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The Rise & Fall of NVF

1930s Yorklyn

The National Vulcanized Fibre plant circa 1935. The millworker homes shown to the right, called “Brick Row,” were torn down in 1966 to allow for expansion. Photo, courtesy John R. Harrison.

At the dawn of the 20th century, Marshall Brothers Co. produced superior quality paper for the production of vulcanized fibre, a laminate often called the first “plastic.” When one of the company’s biggest customers built his own paper mill and no longer needed Marshall paper, Israel and Elwood Marshall followed suit and entered the vulcanized fibre business, eventually becoming their own largest customer.

As the fibre business grew, the Marshalls built a larger plant on the west side of the Red Clay Creek, along present-day Yorklyn Road, and Israel Marshall’s sons, J. Warren and T. Clarence, became active in the family business. Mechanically-inclined Clarence managed the mill equipment while Warren presided over business matters.

Further expansion followed, with the construction of additional paper and fibre mills until, in 1922, the two biggest vulcanized fibre producers of the day—the Marshall-owned National Fibre & Insulation in Yorklyn and American Vulcanized Fibre Co. in Newark—merged. Warren remained president of the new entity, National Vulcanized Fibre Co. (NVF), now the world’s largest fibre producer. NVF continued to grow and expand, but in 1926, all Marshall family members retired except Warren, who continued as president until his death in 1953, at which time, the business passed out of Marshall family hands. 

While the vulcanized fibre market remained strong into the mid-1960s, the company struggled to find its footing, and when “corporate raider” Victor Posner took the helm in 1966, serious troubles ensued. NVF would file for bankruptcy three times (1993, 1999 and 2007) before being forced to liquidate the last of its assets in 2011.

J. Warren Marshall, 1913

J. Warren Marshall, 1913. Photo, courtesy Hagley Museum & Library, Thomas C. Marshall Photograph Collection.

J. Warren Marshall

A hands-on leader, J. Warren Marshall became president of National Fibre and Insulation Company at only 23 years of age, leading the company through numerous acquisitions and mergers, including its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in 1946.

#1 Fibre Mill, c. 1904

The #1 fibre mill soon after its construction in 1904. Photo, courtesy Hagley Museum & Library, Thomas C. Marshall Photograph Collection.

1970 Yorklyn

Yorklyn 1970