Wilbur B. Driver Company Records
Scope and Contents
The Wilbur B. Driver Company Papers form a relatively small collection, given the company’s
lengthy operating life and prominence. The papers include dozens of photographs, mainly black
and white, documenting the construction of several WBD plants and other subjects. Some of the
photographs may have been used in promotional material, such as the illustrated commemorative
company booklets in Series V. These booklets contain valuable information regarding the
company’s history, staff, locations, and predominate manufacturing activities at the time the
booklets were produced.
Photographs and drawings included in the papers show that the Florham Park/East Hanover plant was located immediately to the east of Morristown Municipal Airport. A photograph attached to “Summary Report of Hot Mill and Melt Shop Project of East Hanover,” in Series I, Folder 15, places the planned construction north of Columbia Road (then known as South Orange Avenue) and flanking Ridge Lane; an engineering drawing (“Whippany-Esso 34.5 K.V. Transmission Line,” Series I, Folder 3) notes that Ridge Lane was an extension of Park Street.
The area containing Columbia Road and Park Street and bordered by a brook (shown in drawings) may still contain an industrial plant; this plant appears to occupy the northern portion of what was once the WBD property. Please see the Google Maps satellite image printed and attached to this finding aid for an image of the area the WBD plant may have occupied (an unnamed road winds between the remaining plant buildings and Columbia Turnpike). If you are viewing this document online, please click here to view the satellite image. Photographs, topographical surveys, engineering plans, and other documents record WBD’s construction of its Florham Park/East Hanover plant.
- Circa 1900-1920 to 1985
Conditions Governing Use
Researchers wishing to publish reproduce, or reprint materials from this collection must obtain permission.
Biographical / Historical
In May, 1918,2 Wilbur B. Driver founded the company that bore his name, establishing its first factory in Newark. By 1949, the Wilbur B. Driver Company (WBD) had become a wellestablished and respected manufacturer of metal and metal alloy wires, ribbons, strips, and other materials, with a second factory flanking East Hanover and Florham Park and affiliates in Europe.
Court records state that WBD was founded in May 1918, though commemorative WBD historical pamphlets state the company was founded in 1919.
WBD was one of two companies Wilbur either founded or co-founded. In 1900, Wilbur; his brother, Frank Driver; and a friend, Francis Harris, founded the Driver-Harris Company (DriverHarris) in Harrison, New Jersey. After quarreling with his brother, Wilbur left the company in 1905 or 1906; he returned in 1914 (Driver v. Smith, 89 N.J. Eq. 339 (1918)). In May 1918, Wilbur left Driver-Harris for good and established WBD. Both businesses produced heat-resistant wire used in a wide range of consumer, military, and manufacturing applications.
When he left Driver-Harris to establish WBD, Wilbur was serving as a director and as vice president and general manager for Driver-Harris. The businesses were so similar that Wilbur and Frank soon became embroiled in a lawsuit regarding WBD’s name and Wilbur’s hiring three key Driver-Harris employees, among other matters (Driver v. Smith, 104 Atl. 717 (1919)). The court found that, when he left Driver-Harris, Wilbur was “extremely irritated” and established a rival business to directly compete with and harm his former company.
According to Driver v. Smith (1919), Wilbur bought the Murray Wire Company (Murray) in 1918, soon before he argued with his brother and left Driver-Harris. The court found that Wilbur did not buy Murray because he wished to develop his own business but that Wilbur intended to use Murray to interfere with Driver-Harris. The lower court stated that “petty revenge” drove Wilbur to start his own company. However, Wilbur quickly built a viable and strong business that thrived for decades.
Intriguingly, WBD issued a resistance wire handbook under the name “Wilbur B. Driver & Co.” and with a New York City address (125 Liberty Street); the typography and handwriting in the handbook suggest that the booklet was produced in the early 1900s. Perhaps Wilbur had established a rival company while on hiatus from Driver-Harris, from about 1906 to 1914. Wilbur may have generated this handbook during that period to advertise his company’s products.
WBD did not bear its founder’s name until the mid- to late 1930s. The earliest resistance wire handbooks included in this collection (dated 1926, 1931, and 1932), excluding the undated “Wilbur B. Driver & Co.” booklet, all bear the name “Gilby Wire Company” (“Gilby”) and list Wilbur as the president. Wilbur may have acquired Gilby or he may have preferred to minimize any notoriety that the lawsuits had generated. By 1926, Gilby was producing over ten types of wire and had been in business for “over six years” according to the 1926 handbook. Documents generated in the late 1930s give the company’s name as “Wilbur B. Driver Company.”
