The Eisner Factory in Red Bank, New Jersey Supplied Doughboy Uniforms for WWI

by Sharon Hazard on April 23, 2012

    Downton Abbey is the popular PBS television series that takes place in England as World War I threatens to invade the properly-run household of an aristocratic family, the Crawleys.

     World War I was a short-lived conflict and often referred to as the “forgotten war.”  But thanks to this Masterpiece Theater production and the intensely authentic scenery, costumes and uniforms it showcases, that time in history is now being remembered.

     As the story unfolds viewers watch dashingly-dressed men strut around the estate, many in full military uniform.  In 1916 uniforms were a fashion and status statement and men of money wore them even if they were not going off to war.  They usually had them made by their private tailors, unlike the enlisted men who wore mass-produced olive drab knickers, jackets and putties.

     This type of uniform was worn by soldiers from all countries opposed to Germany prior to America’s entry into the War and many of them were made in the United States and shipped overseas by the firms of Brooks Brothers and the Sigmund Eisner Company in Red Bank, New Jersey.

     Sigmund Eisner immigrated to the United States from Bohemia (now part of the Republic of Czechoslovakia) in 1880 at the age of 21 and started an in-home business in Red Bank, New Jersey with two sewing machines.  He was a good businessman and his operation and reputation grew. His specialty became the manufacture of uniforms and his first big contract came in 1898 from the United States Army to outfit troops fighting in the Spanish-American War. 

    In1907 he opened a large factory on Bridge Avenue and installed special machines that allowed the company to turn out uniforms at a faster and more economical pace. He became one of largest employers in Red Bank and took pride in his operation. 

     That is why when his employees threatened to strike in 1910, he was surprised at their accusations.  But after careful inspection, it was declared “The conditions of the clothing factory were better than in any other in the country.”  Mr. Eisner had constructed it after the very best factory models with a more-than sufficient amount of light and air per individual.  It was also reported that when the Eisner Company was in a bidding war over estimates, they usually got the contract because of their factory’s exemplary working conditions.  The workers went back to their posts just in time to fulfill another large contract.  The United States Government had ordered uniforms and buttons for all of their National Park Service Rangers.

     In 1912 the company became the national distributor for Boy and Girl Scout uniforms.  Sigmund Eisner’s friend, Lord Baden-Powell, the Boar War hero, was the founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides in England and had been promoting its United States counterpart, founded by Juliette Gordon Low.

     When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the Eisner Factory was more than ready to outfit its own troops.  Employee figures had jumped from 2,000 the year before to 5,000 to accommodate the large quantities of orders coming in.  The company’s reputation for producing uniforms of durable quality at competitive prices had won  contracts from all over the world and now Eisner’s was able to outfit its country’s own troops with the same wooly, drab “Doughboy” gear most of Europe’s soldiers were wearing.

     Sigmund Eisner passed away in 1925 and his three sons continued making uniforms and military items including flight suits, gas mask hoods and Air Force leather “bomber” jackets until after World War II. 

     The site stood empty and the sound of sewing machines was silenced until 1984 when the building was purchased and transformed into a multi-use complex called the Galleria featuring retail shops, restaurants, services and offices.  It is a testament to Sigmund Eisner’s foresight and architectural sensitivity.

     In 1937 the Eisner Family deeded their beloved Front Street home to the Borough of Red Bank to house the public library.  It was only one of the many contributions made by a family who shared Sigmund Eisner’s commitment to the community in which he had made his fortune. The Eisner Foundation was started in 1996 by Michael D. Eisner, then Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company to focus on the philanthropic activities started by his great-grandfather, Sigmund Eisner.

   

    

    

    

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

glenn T. April 11, 2015 at 6:53 am

hello. are there any books or copy info on: military clothing ww 1 and ww2 by Sigmund Eisner company? other manf. companies? please advise. I”m working on some research.. Thank you. Glenn

Reply

Sharon Hazard April 16, 2015 at 2:09 pm

Hi Glenn: You can email me at sharonhaz@aol.com. I am not sure exactly what you are looking for, but I know the Red Bank Library has a wonderful collection.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: