Albert Bernard Weissenborn (1863-1938)
2009 Paper Industry International Hall of Fame Inductee
Appleton Wire Works
Albert Weissenborn was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1863, a son of Henry and Maria Theresa Weissenborn. Albert’s father was educated in engineering by his father, a German blast furnace inventor. Henry came to the United States in 1848 at the age of 24, already experienced in the building of blast furnaces and flour mills. He built a blast furnace for the Bethlehem Iron Works. Henry and his engineer brothers Gustavus and Edward were employed by Mr. John Ericsson during the construction of the Civil War battleship “Monitor”.
Albert Weissenborn began his career in wire drawing as an apprentice at age 16. He began his inventive work on power looms during the 1880’s while at Cheney Bigelow Wire Works in Springfield, Massachusetts where he met his wife Eleanor. His early inventions for power looms are documented in 1890 mechanical drawings signed by Albert and verified by witnesses. In 1896 Albert joined his brother-in-law William Buchanan; his close friend and nephew, Gus Buchanan; and John Buchanan in founding the Appleton Wire Works. He initially served as superintendent. Albert’s wife Eleanor, whose father had been a master wire weaver and loom constructor in London, contributed her skill as a wire seamer in the early days of the company.
Among numerous inventions, his major one was the electro-pneumatic loom in which the loom was powered by compressed air and electricity. Prior to this invention, wire-weaving always demanded both technical skill and physical strength. This invention not only reduced the number of men needed to operate a loom, it also allowed less physically taxed workers to focus on quality and improved uniformity. Patents were granted in the US, France, and Germany. The wires produced by this invention yielded higher quality paper on the paper machines and the growth of Appleton Wire Works accelerated due to this development. The focus on quality was exemplified by the adoption of the company motto “Appleton wires are good wires” in 1907, just one year after his first patents were granted. He continued to refine loom design and was granted another patent in 1910. By this time, Appleton Wire Works had grown to be the second largest wire weaving plant in the country and the largest in the West. In 1912, Appleton Wire Works was restructured and a new 50-50 partnership was formed between Albert and his nephew Gus. Albert was president and manager and Gus Buchanan was secretary and treasurer. Albert continued designing, supervising and directing every detail of the manufacturing including the machine shop where equipment and parts were designed and built for the plant.
Albert Weissenborn was a prolific inventor whose contributions included loom design, wire drawing, annealing equipment, bobbin winding, pirn welding equipment and shuttle design. He was instrumental in the development of the technology of producing Fourdrinier wires. His improvements enabled the production of wider and longer lasting wires, leading to improved productivity in the paper industry. The power loom reduced the number of weavers per loom from two to one. However, at Appleton Wire Works, increased business provided work for the weavers. As an example, there were no layoffs during the Great Depression.
Albert Weissenborn served as President and Manager of Appleton Wire Works from 1912 until his death in 1938. During his tenure, the company became a leader not only in the Fox Valley, but across the United States.
He and his wife, Eleanor Gray, had one child, Annette, who married Roy Purdy. Their son, Albert’s grandson, Bruce Purdy, carried on the family tradition of engineering innovation and invention. Bruce Purdy was inducted into the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame in 2005.