Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Henry Janssen and Ferdinand Thun, whose small textile company grew mto the multi-million dollar Wyomissing Industries, were not only prominent industrial­ists, but also visionaries and idealists. With their unique, progressive approach, the two were largely responsible for the development of Wyomiss­ing, Berks County, one of the first planned industrial com­munities in Pennsylvania.

Although both were born in Barmen, Germany in 1866, each emigrated to America separately in the late 1880s. Ferdinand Thun worked as a bookkeeper from 1886 to 1888 before returning to Germany to learn about the manufacture of braiding machines. He returned to the United States in 1889 to a position with a New York braiding plant. Henry Janssen, who had had experience in the textile indus­try in Germany, was working as a foreman in a plant in Brooklyn at the time. By fate or good fortune, they met at Fritz Klein’s boarding house in Brooklyn and became good friends. Janssen and Thun decided to start a business together, manufacturing braid­ing machines to compete with the better known German companies. The 1890 tariff restricting the importation of foreign machinery encouraged the entrepreneurs.

In 1892, Janssen and Thun opened their first shop, Thun & Janssen, Textile Machine Works, in Reading, the county seat. Surviving the panic of 1893, during which fifteen thousand businesses declared bankruptcy because of the alarming nationwide economic instability, the Textile Machine Works began to prosper, and by 1895 began to turn a profit.

The following year the partners realized that their operation was rapidly out­growing its original space, and they decided to move the shops to an undeveloped area along the Lebanon Valley Rail­road (later the Reading Rail­road), across the Schuylkill River from Reading. Much of the land was owned by Thomas R. Merritt, a Reading lumberyard owner who had purchased several farms as a land venture, organized the Reading Suburban Realty Company, and named the new residential area Wyomissing. Attempting to lure increased development to the area, the Reading Suburban Realty Company offered Janssen and Thun a narrow strip of land adjacent the railroad for the princely sum of one dollar. The relocation of the Textile Ma­chine Works to Wyomissing insured its success. By 1900 the Textile Machine Works’ first shop had doubled in size, and the partners installed the first set of braiding machines to manufacture shoelaces, brush braids, and garter elastics, among other things. This new department became a separate business, incorporated as the Narrow Fabric Company.

Naturally, the prosperity of the company depended upon the fashion tastes of the public, and at the turn of the century full-fashioned hosiery re­mained a luxury. So familiar today, full-fashioned literally meant clothing knitted to conform to the shape of the body. Anticipating a profitable future, Thun and Janssen invested heavily in this area and expanded their plants in the late 1890s and again in 1900, at which time they em­ployed about seventy workers. They even established a small but respectable foundry to fabricate machine parts, and by 1903 employment had steadily grown to more than two hundred.

Henry Janssen and Fer­dinand Thun’s enterprises continued to burgeon. Their experimentation in knitting machine design and construc­tion led to the development of the country’s first full­-fashioned knitting machine, and in 1906 to the establish­ment of the Berkshire Knitting Mills, destined – before too long – to become the largest full-fashioned knitting operation in the world. The Textile Machine Works, the Berkshire Knitting Mills, and the Narrow Fabric Company composed what was to eventually be­come internationally known as Wyomissing Industries. Shortly after the turn of the century the conglomerate occupied more than sixty acres of land.

Between 1900 and 1930, numerous buildings were constructed in the complex to facilitate the company’s rapid growth. These additions and new buildings required the organization of a construction force that inevitably became permanent. In the 1920s, Wyomissing Industries, by then the world’s largest manu­facturer of women’s hosiery, continued to expand, with the construction of a general of­fice, dispensary, large cafete­ria, and two garages, in addition to many industrial structures.

Wyomissing Industries continued to prosper through the first half of this century. In 1936, the Textile Machine Works employed twenty-five hundred workers, while the Narrow Fabric Company boasted a labor force of six hundred. The Berkshire Knit­ting Mills also flourished, utilizing twelve hundred ma­chines by the late 1930s. Wyomissing Industries’ growth and prosperity can be attributed not only to out­standing management by Janssen and Thun, but, too, to excellent facilities and the unique relationship between management and employees.