Despite its contentious origins, WBD became a prominent though quiet manufacturer, receiving far less media attention than did Driver-Harris. In 1942, WBD gained membership to the Copper & Brass Research Association, an organization that represented “all the principal mills in the United States” engaged in fabricating copper and copper-alloy products (“Business News” article, Newark News, June 18, 1942). In March 1944, Wilbur retired, and his son, Robert O. Driver, became the company’s president. However, Wilbur returned to WBD the following August to oversee a manufacturing effort intended to benefit U.S. and Canadian soldiers fighting in World War II. This effort involved producing heating elements that were sewn into flying suits to prevent frostbite at high altitudes.
In addition to its manufacturing business, WBD promoted research in metallurgy and state-wide business initiatives. WBD provided a scholarship to students studying engineering and the company’s scientists published dozens of articles presenting results of research WBD conducted.
In addition, the Wilbur B. Driver Collection contains many scientific white papers written by WBD researchers. WBD was one of nine companies that established the New Jersey Business Development Corporation, which sought to develop New Jersey industry and business (“New Trade Drive Begun by Jersey,” New York Times, October 31, 1959). By providing “loans, investments, and other assistance,” the Corporation intended to induce out-of-state businesses to establish operations in New Jersey.
By the mid-1960s, WBD employed 1,000 people and operated plants in Newark and Florham Park, along with five plants run by subsidiaries. Although it had expanded considerably, the majority of WBD shares was still owned by Wilbur’s son, Robert. In 1967, Robert and WBD directors agreed to sell the company to the General Telephone and Electronics Corporation (or GTE, later acquired by Verizon) for $44 million in newly issued GTE stock. WBD retained its name but became a subsidiary of GTE’s Sylvania Electric Products, Inc.
WBD operated two plants in Newark: its main facility, which included the company’s main office, was located at 1875 McCarter Highway; WBD also operated a cold rolling mill at 241 Oraton Street. The company had a third factory on Columbia Road in Florham Park. In the 1960s, WBD’s subsidiary companies included W. M. Chase Company, in Detroit, Michigan; Western Gold and Platinum Company, in Belmont, California; Philadelphia Insulated Wire Company, in Moorestown, New Jersey; and Fort Wayne Metals, Inc., in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Its Canadian subsidiary, Wilbur B. Driver, Ltd., was located in Ontario. Sylvania transferred the first two subsidiaries to its Precision Metals Group, sold the Philadelphia Insulated Wire Company to its employees for book value, and moved the Fort Wayne Metals operations to the Newark facility. In 1972, WBD built a third facility in Orangeburg, New Jersey. This location produced mainly coated wire and flat wound ribbon products.
In 1979, AMAX Specialty Metals Corporation, which sold refractory metal mill product forms to complementary markets, acquired WBD’s remaining operations: its factories in Newark, Florham Park, Orangeburg, and Toronto, as well as sales offices in seven U.S. cities.
A few years later, when AMAX was struggling through an economic recession, Driver-Harris agreed to buy that company’s alloy division, which included the former WBD plants. This arrangement was days away from closing when, in early March 1984, AMAX abruptly cancelled the proposed purchase and instead agreed to sell its Orangeburg facility to Carpenter Technology Corp.
Later that year, AMAX sold its Florham Park plant to Precision Rolled Products Inc. Efforts to sell the Newark facility ultimately failed and AMAX liquidated the plant, beginning in October 1984. Driver-Harris is still in business, though at a far reduced rate than in the past. Its current president is still a Frank L. Driver – Frank L. Driver IV. In August 2006, Frank signed an SEC report (Form 8-K) notifying the SEC that current shares would be canceled and that after the company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy it would reissue shares to holders of unsecured debts in the company. The company has not made any subsequent filings. Driver-Harris has a mailing address in Morristown and operating facilities in Convent Station.
Wilbur B. Driver was born in Brooklyn in 1874 or 1875 and began working at an early age. By age fifteen, Wilbur was an “errand boy” for a New York textile manufacturer; soon he was working as a buyer for businesses such as General Electric. In 1899 or 1900, Wilbur and a colleague, Francis Harris, convinced Wilbur’s brother, Frank, to establish a new manufacturing business – the Driver-Harris Co. According to his obituary in the Newark News, Wilbur had $17 in his pocket when he started Driver-Harris. The company’s first sale netted $51 (“W. B. Driver, Industrialist,” Newark News, August 23, 1949).
