Exhibit Documents His Works and Philanthropy
Sigmund Eisner was an immigrant peddler who expanded his in-home sewing business into what was then the largest uniform company in the world and left behind a legacy of philanthropy that benefited the Jewish community and others in the Red Bank area.
Eisner, who was officially designated “Red Bank’s first citizen” upon his death in 1925, was instrumental in founding and supporting two synagogues, the Red Bank YMCA, numerous Jewish, philanthropic and civic organizations, and he employed hundreds of Jewish immigrants and others in his factories. His home was bequeathed to the Red Bank Library, which is still housed there today.
Eisner’s accomplishments and his family’s continued legacy of philanthropy are being celebrated in a recently opened exhibit at the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County in Freehold, “The Eisner Family: From Stitching Military Uniforms to Stitching Together the Red Bank Jewish Community,” which will run through the end of the year.
The exhibit includes photos and items from the Eisner collection on loan from the library, by Thomas Minton and Sigmund’s great-granddaughter, Jan Eisner.
“This really chronicles the story of one of the most influential residents of Monmouth County in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” said museum executive director Jessica Solomon, who spent about three months conducting research, including going through Red Bank and old newspaper archives to pull together the collection.
Visitors can view old photos, military and Boy Scout uniforms, historical documents and awards bestowed on Sigmund.
“My great-grandfather was dedicated and focused and his timing was such that he was able to create a dynasty,” said Ms. Eisner of Atlantic Highlands. “Viewing the exhibit was really a trip down memory lane. It is a privilege to see Sigmund’s contributions and everything the Eisners stood for and continue to stand for in terms of giving. I am thrilled and proud at what my family has accomplished.”
For Red Bank Mayor Billy Portman, who grew up in the Jewish community of nearby Ocean Township, seeing the exhibit at its April 30 grand opening “literally merged all my worlds.”
Portman noted that an estate built by Eisner’s grandson just off Prospect Avenue is no longer there but its ornate stonework remains.
“You can take a walk and see this beautiful stone wall and walkways,” he said.
Eisner immigrated from Bohemia to the United States in 1882, shortly afterward settling in Red Bank. There he met the Weis family, bonding with them over a common language and began selling a few suits and clothing pieces in the Weis family store, The Red Bank Temple of Fashion. Eventually he married their daughter, Bertha.
Setting up a few sewing machines in the couple’s new house, Eisner began building his business, moving to a larger house and employing more people. When the business outgrew that space, the couple purchased the old Gill Bakery shop on Wallace Street for their factory. By 1904 the business had outgrown that building and a larger structure was purchased on Bridge Street, operating until 1954. It now houses the Galleria and its collection of boutiques, restaurants and offices.
The company would later establish factories in Freehold, South Amboy, Carteret, Elizabeth and Long branch as demand grew.
By the end of the 19th century, Eisner’s factory was producing uniforms for the U.S. military and went on to produce uniforms for France, the United Kingdom and Belgium for both world wars.
In 1910 Eisner was among a small group called to the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt, who was interested in launching the Boy Scout movement in the U.S. For the first two years, Eisner personally funded and manufactured all Boy Scout uniforms. By 1918 he was producing 1 million scout uniforms annually. Until the 1940s millions of those uniforms bore the Eisner Red Bank label. The business was incorporated in 1916 as the Sigmund Eisner Co.
Eisner’s civic mindedness has had a lasting positive influence on the community and that dedication to helping others served as a role model for succeeding generations.
He supported the Jewish community as a member of the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Welfare Board and the Zionist Committee of America.
The Eisners were active members for 25 years of Temple Beth Miriam, then in Red Bank and now in Long Branch, where Bertha served on the Women’s Auxiliary, and supported Congregation B’nai Israel, then in Red Bank and now in Rumson, becoming the new congregation’s biggest benefactor.
Eisner also served as water commissioner of Red Bank and vice president of Monmouth Memorial Hospital in Long Branch, organized the Red Bank Playground Association and chaired virtually all community welfare drives during World War I.
He was the longtime county vice chair of the American Red Cross, and for more than 20 years until his death in 1925, he was a board member of the Second National Bank of Red Bank. He was also a board member of the Monmouth County Organization of Social Services and the New Jersey State Reform School for Boys in Jamesburg,
The couple had four sons: Raymond, J. Lester, Monroe and Victor. All were involved in the family business and continued the family’s history of community service. Several served on the board of Monmouth Medical Center, the Jamesburg reformatory, county Red Cross and the Monmouth Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
Jan Eisner’s father, the son of Monroe, was president of Monmouth Medical Center for about 50 years and founded a children’s psychiatric center. Her mother, Marylyn, served on the board of the now defunct Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital and was active in many other charities and boards. Both were active in the Jewish community.
Today Sigmund’s descendants have largely scattered to other parts of the country with only Jan’s sister, Kathy Eisner, also pf Atlantic Highlands, remaining. Another of Sigmund’s great-grandchildren, Michael Eisner, is the former chair and CEO of the Walt Disney Co.
For information call (732) 252-6990 or go to https://www.jhmomc.org. Regular museum hours are 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays, and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Admission is $3 for members and $5 for non-members.
Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.