Both Henry Janssen and Ferdinand Thun possessed keen idealistic and paternalis­tic attitudes in developing and managing the growth of Wyomissing Industries. They were concerned with the ap­pearance of the company, as well as the welfare of their workers, and employed this ethic in their improvements to the mills and plants. The buildings were not merely constructed in the most mod­ern and efficient styles, but with careful thought given to both form and function. Land­scaping, designed by Janssen himself, was also well planned and painstakingly executed. Ivy climbed the exteriors of buildings, cherry trees flow­ered in the spring, and a vari­ety of ornamental shrubs camouflaged the foundations of the buildings. A half cen­tury ago a commentator noted that, “The Berkshire interiors are of dazzling, almost painful, whiteness; and many of the workrooms look like enormous surgical wards. Wherever possible, all work tables are covered with lustrous white vitrified ware …. ”

Architectural writers of the thirties, extremely impressed by Wyomissing Industries, deemed the “ground plan and landscaping” architecturally significant. The balanced ground plan, with a pleasant, park-like appearance, gave Janssen and Thun’s enterprises a reputation as “The Industries Within a Park.” Works Progress Administration writers work­ing in Berks County hailed the “arrangement of these numer­ous buildings … an excellent example of a centralized and integrated industry.” Architec­tural critics included such well known individuals as Alex­ander F. Smith, an advisory board member of the Federal Writers Project, and Miles B. Dechant, Howard I. Eiler, and Charles H. Muhlenberg, Jr., all prominent Pennsylvania architects.

The design of each building was “state of the art” for the period. The Textile Foundry, erected in 1928 and largely constructed of glass and steel, was described during its con­struction as “the largest [foundry] in the world under one roof, covering five acres of land.” It measured eight hun­dred and twenty feet by two hundred and forty-five feet, and featured the latest in technology, including electric trucks, electrically operated skylights controlled by a cen­tral switchboard, and an air purification system which removed dust and grit. Several buildings in the complex pio­neered reinforced concrete construction, using steel, brick, and glass curtain walls. One of the earliest structures, the Narrow Fabric Company building, built in 1905, was the “first of its type in the United States, with reinforced con­crete girders, beams, and risers cast separately on the ground and assembled after seasoning.” All of the architec­tural work at Wyomissing Industries was designed and executed by in-house archi­tects, under the direction and supervision of Janssen and Thun.

Another unusual element of the sprawling Wyomissing Industries plant was the underground placement of utilities – including water tanks and light and power lines – in a series of concrete service tunnels. This progres­sive concept eliminated the wild appearance of most in­dustrialized areas, customarily accompanied by an unsightly profusion of overhead wires and poles. Ln addition, the company’s own artesian wells provided water necessary to operate the large mill machin­ery. In the eyes of Henry Janssen and Ferdinand Thun, environment played a key role in maintaining a successful business. This factor was not limited to the exterior environ­ment, but continued in the design of the interiors of the industrial buildings and facilities.

While Wyomissing Indus­tries offered an impressive physical environment, the partners were extremely con­cerned with the welfare of individual workers and met their needs in a variety of ways. During World War I, when food and supplies were scarce and high-priced, “ar­rangements were made for the purchase of carload lots of groceries and coal for distribu­tion at cost,” which led to the establishment of a cooperative store for the employees. The cooperative store was later replaced by the commodious Delta Store, constructed in 1920 to better serve the com­mercial needs of workers and their families. The industrial giant provided a number of health and welfare services, including a dispensary, housed in its own building erected in 1925, which fur­nished medical, dental, and ocular care. These services had been provided by Wyomissing Industries as early as 1917. An insurance division covered risks to the workers, and pro­vided attractive life insurance programs and pension plans for many employees. Other facilities that ensured the wel­fare of employees included the large and airy cafeteria, recrea­tion and smoking rooms, and private parking spaces for more than thirteen hundred automobiles. Wyomissing industries also supplied tool sheds and water for the main­tenance of community garden plots tended to by employees.

Thun and Janssen estab­lished an apprentice system so “that employees might de­velop the necessary technical skills and acquire the special­ized knowledge needed in the many departments.” These three and four year apprentice­ships led to the establishment of an Educational Department in 1927, which entailed four weeks of schooling alternating with four weeks of work. This marked a turning point in mechanical training. The Wyomissing Polytechnic Insti­tute was formaUy organized in 1933, and became accredited as a junior engineering college, serving both the corporation and the community as a tech­nical school. The partners encouraged the education and betterment of their employees through the founding and maintenance of the Delta Li­brary, a repository of thou­sands of technical books on the textile industry and on the operations of the Wyomissing Industries. A monthly publica­tion, The Yarn Carrier, issued free to all employees begin­ning in 1931 informed them about the company’s activities and developments.

