by Thomas Dunn, 2015
Three generations of Havemeyers were inventors. As you know, Theodore A. Havemeyer came to Mahwah in 1879 and established Mountain Side Farm, much of which is Ramapo College. He died in 1897. Although Theodore had nine children only his sons, Henry O. Havemeyer and Frederick C. Havemeyer, continued a presence in Mahwah. Henry O. Havemeyer died in 1965 but his son, Henry O. Havemeyer, Jr. continued to live here until his death in 1992. The house in which Henry Jr. lived became the home of the President of Ramapo College. Theodore, Henry O., and Henry O., Jr. were all inventors.
Theodore A. Havemeyer, born in 1839, had only a grammar school education but joined the family sugar business as a partner in 1861. He was the technological expert in the family and an early age had spent a year in Europe studying the sugar refining process. In 1862 he and a man named Schnitzpan patented a new and improved carriage for sugar molds. He was a partner in Havemeyers & Elder, which was an integral part of the Sugar Trust. In his later years in Mahwah he was a patron of many agricultural and scientific societies that were advancing the technology of agriculture. He was on the forefront of ensilage– to generate feed for his cows—the breeding of cows to improve milk production, and the breeding of fantail pigeons for show.
Theodore Havemeyer’s son, Henry O. Havemeyer, dropped out of Yale in 1897 after the death of his father and became an apprentice at the family sugar business. He returned to Yale and graduated as a proud member of the Class of 1900. The Ramsey Journal reported in 1906 that he had gotten a speeding ticket in his newfangled automobile. So it is appropriate that he was the inventor of a license plate holder that could be flipped over so that it had the plate of one state on one side and the plate of another state on the reverse. Henry O. Havemeyer was not merely a playboy, however. He was the president of the Eastern District Terminal in Brooklyn which had been spun off from the family’s sugar business. He became an officer and later the long time president of the Eastern District Terminal. The Eastern District Terminal was the gateway for all railroads coming from the west and seeking to be in Brooklyn or Long Island. It was also the only way in which refined and packaged sugar could get from the Domino refinery in Brooklyn to the west. They had to come through these yards and be moved by small locomotives like these. It would be up to Henry O. Havemeyer, Jr. – who also worked for the company – to make some important advances.
There were no tunnels under the Hudson River so railroad cars were barged or lightered over from the yards of Jersey City, Bayonne or Hoboken, to the Eastern District Terminal and then transferred to the industries or railroads in Brooklyn. To get one or more railroad cars across the river, there was a floating bridge connected to the tracks on the shore. The barge connected to the water side of the bridge. There were tracks on the barge to accept the car being transported. You can imagine how difficult it must have been to transfer a fully loaded railroad car from tracks on the bridge to the tracks on the rolling barge. There were constant mishaps and derailments. The invention of Henry O. Havemeyer, Jr., filed in 1925 when he was 22 years old, improves on the way that the rails on the bridge and barge could be aligned to make derailments rare.
Henry O. Havemeyer, Jr. lived in the house we today call the Havemeyer House and had a number of other inventions to improve railroad transportation.