Sayre and Fisher Workers
S&F workers in a clay pit circa 1880 (Sayreville Historical Society, 2001)
The majority of the workers in New Jersey's clay industry were European immigrants. Before the steam shovel, clay was mined by hand. Working conditions in brickyards were physically exhausting and frequently dangerous. The factory workers faced collapsing kilns, unsafe machinery, and silicosis (a lung ailment resulting from inhalation of clay particles). In 1872, clay workers in Perth Amboy earned between $1.30 and $2.25 a day, but five years later wages dropped significantly. Strikes and attempts to unionize in the late 1800's were not effective (Murtha, 2004: 27-29). In 1906, out of 9,227 workers at 67 establishments in the clay industry in New Jersey, 30 were women and 57 were children under 16 years. Most workers earned between $8 and $15 per week (Labor and Industries of New Jersey, 1907: 77).
The S & F Company functioned as a small "company town," with its own "power plant, a granary, a bakery, a slaughterhouse, a coal yard, a machine shop, a blacksmith shop, an ice plant, and a general store in which was also located the post office of the company" (Karcher, 1953: 4-5). The reading room was an informal recreation center for the employees. In 1918, there were 1,500 employees at S & F. By 1934, that number had dropped to only 150 (Industrial Directory of New Jersey 1918: 545 and 1934: 151). The Depression had a severe effect on the company. However, it was one of the few clay companies along the Raritan River that continued business after the Depression.
Starting in 1945, all of the employees became members of the United Brick and Clay Workers of America (Karcher, 1953: 22). There was an attempt to modernize the facility in the 1940's, which increased production, but it was not enough to counteract the use of new building materials, high shipping rates, and high production costs (Sayreville Historical Society, 1976: 23). The company shut down and demolished most of its buildings in 1970 (Fraser, 1970).