Floyd W. Miller of the Fed­eral Writers’ Project (whose original manuscript is con­tained in the collections of the Historical Society of Berks County in Reading) wrote in 1937 that the firm “has tried to develop a spirit of friendly cooperation between workers and management.” Wyomis­sing Industries appointed an Industrial Relations Board that worked towards a more profit­able future, while an Employ­ees Association provided a forum in which problems and difficulties could usually be resolved. It was this constant and concerted effort to recog­nize the importance of-and to provide for – the welfare of their employees that distin­guished Henry Janssen and Ferdinand Thun among impor­tant industrialists of the per­iod. Both Janssen and Thun sought, through all their inno­vations, to offer a healthy and productive environment where everyone – whether manager or laborer – could profit.

The partners did not limit their efforts to Wyomissing Industries, but extended their vision to the surrounding area: the region which had been farmland until the Reading Suburban Realty Company purchased it and laid out streets, planted trees, and built wooden sidewalks in 1896. But it was not until the relocation of the Textile Machine Works that Wyomissing really began. The new industry attracted hundreds and, later, thou­sands of workers to the area. As the business grew, so grew the town, and in 1906 the Borough of Wyomissing was officially incorporated.

Both Janssen and Thun were heavily involved in the creation of Wyomissing, one of the first planned communities in Pennsylvania. These rare individuals brought an ideol­ogy to all of their efforts, desir­ing to provide for the welfare of their workers, and firmly believing that “a residential area could be compatible with an industrial area” while being profitable and healthy for workers and management. It was with this ideal in mind that the two went about devel­oping their companies and the Borough of Wyomissing. To help them realize their vision, they brought together a host of municipal planners, architects, engineers, and designers who also espoused their philosophy.

Ferdinand Thun was cho­sen to be the first borough council president, a post he would hold for more than thirty years. Henry Janssen was elected a council member a position he held for many years. Both men continued to be intimately involved in bor­ough affairs throughout their lives.

Rare for its day, Wyomis­sing was planned according to the vision of Henry Janssen and Ferdinand Thun for the benefit of its residents, most of whom were, in one way or another, associated with Wyomissing industries. Its design was influenced by town planning in Germany, far more advanced and progressive than that in the United States. Janssen and Thun, who main­tained strong ties to their homeland, employed German planners and designers to work on Wyomissing. At a time when prominent individ­uals – such as the younger Frederick Law Olmsted – were founding the planning field and urging American municipalities to look to Eu­rope for successful models, Janssen and Thun were al­ready utilizing these methods at their beloved Wyomissing.

All elements of the Borough of Wyomissing were assidu­ously planned, including housing design, street layout, landscaping, parks, and recre­ational and educational facilities.

Housing was extremely varied in terms of materials, types, and architectural styles. Structural materials included wood, brick, stone, and stucco, while types of housing ranged from rowhouses to duplexes, and from single residences to large rambling mansions for the upper class. Distinctive architectural styles were also promoted, such as Colonial Revival, Tudor, Ren­aissance Revival, and even Spanish or Moorish.

The streets of Wyomissing were designed to be wide, winding, and tree lined-a step forward from the rigid grid system so commonly found in other communities. Some of the more prominent avenues – broad and beautiful Reading Boulevard, for instance – had center islands, providing a tranquil and peaceful setting. Spacious, green public parks were con­structed along Wyomissing Creek, as well as within the developed sections of the town. Together with these parks recreational facilities, including a swimming pool, athletic fields, tennis courts, and playgrounds, were at the disposal of all. Schools in­cluded the Wyomissing Ele­mentary School and High School. In 1913, Janssen and Thun purchased a house and gave it to the library, which occupied the building until 1931 when Ferdinand Thun’s wife donated a new building for the library – and a sizable endowment for operations.

Wyomissing was developed in the earliest days of the plan­ning field, when most towns and cities were first investigat­ing such new concepts as zoning and land use regula­tions. From its inception in 1896, with the relocation of the Textile Machine Works, Wyomissing became one of the nation’s best examples of a planned industrial community. The partners’ paternalism in developing such an attractive community was rarely equalled in the early twentieth century, when most industrial towns were dirty, crowded and neglected, and most industri­alists or capitalists cared little­ – if at all – for the working and living conditions of their em­ployees. Dozens of other in­dustrial communities, built throughout Pennsylvania between 1880 and 1920, were quickly constructed with little or no regard for planning, hygiene, safety, or the welfare of their inhabitants. A promo­tional booklet, published in 1912, lauded the merits of Wyomissing, boasting of “air and sunshine, trees and flowers, beautiful views, clean, fragrant surroundings, good society, room for play and recreation, and everything that makes life agreeable and pleas­ant.” Much of this statement remains true today, as Wyomissing retains all of the elements which contributed to its uniqueness almost a cen­tury ago, a credit to the indeli­ble imprint and lasting vision of Henry Janssen and Ferdi­nand Thun.