In May 1918, Wilbur and Frank quarreled, and Wilbur resigned from his positions as director, general manager, and vice president. That month, Wilbur also bought the stock of the Murray Wire Co., a rival wire-drawing company, so that he could establish his own metallurgical plant. According to a lawsuit involving the two brothers, Wilbur contracted with three Driver-Harris employees who were essential to that company’s production of gas-mask elements; during World War I, gas masks were a vital piece of military equipment. The three employees sought to void Wilbur B. Driver Company Papers, Newark Public Library, Page 5 their contracts when they realized Wilbur hired them so he could hinder Driver-Harris; he sued the three to enforce he contracts but the court barred Wilbur’s efforts.
Wilbur apparently then applied his knowledge and experience to building his own company, which soon became a lead manufacturer of beryllium copper alloys, stainless steel, pure nickel and nickel chrome alloys, and wire ribbon and strip. He also had associated firms in Europe and, except for an interruption caused by World War II, visited these businesses annually. In addition to being an accomplished metallurgical industrialist, Wilbur was a leading – albeit anonymous – philanthropist. During and shortly after World War II, Wilbur was the mysterious “Mr. X” who bought multiunit buildings in the Oranges and renovated them if necessary. As Mr. X, Wilbur rented the apartments to veterans and their families, particularly families with young children, who often struggled to find housing. If a tenant were struggling to pay the rent, Wilbur reduced or cancelled the payment due; he never evicted or threatened to evict a tenant for failure to pay rent.
Wilbur often met with tenants and prospective tenants, speaking with them about their housing needs and financial situations. Wilbur was so personally concerned with his tenants’ wellbeing that his will devised these properties to his women tenants, thereby allowing them “a measure of independence” (“‘Happens in Heaven,’ Driver Heirs Exclaim,” Newark News, September 7, 1945). Only after his death, on August 23, 1949, did his identity as Mr. X become known.
Shortly after his death, Wilbur’s wife, Elizabeth T. Smith Driver, died at their son’s home in West Orange (“Mrs. Wilbur B. Driver,” New York Times, October 8, 1949). The Drivers’ son, Robert O. Driver, had already assumed managerial control of WBD and, like his father, was active professionally and philanthropically (Press release submitted to Newark News, November 30, 1960). Among many other posts, Robert served as a director of the National Newark & Essex Banking Company, chairman of the Subcommittee on Highways and Freeways of the Newark Economic Development Committee, and director of the Gilby-Fodor Company of Paris and GilbyBrunton of Scotland. Robert also was a trustee of the Newark Museum and the Welfare Federation of Newark and general chairman of the 1958 United Appeals Drive.
Tragically, Wilbur and Elizabeth’s daughter, Ruth, died aged only twenty-six, after she fainted while showering (“Drowns Taking a Shower,” New York Times, December 14, 1953). Like her father, Ruth actively sought to improve the living conditions in her community, working as a volunteer kindergarten teacher in the day nursery of the Oranges and serving as a charter member and treasurer of the Junior Business and Professional Women’s Club of the Oranges. Wilbur and his brother, Frank, apparently reconciled before Frank’s death in 1930, as Frank had named Wilbur as an executor and beneficiary of his will.
6.5 Linear Feet (15 Hollinger boxes)
Language of Materials
This collection comprises various internal documents and photographs relating to the Wilbur B. Driver Company (“WBD”), a manufacturer and developer of heat-resistant metal alloy wires, ribbons, and other materials.
The records were arranged by category into five series, with photographs placed in a sixth series.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donation from Charles DeMarco. Many documents in the collection appear to have been
given to DeMarco by several other donors, as these items either bear labels that state
“Donated by [name and address]” or have the words “donated by [name]” written on
them. For example, Dorothy Buck Prill donated several product brochures; Lucille
Molnar, informational bulletins, 1941 advertising book, and a memorandum regarding the
“Tophet H” sales effort; Henry Trautfetter, “An American Story” brochure; George
Fielding, alloy handbooks; George Weber, one photograph, now in Series VI, Folder 37.
A large envelope addressed to Mr. DeMarco was found with photographs of WBD’s
Florham Park plant; the envelope’s return addressee, C.P. Gudains, may have donated
photographs of the Florham Park plant.
The donors’ addresses have been redacted to protect their privacy, and the addresses have been recorded in a memorandum filed in the Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center correspondence file.
