From Prince’s Bay, S.S. White was supplying the world’s dental needs
Staten Island Advance By Staten Island Advance
The former S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company in 1984. The plant was the largest maker of dental equipment in the world by 1927.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — When the S.S. White plant left Staten Island’s South Shore in 1972, it marked the end of an industry that had operated in the borough for more than a century.
In 1865, the Johnston Brothers bought a palm oil processing plant in Prince’s Bay at the foot of Seguine Avenue and converted it into a dental supply factory. In 1881, the company merged with a firm owned by Samuel Stockton White to form the S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company.
In the 1890s, S.S. White was the largest employer on the Island with 425 workers. By 1927, the horseshoe of 14 interconnected, four-story brick buildings had become the largest maker of dental equipment in the world, with 1,900 workers. Tool and die makers, electricians, engineers and other technicians turned out dental chairs, drills, metal fillings, toothpaste, mouthwash, dentures and bottled anesthetic gas.
The “Factory by the Sea,” as it was called, was proud of maintaining a safe, comfortable workplace with good recreational and health care facilities. Many employees showed their gratitude with long years of service.
Like many Island factories, S.S. White stepped up production during both World Wars. S.S. White’s chemical engineering experience with alloys and plastics commonly used in dentistry made the plant an important research and development site for the war effort. The company also made simple, portable tools and accessories for field use by the military, as well as flexible shafts for airplanes, which were distant cousins to dental power drills.
Post-war relations between S.S. White management and its heavily unionized labor force were marked by frequent contract negotiations and some disputes, including an eight-week strike in 1959. In 1966, the Pennwalt Corp. took over the company and, in 1971, started moving operations to Holmdel, N.J.
The Prince’s Bay plant was closed in 1972. It reopened as the Prince’s Bay Trade Mart, but by 1980 only 40 of the original 100 businesses remained. The ailing mall was then turned into a Factory Center of discount outlets. But the idea never really took off, and in 1982 the Factory Center was closed.
The owner, Joshua Muss, razed the plant in 1986 after a suspicious two-alarm fire destroyed many of the vacant buildings the previous year. He hoped to build a 396-unit condominium community in addition to a mix of 133 one- and two-family detached houses at the site — dubbed “Prince’s Point” — but the plan was delayed for over a decade after PCBs left behind from the S.S. White days were discovered in the soil and groundwater.