In addition to their develop­ment of Wyomissing Indus­tries, and their contributions to the Borough of Wyomissing, both individuals were instru­mental in supporting many civic ventures and charitable causes throughout Berks County. Their philanthropy can be traced to the earliest days of the Textile Machine Works; an entry in an account book read’s “Charity, 9 cents.” As time passed and their com­panies flourished, Janssen and Thun increased their varied commitments to causes in the area. Large contributions were given to the Welfare Federation of Reading and Berks County, the Reading Museum and Art Gallery, the Wyomissing Pub­lic Library, and St. John’s Lu­theran Church in Reading. The largest recipient of their gener­osity, the Reading Hospital, received more than four mil­lion dollars in donations.

Janssen and Thun success­fully fulfilled their vision of an ideal industrial community, complete with a prosperous company, satisfied employees, and a pleasant environment. The Textile Machine Works’ annual open houses were one of the most significant indica­tions of their success. Begin­ning in the 1930s, these festive events, held during the course of three evenings, brought thousands of visitors into the shops to watch the huge ma­chines in action. “Twenty-five thousand of them enter into the spirit of the exhibition and share the pride of the work­men and attendants in the orderliness as well as the mag­nitude of the Wyomissing Industries,” an early visitor wrote.

By the time of their deaths, in 1948 and 1949 respectively, Henry Janssen and Ferdinand Thun were integrally tied to all aspects of their companies, as we!J as to the community they helped found. Henry Janssen served as president of the Textile Machine Works, the Narrow Fabric Company, the Delta Realty Company, Tulpe­hocken Farms, Inc., the Henry Janssen Corporation, the Henry Janssen Foundation, and the Reading Hospital. He was also vice president of Berkshire Knitting Mills, the Delta Finance Company; and the Peoples Trust Company. Ferdinand Thun, at his death, was president of the Berkshire Knitting Mills, the Delta Fi­nance Company, Thun Invest­ment Company, and the Wyomissing Foundation. He was secretary-treasurer of the Textile Machine Works and treasurer of the Narrow Fabric Company.

Still to this day, the hall­mark of Henry Janssen and Ferdinand Thun is clearly visible on the landscape. The sturdy buildings of Wyomis­sing Industries stalwartly stand and now house a wide range of businesses. Henry Janssen’s country estate along the Tulpehocken Creek, often used to entertain employees of the Wyomissing Industries, was donated to the Berks Campus of the Pennsylvania State University. (Part of this land was the site of the Wyomissing Polytechnic Insti­tute, and many of the build­ings currently occupied by the university once housed the Institute’s classrooms. Janssen’s main house, tenant house, and converted barn have become the Janssen Con­ference Center.) The Borough of Wyomissing has continued to grow and is considered one of the most desirable residen­tial areas in eastern Pennsylva­nia, well known for its high quality housing stock, schools, libraries, and recreational facilities.

Henry Janssen and Fer­dinand Thun’s industrial and social ideals were remarkable for their time. Even though Wyomissing Industries are no longer in operation, the part­ners’ myriad legacies live on. Henry Janssen and Ferdinand Thun made their dream a reality, and their impact still reverberates in the economic vitality and progressive charac­ter of Wyomissing today.


As this edition was going to press, the Historical Society of Berks County announced that it had acquired two rare movies show­casing the knitting industry when it employed thousands in Reading and Berks County. The profession­ally produced 16mm films, depict­ing the Textile Machine Works and the Berkshire Hosiery Mills in the early 1950s, have been copied on standard VCR car­tridges and are available for pur­chase. For additional information, write: Historical Society of Berks County, 940 Centre Ave., Read­ing, PA 19601.


For Further Reading

Borough of Wyomissing. Thirty­-Six Years of Progress. Wyomis­sing, Pa.: Borough Wyomissing, 1942.

Textile Machine Works. Partners: A History of the Wyomissing Industries. Reading, Pa.: Wyomissing Industries, 1936.

Wyomissing Bicentennial Com­mittee. Wyomissing Bicenten­nial. Volume 1, Number 7 (April 1976).

Yarn Carrier. Volume 17, Number 11 (1948).


The editor wishes to acknowledge the gracious assistance of Barbara D. Hall, archival assistant of the Pictorial Collections of the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware, who located, identified, and provided illustrations for this article.


Alan D. Tabachnick of Hun­tingdon Valley received his master of science degree in historic preser­vation from Columbia University. He is currently employed as a historic preservation specialist by Cultural Heritage Research Serv­ices, Inc., North Wales.