History and Heritage
Congoleum traces its origins back to Kirkcaldy, Scotland, where Michael Nairn expanded his family’s successful sailcloth business into the manufacturing of painted floor cloths. There the local skeptics called the new enterprise “Nairn’s Folly.” But people stopped laughing when Nairn’s painted floor cloths quickly became a popular item, as they were a practical and inexpensive way of covering the swept dirt floors that were the standard in working class homes of the period. When Michael Nairn Senior died in 1858, his son Michael Barber Nairn, assumed management of the company.
Frederick Walton, a young Englishman, invents linoleum, a smooth flooring made from a solidified mixture of linseed oil, flax, cork, wood flour and pigments. Michael Nairn beings manufacturing the new linoleum. Linoleum, with its oil cloth backing and plain colored, heavy-duty surface provided the most durable and attractive floor covering on the market. Nairn’s business expanded to England, France and Germany. In the U.S Nairn appointed floor covering specialists Messrs. W. & J. Sloane of New York City as their selling agents.
Business looked promising in the U.S. so Nairn bought property in Kearny, New Jersey to establish the U.S. branch of the company. Nairn brought many Scottish workers to Kearny to help get the plant started. Even today, the Scottish influence is still evident in Kearny from the people, the specialty shops and activities still seen there.
While Nairn was building his business in Kearny, a small roofing company in Pennsylvania was establishing itself in the market. The United Roofing and Manufacturing Co. produced “Congo” roofing, supposedly named for the fact that asphalt used as a saturate in the roofing material came from the African Congo.
When the United Roofing and Manufacturing Co. ran into serious manufacturing problems, United Roofing entered into an agreement with the Barrett Manufacturing Co. to have the Barrett plant in Erie, PA manufacture Congo roofing. With increased manufacturing capabilities, United Roofing began to look for other sales opportunities for their product.
It soon became evident that the three foot wide strips of Congo roofing material could easily be used as floor runners to deaden noise and minimize dust and dirt collection in traffic patterns. It was also more durable than the rubber mats which were being used at the time. To differentiate between the Congo roofing and the flooring material, the flooring was given the name Congoleum.
Manufacturing linoleum was a tedious and time consuming task. The material had to be cured, or cooked, at various stages in huge ovens in order to produce the proper product. With the invention of a straight line inlay machine and its installation in the Kearny plant in 1906, the entire manufacturing process was improved and simple designs became possible rather than an overall color. This machine allowed geometric shapes to be cut from the solid color sheets of material and inset with contrasting colored material. It offered a variety of patterns for consumers.
Changes to the flooring product Barrett Co was manufacturing were made: the surface was smoothed, and the color lighted. Eventually an oak finish was added to the Congoleum product, this marked the introduction of the Congoleum rug border in two and three foot widths. This material was used to border area rugs in homes. From there the product line expanded to include 6’ x 6’, 6’ x 9’ and 9’ x 12’ area rugs. These rugs sold under the Congoleum Gold Seal Brand and were floor covering bargains. Barrett Co. of Delaware, which owned all the stock of United Roofing, officially acquired United Roofing Manufacturing Co. and United Roofing becomes Congoleum Co. an arm of Barrett Co.
Negotiations between Congoleum Co. Inc and Nairn Linoleum Co. began because Congoleum wanted to carry a comprehensive line of linoleum products. Congoleum Corporation acquired Nairn Linoleum Manufacturing Corporation and changed the name to Congoleum Nairn Inc. Congoleum bought Nairn Linoleum Co on October 24, 1924. Together the company produced Congoleum felt based flooring and Nairn linoleum. It is from this base of flooring types that Congoleum grew and developed a series of flooring products which add an extra dimension to the décor of American homes. During the next decades, Congoleum-Nairn’s business flourished, and the company name represented the best in flooring quality and products.
