About that Eberhard Faber factory fire in 1872…

In a previous post titled Beware The Dry House, I noted several fires that occurred at two Eberhard Faber Company factories. But the most well-known fire occurred at the first factory, which opened in 1861 and burned to the ground in 1872. It happened in the early hours of May 29th:

I haven’t found anything to indicate that the factory would have been open during the overnight hours. Pencil-making by lamplight? It would be the 1880s before factories of any kind were lit by electric light. Chemical-soaked rags? If so, how long would it take for a fire to start? I have no idea.

Good thing they had plenty of…insurance.

I have always found it amazing that the company was up and running at its new location in Greenpoint less than 3 months after the fire. Then again, how much did the operation depend on machinery, bespoke or otherwise, at that time? Also, it wasn’t said whether they were running at capacity from the start.

But then I came across something interesting in a letter written by Johann Eberhard Faber just two days after his factory was destroyed:

His new factory was “already secured”, two days after the fire? To be clear, I have never owned, operated, designed, or otherwise managed a pencil factory, but that still seems like an extraordinarily quick turnaround. Maybe it’s just a little bit of hyperbole—something to express a sense of business-as-usual to reassure employees (and stave off competitors)? Perhaps a move had already been in the planning before this terrible ‘accident’ occurred?

Two days? Really?

Update 3/11: A contemporaneous newspaper report stated: “The fire is supposed to have been caused by spontaneous combustion among some sawdust which had become saturated with oil from the machinery.”

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