Everyone loves a success story. And if you're looking for one, you needn't look much further than the familiar banks of the Navesink. For it was here on the streets of Red Bank that a young immigrant turned a dream into a global business. It's a saga of a business whose fortunes were intertwined with America's own history during two centuries and the Red Bank family who helped make that history.
The name of the saga's central figure appears above the entrance of the Red Bank Library on West Front Street. "Eisner Memorial" it reads. The name in full was Sigmund Eisner, who, as a young man, immigrated from Bohemia (now part of the Republic of Czechoslovakia) in the 1870s, in search of opportunity and a better life. Before his death in 1925, Eisner had expanded an in-home business with two sewing machines into one of the largest and most successful clothing manufacturing operations in the United States.
Eisner, the upwardly mobile young immigrant and entrepreneur, moved frequently in his Red Bank years as his business and family grew. The house at 84 West Front Street was his pride and joy. This 16 room Victorian, with a large cupola overlooking the upper part of the Shrewsbury river, became home to Eisner, his wife Bertha Weis and their four sons. It was within walking distance of the sprawling Eisner clothing factory on Bridge Avenue. The young manufacturer had relocated to larger facilities more than once. He was obtaining larger and larger men's clothing contracts in competitive bidding by the narrowest of margins. In one such bid, he was awarded the contract by a margin of one fiftieth of a cent per suit. The Red Bank Register described "his secret" of upgrading to state of the art equipment enabling him to manufacture more cheaply than his competition. His specialty became uniforms and his first major contract came from the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War. His reputation for producing uniforms of durable wear, won him contracts from many of the countries opposed to Germany prior to America's entry into World War I.
By the time the U.S. entered the conflict, the Eisner factory on Bridge was turning out record numbers of uniforms for our troops. Over 5000 employees were engaged in Bridge Street uniform production during the war years.
Sigmund Eisner was one of the first Americans to realize the value of the Boy Scout movement. A personal friend of Lord Baden Powell, the movement's founder, Sigmund was a champion of scouting from its inception in the U.S. As the movement grew, it became increasingly difficult to provide uniforms for the new scouts as rapidly as needed. Eisner responded by installing special equipment in his factories for scout uniform manufacture. Within months the familiar olive drab uniforms with the Eisner label under the collar were being worn by scouts from coast to coast. Uniform shipments left Eisner factories bound for scout troops as far away as Africa and Manchuria.
A generous supporter of charitable causes throughout the country as well as his home town, Sigmund Eisner was as generous in death as in life. In his will, his bequests from an estate estimated in the millions, included those to his long-time employees and to Red Bank churches and congregations of all faiths. A member of the American Jewish Committee and Jewish Welfare Board, he was an active supporter of the Zionist movement in Palestine during its formative years.
After their father's death, the four sons ran the Eisner business from the Bridge Avenue factory and during World War II continued to provide uniforms for our troops. After the war, they closed the factory and engaged in other lines of business. Idle for some years, the old site that hummed with the sound of sewing machines, today houses the Galleria retail complex.
In January 1937, the Eisner family deeded the Front Street house to the Borough of Red Bank for use as the new facilities of the Red Bank Public Library. It was only one of the many contributions made by a family who shared their American founder's passion for public service. Evidence of that service is the name that appears on a plaque outside Borough Hall listing the 44 Red Bank residents who sacrificed their lives in World War II -- Jacques Rodney Eisner, Lt.jg, U.S.N., killed in action during the Battle of Guadalcanal 13 November 1942, grandson of the family patriarch, Sigmund Eisner. The destroyer escort USS Eisner bears the young hero's name.
Today yet another Eisner name is prominent in a very different venue. His face appears on TV and the covers of major news magazines. He is Michael Eisner, (former) Chairman of the Disney Entertainment empire. This "Prince of the Magic Kingdom," as one newspaper has described him, is the great grandson of Red Bank's own "favorite son" - Sigmund Eisner.