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Seth Boyden Statue

Newark is a city blessed with many fine statues, in today's short tour we are going to look at the oldest of all Newark statues, the Washington Park Seth Boyden monument.

Many readers already know who Seth Boyden was, but for those who do not, Seth Boyden was the man whom Thomas Edison named as the second greatest inventor in American history, after himself.

Like many other great Newarkers, Seth Boyden was a native Yankee. Born in 1788 in Foxboro, Massachusetts, Boyden was the son and grandson of Revolutionary War Minutemen. He came to Newark in 1815 and immediately went into a phase where he felt compelled, at little personal profit, to remake leather manufacturing.

Before Boyden, all leather was soft and highly bendable, Boyden's invention was "patent leather," the hard, shiny leather that turned out to be excellent for boots.

Boyden barely personally profited from any of his inventions. He only filed for one patent in his life. The single patent request was made late in Boyden's life and was for a hat making machine. When asked why he didn't request a patent for patent leather Boyden said, "I introduced patent leather, but it should be remembered that there was nothing generous or liberal in it's introduction, as I served myself first, and when it's novelty had ceased and I had other objects in view, it was a natural course to leave it."

Contrary to the wording of the sign in Washington Park, Boyden's factory was on the other side of Broad Street.

Though Boyden did not profit from his inventions, the City of Newark certainly did. By 1870, Newark's gross receipts from leather manufacture were $8.7 million.

Once he had revolutionized the leather industry, Boyden turned to metallurgy, developing something he called malleable iron. Boyden was a public spirited man who did not attempt to become wealthy off of his inventions. At hardly any fee, Boyden once custom made for Newark a steam fire truck. When city commissioners complained about the extra cost of curving elbow joints in the steam pipes, Boyden explained:
Gentlemen, you read your Bibles, no doubt more than I do; you go to church, no doubt, more than I do, but I observe the laws of G-d as well as you do. G-d, in all his works, never made a right angle.
Later on Boyden invented a made-to-order fire engine for Newark. The historical record ends with Boyden living in what is now Maplewood (then called Hilton), breeding a larger strawberry.
Seth Boyden's grave is in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery
Newark mourned for Boyden when he died in 1870. The city was becoming an industrial colossus, and an ugly one at that. In the years that followed, there developed the idea went up in the City of Newark to both beautify the city and memorialize the founder of the city's prosperity.

In 1872, Newark hosted the first industrial exposition in the United States (Incidentally, the host building, no longer extant, later played an important part in Newark's jazz history).

It was during Newark's celebration of its industrial self that the calls were made for Newark's first statue. Theodore Runyan declared in front of a crowd of hundreds,

As the early settlers of Newark may be said to have laid its physical and moral foundation, Seth Boyden may be said to have laid the foundation of its material prosperity.

It was not until 1886 that fundraising for the Boyden monument began in earnest, led by the Board of Trade and the Schubert Society. Carl Gerhardt, a New Haven sculptor, was chosen to create the statue. The statue is said to be the first statue in the United States of a workingman, though I cannot confirm this.

Fundraising was completed in 1889 and the Boyden statue was unveiled on May 14th, 1890. Mayor Joseph Haynes accepted the statue on behalf of the city.

Though he did not seek fame or riches, Boyden was respected greatly in his own lifetime. The Maplewood house he lived his last fifteen years in was donated to him by grateful industrialists. In 1926, an admiring and aged Thomas Edison said of Boyden at a ceremony at the Boyden statue, "He was one of America's greatest inventors. . . . His many great and practical inventions have been the basis for great industries which give employment to millions of people."

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