Elder & Jenks is the oldest continuously operating brush and roller maker in the United States, having opened its doors in 1793.
"We like to think that we started with George Washington," said Michael Norton, vice president of operations for Norton & Sons, which owns both Muralo and Elder & Jenks.
Jeff Champneys, of ATK Thiokol Inc., came to Bayonne to give the staff at Elder & Jenks an overview of NASA's shuttle program and how the Bayonne company fits into the overall program.
Part of the reason for the lecture was to show workers just how important quality control, communication, and other factors concerning the manufacturing of the brushes here are to the safety and success of the shuttle launch. Some of the brushes are used to apply substances, while others help clean.
While the shuttle program, as Champneys highlighted during the hour-long talk, is about to change drastically - with the look of the existing shuttle due to change completely - the process for construction of the booster rockets will retain the need for high quality.
Brushes made in Bayonne help the shuttle to fly
The company uses Elder & Jenks brushes in many more applications than Champneys went into during the lecture, but he explained in detail some of the key functions.
Some of the most critical functions involve the two large booster rockets that supply 80 percent of the power for the shuttle to lift off.
The boosters employ the largest solid rocket motor ever flown, and are designed for reuse- even though temperatures at ignition can exceed 6,100 degrees Fahrenheit.
"Wires do not merely burn at that temperature, they boil," Champneys said.
The NASA program uses 12 types of Elder & Jenks brushes in the manufacture of the booster rocket engine - some of which are for critical uses and others non-critical.
The brushes are used to apply motor case primer and touch-up paint, primer to the blast nozzle's metal surfaces, and other uses.
Perhaps the most critical use of the brushes involves the application of adhesives and cleaning of propellant. Champneys went into detail about the construction of the rocket and how the brushes play a critical role in security of the housing and insulation around the solid fuel, where even the slightest imperfection can mean the difference between a safe launch or an explosion.
"Elder & Jenks helped ensure the quality and dependability of the RSRM [Reusable Solid Rocket Motor] and in doing so, plays a significant role in the safe operation of the space shuttle system," he said.
Michael Norton said he had selected members from the various aspects of the production staff to attend the NASA lecture because each played a part in maintaining the quality of the brushes.
Norton said the NASA program uses a variation on the standard brushes the company sells, with the bristles shortened.
"The length of the bristles depends on the use," said Champneys, "what has to be applied and whether it's on a smooth or rough surface."
Playing a part in American history
Norton & Sons has several significant ties to American history, although its most well-known product is Spackle.
The Elder & Jenks brush company, which has continued operations for more than 213 years, was originally located in Philadelphia when it served as the capital of the United States. The Jenks family sold the business to a family known as Maxwell, and was later purchased by the Norton family, who moved the business to Bayonne.
Among the employees that made the transition to Bayonne was Hy Schuman, son of the brush maker who had worked with the company since 1895, passing down the art of handcrafted brushes.
Mike Norton was a young boy when his father, Edward Norton, purchased the brush company, but spent summers and holidays working at the side of Hy Schuman learning the craft.
Paint and more
The Muralo Company has an equally distinguished history. Founded in 1894 on Staten Island, the company became the largest water-based paint company in the world by the early 1940s.
Edward Norton, a native of Staten Island, joined the company in 1905 and left it in 1921 to start a competitor, the U.S. Kalsomine Company. In 1944 he left that company to start yet another competitor, Norton & Sons, which grew rapidly, and in 1953 Norton won the bidding to take the Muralo Company, which had fallen on hard times, out of bankruptcy.
"Our company has supplied paint for the Capitol Building and the White House," Mike Norton said, noting that the company continued to evolve over the years so as to numerous products (including Spackle, which Muralo developed in 1926), as part of a one-supplier for contractors and other professionals.
"We mostly market to independent paint dealers," Norton said. "Our products are aimed toward the repeat customer such as the contractor who is interested in high quality rather than what's on sale."
This means that the company's various lines of paint products, brushes and other items will not likely be found in big box home center stores.
Champneys, prior to his lecture on the use of brushes by NASA, said he hadn't even known about the paint division of Norton & Sons, until saw the display in the lecture hall.
"I recognized the label from the general store near where I live," he said.
Norton & Sons, which has been supplying brushes to NASA for more than a dozen years, started in 1944 with four people. The company currently employs more than a hundred people, mostly from Bayonne and Jersey City. Although founder Edward Norton died in 1974, the company is still run by his three sons, three nephews, a cousin, a daughter-in-law, a granddaughter, and a host of people who are considered family.