We Just Want To Weave and Fold Some Asbestos

Well, weren’t we surprised to learn that there was once a company that began with the bold and (eventually) regrettable name of The Asbestos Spinning & Weaving Corporation.

We were even more surprised to find out that, in some way, it still existed when we first posted this.

The Asbestos Spinning and Weaving Corporation of New York purchased a three-story mill located “Northside, just outside the city of Cohoes,” from the Troy Yarn Company in 1921. Their mailing address was Waterford, and the mill was described as operating “on the north sprout of the Mohawk River along King’s canal;” their general offices were given as 16 Beaver Street, New York City. A report by RPI graduate students from 1962 said the company had made woven and folded brake linings on looms driven by water power drawn from the power canals. Originally working with long-fiber asbestos, the company sought to cut costs and developed a process using short fiber asbestos in a paper form, similar to pipe insulation paper. (Interestingly, the company, along with Mohawk Paper Makers Inc., sued the City of New York for its diversion of waters to the Ashokan Reservoir, which reduced the flow in the Mohawk River. They also charged that Ford was “hogging” power and water at the Federal Dam. The legal battle went on for years). They made an early attempt to turn their name into the not very catchy acronym ASAWCO, under which they advertised their brake linings.

In 1928, one of the principals of ASAWCO, Edward Slade, set out on his own and formed the Slade Products Corporation, which operated in the Barker Building in Watervliet, “manufacturing a woven brake lining that employed an asbestos paper-based process of Mr. Slade’s invention,” according to a 1970 Troy Record article. It moved to a new building on Green Island in 1929. One of his backers was apparently Victor Bendix, who had turned Elmira’s Eclipse Machine Company, a maker of bicycle brakes, into an automotive drive parts company. However, the development in the automotive world of the internal expanding brake called for a lower friction product, and while the company was able to sell to elevator and hoist manufacturers, it had to work to develop a rubber molded brake lining that would work in automobiles. According to UAW Local 1508, Vincent Bendix was instrumental in the election of Furber Marshall as the company’s president, resulting in a name change to Marshall Asbestos Division, which was acquired as a subsidiary of Bendix in 1933.

The rubber product wasn’t successful for long, as auto speeds got higher, and braking surfaces smaller. The company developed resin binders to replace the rubber; the development of their own economical synthetic resin in 1938 turned the corner and was quickly accepted by car and light truck manufacturers, and found military use. “Production of jeep brake segments alone, during the war amounted to 30 million pieces.” Success continued for what was known from 1939 as the Marshall-Eclipse Division of Bendix, and a new plant completed in 1947 doubled floor space. Development for aerospace, including ceramic and cera-metallic materials, also took place. “The Marshall-Eclipse Division operates on a 5-day week, three shift basis. The Division operates a non-union shop, a fact that makes it somewhat unique in the modern industrial world.” That changed in 1968, with the arrival of the UAW.

In 1982, Allied bought Bendix. In 1986, Allied merged with Signal, and the Green Island facility became AlliedSignal, Bendix Friction Materials Division. In 1999, AlliedSignal merged with Honeywell, whose name was retained. The Green Island facility over time lost its brake operations but continues to make Cerametalix friction material. Somewhere around 2016, the UAW reported that it employed 39 people and that the product was primarily used by Honeywell’s aircraft landing systems division.

So, in a way, the old asbestos company lived on for a very long time. An article in the Times Union on May 19, 2020 indicated that Honeywell planned to close its Green Island site and move the work to South Bend Indiana by the third quarter of 2021 — making it neatly a century since the company’s beginning there.

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