Forstmann Worsted Mills,
Passaic, New Jersey
Forstmann & Huffmann, Passaic, New Jersey was founded in 1904 by German entrepreneurs who came from
a long line of prosperous and skilled woolworkers dating back to 1563. The Forstmann family was descended
from citizens of Flanders in today’s Belgium. The family was one of the original members of the Weavers
Guild, the oldest of guilds, which had been established during medieval times by artisans to form merchant
guilds to protect and maintain the high standards of their crafts. Julius Forstmann, of the Ruhr Valley near today’
s Essen, emigrated to America to recreate the quality woolens then known in Germany. Forstmann decided to
form a new venture in Passaic. Other Mills in Passaic.
The woolens and worsteds coming from this mill were legendary and the company prospered. Workers were
brought from Germany and all across Western Europe to work in the mills of Passaic. One such worker was
Gerhard Wiegand who emigrated in 1912 and sent for his fiancée in 1916. The family survived the war and the
difficulties imposed by the US government on anyone who was of German birth whether they were citizens or
resident aliens. Read the Wiegand story elsewhere in the site. And read the story of a girl who grew up with the
Forstmann Mills - and received a Forstmann Scholarship - Alice E. Johansen.
Bernard A. Rosenberg was hired to select styles, shades and finishes while working closely with major
customers like Bergdorf Goodman.
Once the US entered the war against Germany, many of the German-owned properties were seized and sold to
Americans. The New York Times headline on April 3, 1918, reported, “ Forstmann Denies Any German Taint,
Declares He Never Saw Compromising Letters, and Bought Wool at Metz’s Suggestion.” Julius Forstmann,
president of the $2,000,000 Forstmann-Huffmann Woolen Mills of Passaic… a loyal citizen of the United States
… the mill was recently seized. In 1914, Mr. Forstmann was approached by the Hon. Herman A. Metz, then a
member of Congress from New York City, and now wearing the uniform of an officer of his country… and Mr.
Metz told him that unless some arrangement could be made to get wool and cotton into Germany the dye
industry would suffer tremendously.” Such was the case for many German properties that openly did business
in the US and were in no way connected with the war in Europe. On December 18, 1918, the Times reported
further sales: The Garfield Worsted Mills, The Gera Mills, The Passaic Worsted Spinning Company, and The
New Jersey Worsted Spinning Company, were sold even though “the enemy holdings in these mills are small.”
The war was difficult for these businesses, which struggled to restore their former business after the war. They
eventually thrived in the Roaring Twenties. Gerhard Wiegand was promoted and worked side by side with
Julius Forstmann to develop colors for the famous Forstmann Woolens. The Forstmann business grew and
he became wealthy almost beyond measure. In 1923, Forstmann built a five-story mansion at 22 71st Street
between Fifth and Madison Avenue. The five-story Italian Renaissance-style limestone survives to this day.
In 1928, Mr. Forstmann had amassed a fortune estimated at $50 million. In 1929, Forstmann had a custom
yacht, the 333-foot Orion, constructed in the Kiel shipyards of Krupp. The ship arrived in September and, after
seven weeks, the Forstmann family cruised around the world for seven months with a crew of over 50 while
radioing orders back to his factory, business office in Manhattan, and his customers. An account was
published by son, Julius. 5
His interest in wool manufacture led him into many tariff and quality-related discussions following WWI. He
was the author of a flexible provision of The Tariff Act of 1923 which called for scientific evaluations of woolens.
During the Depression, he founded the National Quality Maintenance League to assure quality and maintain
reputable production. 7
Forstmann became one of the leading companies on the strength of its employees. One, Werner von Bergen,
emigrated from Switzerland in 1926 and joined Forstmann. An excellent scholar, von Bergen established an
international reputation as an expert in wool and other protein fibers. He published articles and books, taught
at Columbia University and was honored as the 1952 Olney Medalist by AATCC. 8,9
In 1938, Julius Forstmann became ill and died unexpectedly Oct. 27, 1939. Photo of Grave His son, Curt E.,
assumed the presidency and carried the business forward until his death in 1950. Obituary of Julius
As war approached, the US Navy acquired the Orion in 1940 and re-commissioned her as the USS Vixen
(PG53), a patrol gunboat. She served as flagship for four admirals, serving in World War II as the ship that kept
the Atlantic coast defense coordinated.
Following the Second World War, business as usual resumed for these mills. In 1957, Forstmann Woolens
became a part of J.P. Stevens & Co.
In 1999, Victor Woolen Products acquired Forstmann & Co. and two plants in Dublin, GA.. Forstmann, like other
woolen companies and divisions of larger companies went to Chapter 11 several times during the 1990s. 6.
The company currently does business as Victor Innovatex.
1. http://www.fabrics.net/print/joan404.asp Joan Kiplinger 2004. Accessed December 29, 2007
2. New York Times, April 3, 1918; December 18, 1918.
3. www.navsource.org/archives/12/09053.htm Orion, then USS Vixen, Accessed January 7, 2008
asp 1871-1939 Accessed 8 January 2008.
5. Forstmann, Julius George. 1930. World Cruise of the Motor Yacht Orion November 5th 1929 - June 11th
1930. New York: William Edwin Rudge.
6. Textile World, December 1999, p17.
7. "J. Forstmann Dies; Textile Leader, 68,"New York Times, October 28, 1939. p15.
8. "Ninth Olney Medal Awarded to Werner von Bergen," American Dyestuff Reporter, Dec. 22, 1952, p866-873.
9. Werner von Bergen, "Twenty-Five Years Progress in Woolen and Worsted Dyeing and Finishing Machinery,"
American Dyestuff Reporter, Vol 31, No. 25, Dec. 7, 1946, p662-668.
Page Copyright Gary N. Mock 2008-2013
If you would like to contribute information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
SS Orion1929, USS Vixen 1940
Image: US Navy Archives
Forstmann Brand Name Labels
Image: Textile Brand Name Dictionary
Interview with Mr. Forstmann
Posselt's Textile Journal, April 1909
Courtesy of Peter Metzke
Life Magazine 1944
Right: Life Magazine 1952
Courtesy: TJS Labs
Above: A black worsted skirt-weight fabric
from 1945 with the ForstmannWoolens
truthmark printed in yellow.
Courtesy Irene Tyburski Kopens
"Inside End" embroidered on this skirt fabric
Forstmann Cashmere Sweater
Courtesy Alan Rosenberg Revere,
grandson of Bernard A. Rosenberg,
Chairman of Forstmann until 1956.
Forstmann &Huffmann Mill
Courtesy Mark S. Auerbach
Portrait of Julius Forstmann,
Passaic Public Library
Click on images to enlarge