Vinyl plastic floor covering is first present to the public at the Chicago World’s Fair
The Congoleum Narin Kearny plant is converted to war product manufacturing to manufacture tent cloth, aerial torpedo parts, grenades, mildew proof sandbags and linoleum for battleships and war housing. During this time government and private research efforts proved vinyl plastic to be a viable material.
Shortly after the war tile flooring was a major product added to the company’s product line. Tile represented a new economical floor covering ideally suited for the inexpensive homes that came about in the post war housing boom.
In the early 1950s Congoleum Narin introduced Congowall, a printed enamel felt based wall covering. This was the first economical wall covering on the market, the Congowall was immensely successful.
Also in the 1950s Congoleum Narin became the first flooring company to promote its products on national television.
Congoleum Narin was the first company to make 12’ wide rotogravure printed flooring. The rotogravure manufacturing process gave Congoleum Narin the ability to provide consumers with better designs and color opportunities in seamless flooring products.
One design innovation was the use of controlled metallic accent chips; this was an industry first and improved the styling in all sheet material.
Progress in manufacturing and design procedures were important elements to the growth of vinyl flooring. But only after years of research did Congoleum Narin make three major innovations that revolutionized the entire flooring industry.
- The invention of cushioned vinyl (now called resilient sheet flooring)
- The development of chemically embossed cushioned vinyl
- The introduction of the no-wax wearlayer
This invention of cushioned vinyl marked a completely new concept in floor covering. The year after the cushioned vinyl, Congoleum Narin invented chemical embossing, which was a patented manufacturing process. These two features combined resulted in major industry changes and allowed designers to create exciting mixes of intricate colors, designs, and surface textures in resilient flooring.
No-Wax floors, originally introduced as shiny vinyl allowed customers the comfort of cushioning, realistic designs and easy maintenance, seen nowhere else.
Congoleum Narin is purchased by Bath industries, a major ship building operation and the name is changed to Congoleum Industries
Congoleum Industries introduces the Chromabond Protection System for superior stain and mildew resistance in floor covering
Congoleum Industries became the first vinyl manufacturer to bring 15’ wide cushioned vinyl to the industry. Bath Industries changes the name to Congoleum Corporation, which more clearly expresses the change of emphasis from shipbuilding to home furnishings for the overall parent company.
Congoleum Corporation introduces the Scuff Tuff wearlayer which offers a high gloss, urethane finish with exceptional scuff resistance.
Hillside Industries assumed ownership of Congoleum Corporation.
Congoleum Corporation introduces Bac Stop mildew protection to every flooring product. This prevents discoloration due to mildew, bacteria and alkali.
Hillside Industries Inc. owned Congoleum Corporation and American Biltrite. American Biltrite owned Amtico Inc. (not to be confused with Amtico Company of Coventry, United Kingdom). Hillside Industries entered into a joint venture and formed a new company called Congoleum Corporation that would manufacture, distribute and sell Congoleum sheet vinyl flooring, Amtico vinyl tile and Congoleum Gold Seal ceramic tile.
Congoleum Corporation patents and introduces new wearlayers for its products. Including nylon and aluminum oxide which provide durability and scratch resistance like no other wearlayer.
DuraCeramic, a patented revolutionary Luxury Vinyl Tile is introduced into the market.
Congoleum Corporation files for Chapter 11 protection against asbestos litigation.
Congoleum partners with 3M and introduces yet another significant additive to flooring. Congoleum Corporation is the only company in the industry, at the time, to fuse Scotchgard Protector into the wearlayer to provide easy cleanability and durability.
Congoleum Corporation introduces its line of AirStep products. These products are uniquely backed products that allow the flooring to lay flat and stay flat.
Congoleum Corporation emerges from bankruptcy and once again becomes a private company
Congoleum breaks ties with American Biltrite and becomes a new private company
Throughout its history Congoleum has held a pioneering role in the resilient flooring industry and has contributed substantially to the growth of the industry. Congoleum has been a step ahead for over 125 years and continues its commitment to quality products, manufacturing and market innovations for the future.