The WBD internal newsletters in Series V, Folder 18, were removed from the Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center to this collection.
A pamphlet written by the (NJ) Governor’s Passaic Valley Flood Control Committee, “Passaic
Valley Flood Control,” May 1955, was removed to the TIC (Temporary and Investigative
Committee) Collection in the NJIC. A promotional postcard-sized brochure for Alex von Gleich
Commercial Photographic Company, Inc. was removed to the NJIC Historic Information Files.3
The papers included several duplicates. In these cases, two duplicates were retained and the remaining copies were removed.
Driver v. Smith, 104 Atl. 717 (1919).
“Business News” article, Newark News, June 18, 1942.
“Comes out of Retirement at 70 to Manufacture Item for War,” Newark News, August 6, 1944.
Form 8-K filed by Driver-Harris Company, November 2006.
“W. B. Driver, Industrialist,” Newark News, August 23, 1949.
“New Trade Drive Begun by Jersey,” New York Times, October 31, 1959.
“‘Happens in Heaven,’ Driver Heirs Exclaim,” Newark News, September 7, 1945.
“Drowns Taking a Shower,” New York Times, December 14, 1953.
“Mrs. Wilbur B. Driver,” New York Times, October 8, 1949.
Press release submitted to Newark News, November 30, 1960.
Report, “Acquisition of W. B. Driver Company; Expansion of AMAX Specialty Metals,” May 23, 1979. Please note that this report erroneously describes how WBD and DriverHarris were founded; the two companies were not established as a single company and later divided. In addition, Frank L. Driver was Wilbur B. Driver’s brother, not his father.
“Driver-Harris Buys Amax Alloy Division,” American Metal Market, November 11, 1983 (accessed through Gale Group’s Business & Company Resource Center database).
“Amax Selling Specialty Plants to Driver-Harris,” Iron Age, November 25, 1983 (accessed through Gale Group’s Business & Company Resource Center database).
“Driver-Harris, Amax Deal Off,” American Metal Market, March 5, 1984 (accessed through Gale Group’s Business & Company Resource Center database).
“Precision Rolled Set to Buy Amax’s Melt, Hot-rolling Facility,” American Metal Market, September 19, 1984 (accessed through Gale Group’s Business & Company Resource Center database).
“Amax Metals Is Liquidating Newark Unit,” American Metal Market, October 31, 1984
Certain documents in this collection were found in acidic folders that had likely been
labeled by WBD employees. These labels were retained on the non-acidic folders
wherever they still described the documents in the relevant folder. However, some labels
did not describe documents accurately or adequately. These folders include
“Memoranda regarding construction planning, with drawings,” Series I, Folder 5; it was
found in a folder labeled “East Hanover Site.”
With some exceptions, all photographs were placed in the sixth series. Photographs that were attached to, or appeared to accompany, a document were filed with that particular document.
Each series was organized in rough chronological order. Where a folder contains more than one loose document, each page has been numbered in pencil on the lower right corner.
Staples, paper clips, and other metal fasteners were removed. Many reports, such as the Plant Location Survey in Series I, Folder 8 and the engineering reports in Series II, were bound with metal fasteners and other materials that may pose preservation problems; they should be removed and rehoused in acid-free folders. Other reports, such as the engineering reports in Series I, Boxes 1 and 2, are in binders of unknown materials and may also need to be rehoused.
Photographs in a narrow album, entitled “Office Building/WBD/1973” were removed, interfiled with acid-free paper, and placed in an acid-free folder. The photo album was photocopied onto acid-free paper before the photographs were removed, to record the album’s original order; the album was discarded. Each page of the album photocopy was first numbered sequentially in pencil and then placed with the photographs.
The magazine clippings documenting the 1938 WBD advertising campaign, in Series V, was originally glued onto construction paper. These pages were photocopied onto acidfree paper and were placed into a folder immediately following the original document.
Series V also contains clippings from WBD’s 1937 advertising campaign, pasted onto black construction paper. Where the clippings had become loose, the black paper was discarded, and the clippings were collected into envelopes and placed in the relevant folder. However, a preservation photocopy of the black pages was not made, in case the high amount of toner needed for such photocopies would generate its own preservation problems. The binders for the 1938 and 1941 campaigns were discarded; there was no binder for the 1938 campaign
- Larissa Brookes
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
Part of the Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center, Newark Public Library Repository
Newark Public Library
5 Washington St.
Newark NJ 07102 United States