When Gustav Adolf Bisler and his brother Emil established their paper
box manufacturing company in Philadelphia in 1874, the city claimed
to be the largest producer of paper boxes in the United States. In
that year, paper boxes for hosiery, boots and shoes, hats, medicines
and candies were produced by over thirty firms in Philadelphia employing
from 400 to 1,900 men and women. The demand for paper boxes decorated
with printed labels increased steadily in the decades after the Civil
War. Bisler Brothers, later G.A. Bisler, Inc., specialized in pasteboard
boxes and folding cases, particularly folding suit boxes and confectionary
boxes including the distinctive boxes for the well-known Philadelphia
confectioner Stephen Whitman.
Bisler constructed a new six-story brick building for the paper box
factory at 245-255 North 6th Street on the east side of Franklin Square
around 1901. Twenty-five years later the building was demolished to
make way for the construction of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. The
Library Company's photograph collection depicts the factory in the
early years of the twentieth century documenting all aspects of paper
box manufacturing including images of workers, facilities and equipment.
The earlier part of the collection contains thirty photographs dating
between 1910 and 1915 documenting various departments within the factory.
Images primarily consist of views of male and female workers operating
a variety of paper box machinery including cutting, covering and pasting
machines; and group portraits of workers in each section, often including
the proprietor G.A. Bisler. These photographs include views of the
machine shop, the gold leaf department, packing and shipping rooms,
and an office in addition to exterior views of the factory and images
of two delivery trucks.
The later images in the collection were commissioned in 1924 by the
Delaware Bridge Joint Commission of Pennsylvania and New Jersey to
systematically document the Bisler factory, one of more than 290 commercial
and residential properties purchased and demolished by the Commission
to clear ground for the construction of the piers, anchorage and approaches
for the Delaware River Bridge (later the Benjamin Franklin Bridge).
The resulting photographic album containing 138 photographs by Camden
photographer George Wonfer fully documented Bisler's factory building
from the roof to the basement aiding the Commission in the assessment
of the value of the property. The photographs primarily depict a wide
variety of paper box machinery including several types of printing
presses and bronzing, cutting, staying , covering, gumming, and baling
machines. The album also contains images of stock rooms showing supplies
of cardboard and paper and completed boxes; several offices including
the President's and the General Manager's; machine repair and carpenter's
shops; sales room; employee facilities including dressing rooms, lockers,
bathrooms, dance floor and the smoking room; and building systems
equipment including a water tower, a Corliss engine, generator, pumps,
boilers, water heaters and switchboard.