 containing a biography of Myers.

Printed Materials

Using the subject heading “trade catalogs” in Bobcat, users can view printed and published catalogs that now document various industries throughout Brooklyn and New York. For more materials of this kind, please search our library catalog for the subject heading “Trade Catalogues”.

A. E. Moeller Co., A.E. Moeller Co. :Manufacturers Of Thermometers, Hydrometers, Hygrometers, Marine Instruments, Etc. (1910)
Main Collection: QC270 .M64 1910

Empire Moulding Co. :Manufacturers Of Plain, Embossed, Turned And Twist Mouldings, Spindles And Ornaments (1910)
Main Collection: TH2553 .E47 1910

Freeport Manufacturing Company: Handkerchiefs, Dress Goods, Fancy Work Novelties, Etc (19–?)
Main Collection: TS1731 .F74 1900z

Jos. H. Meyer Bros, Richelieu Pearls :True Reproductions Of Real Oriental Pearls (1920)
Main Collection: NK7680 .J67 1920

Oran McCormick, Oran Mccormick’s Popular Priced, High-grade-style, Brooklyn Made Footwear For Women (1950)
Main Collection: GT2130 .O73 1950

Schoemann and Mayer, INC, S & M Art Cages: Exquisite Homes For Birds (1939)
Main Collection: QL676.5 .S36 1939

Select Bibliography

BHS’s extensive printed materials in the main collection can assist in research on manufacturing in the Brooklyn and New York Area. All included materials can be viewed in the reading room without appointment — except The Civil, Political, Professional and Eccleiastical History and Commercial Industrial Record of the Country of Kings and the City of New York, which is an archival object that has been digitized here. This short section is intended as a starting point for manufacturing research in the reading room. Interested users should also search in our library catalog under subject headings.  Call numbers are in the LOC format. Call numbers preceded by “Main Collection” and “Reference” are available to users in the open stacks in the library reading room. To access materials with call numbers preceded by “Closed Stacks,” “Special Collections,” or “Reference Desk” users will need to show the title and call number to library staff, who will then be able to retrieve the volumes.

Brown, Joshua and David Ment, Factories, Foundries, and Refineries: A History of Five Brooklyn Industries, (1980)
Reference Desk: F129.B7 M46 1980

Cohen, Stuart, Stanley Kogan, Frank Marcellino Brooklyn Industrial Development: Typescript :Thesis Report (c. 1955)
Main Collection: HD7406 .C64p 1955

Comley, W.J., Comley’s History of the State of New York (1887)
Main Collection: F119 .C73 1877

Demeritt, Dwight B. Brooklyn Gunsmiths and Gunmakers (1966?)
Main Collection: TS533.3.N58 D46 1966

Edwards, Richard, An Historical And Descriptive Review Of The City Of Brooklyn And Her Manufacturing And Mercantile Industries :Including Many Sketches Of Leading Public And Private Citizens (1883)
Reference: F129.B7 H578 1883

Goldman, E.S. (ed.) The New York Story :A History Of The New York Clothing Industry (1949)
Main Collection: HD9940.U63 N49 1949

Stiles, Henry R. The Civil, Political, Professional and Ecclesiastical History and Commercial and Industrial Record of the County of Kings and the City of Brooklyn, N.Y. from 1683 to 1884 (1884)
Call Number: 2004.021, also available online

Oral Histories

Voices of Brooklyn oral histories: Waterfront, 2017- (2008.031.8)

Extent: 6 digital audio files

Link to oral history portal.

In 2017, six oral history interviews were conducted as part of the research process for Brooklyn Historical Society’s Waterfront exhibition. Interviews were conducted by Sady Sullivan, Julie Golia, and Svetlana Kitto.

Oral histories can be accessed online via our oral history portal and onsite at Brooklyn Historical Society’s Othmer Library. Restrictions vary according to narrator agreements. Permission to use the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires the permission of both Brooklyn Historical Society and the narrator. For assistance, please consult library staff at [email protected]


This research guide was prepared by Emma Sarconi in Spring 2018. It was prepared with input from BHS’s Public History Department (Katherine Lasdow), who extensively researched this topic in preparation for the Waterfront exhibition, now on view at BHS DUMBO.