The “Clark Street Rope Shop” (Building 101), being converted to Roebling Lofts, was erected in 1917, during WW I. It was an ultra-modern facility for its time, with massive windows and a fire resistant design. It replaced an older factory that burned down in late 1915, allegedly by German saboteurs. Building 101 specialized in light- and medium-gauge wire rope such as used in aircraft. Perhaps the company’s most famous customer was Charles Lindbergh for The Spirit of St. Louis, the plane he flew non-stop from New York to Paris in 1927. This has been called the single most influential flight in aviation history, excepting the 1903 first-flight by the Wright Brothers, who also used Roebling wire. Lindbergh used Roebling wire for control cables, to brace the wings (under-wing fairings conceal them), for the ignition harness, and the plane’s lightning rod. The testing lab for the aircraft business was located on the 4th floor of the Clark Street factory, including a massive machine designed to simulate stresses on wings. The machine survives in place on the 4th floor, and is being preserved in a lounge for use by residents of Roebling Lofts.
The Roebling’s history on the site dates to 1848, when John A. Roebling purchased 25 acres of land in Chambersburg (then an independent borough just SE of Trenton). Roebling’s business was starting to boom, owing to a series of contract awards for suspension bridges, and he needed a new factory with higher capacity, capable of making longer cables. He selected Trenton for its close proximity to major Eastern markets, and easy access to Atlantic ports via the Delaware & Raritan Canal, which ran along the current Rt. 129 right-of-way.
Best known today as the “father of the Brooklyn Bridge”, Roebling cables ended up in most of the major suspension bridges built in United States during the first half of the 20th century, including New York City’s Williamsburg, Manhattan, and George Washington Bridges, as well as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Most of the steel cables used in in these projects came from Trenton.
John A. Roebling died in 1869, shortly after construction of the Brooklyn Bridge began. The work was completed in 1883 by his son Washington Roebling (with a major contribution from Washington’s wife, Emily Warren Roebling, who managed the project in his name while he recovered from a severe case of the “Bends”). The “Son’s Company” was created by John A. Roebling’s will, and operated on the site until it was sold to the Colorado Fuel & Iron Corporation (CF&I) in 1952.
The Company pioneered many more applications for wire rope: it was an early investor in and supplier to the Otis Elevator Company, inventors of the modern, electrically-powered elevator. Additional applications included steel cables for anti-submarine nets and tethering of marine mines, wire fencing and screens, ski lifts and cable cars, and structural supports for buildings.
CF&I closed the operation in 1974. Building 101 was used as a paper warehouse in the 1980s and 1990s and stood vacant for nearly 20 years.