A History of Greenpoint in Twenty-Five Buildings #5: The American Manufacturing Company
For decades the remains of the American Manufacturing Company buildings around West and Noble have stood, hulking and vacant, as a reminder of Greenpoint’s industrial past. Now all that is rapidly changing. Part of it is the Brooklyn Expo Center. Another building houses a furniture store. Part of the long vacant rope works is being transformed into a luxury hotel.
At one point the company occupied sixteen buildings and was Brooklyn’s largest employer with four thousand people, mostly females. The great local writer Margaret Wise Brown’s father was Vice President of the firm, but the majority of the people who worked there were newly arrived immigrant women who worked fifty-six hour weeks for low wages, making rope. Many of the immigrants who settled in Greenpoint first came to work in the plant. Initially, it was the Polish and later in the 1920’s, Puerto Ricans. They were recruited on Puerto Rico and brought here on a special ship.
During World War I, the plant made an amazing fifteen thousand miles of rope for the United States government, but it also saw bitter labor disputes between the management and the workers who tried unsuccessfully to organize a union and get better wages. A 1910 strike led to a ” miniature Battlefield” around the plant as hundreds of Polish women and some men pelted the cops with rocks, bottles and lumps of coal, leading to hundreds of arrests. The mother of the great local artist Joe Bartnikowski was one of the Polish ladies.
Eventually, the plant transitioned from making military ropes to making shoe laces, but went bankrupt sometime in the sixties and laid abandoned for decades. Some of the buildings became warehouses to store used clothes.
In 2006 the fourth largest fire ever in the history of our city took firemen thirty-six hours to control just as people were beginning to debate landmarking the structures. The fire conveniently left part of the site free for real estate development.
The factory’s iconic water tower has been a local visual icon for generations. Hopefully, it can remain as the buildings undergo a makeover.
View more photos of Greenpoint Terminal Market on Flickr.