Roe Tapes Go Round the World

Footnotes to Long Island History


AUGUST4, 1960


Thomas R. Bayles

       Sealer of Weights and Measures a position held by the late Justus Roe the 1870's led to the start of what today is one of the most successful industries in the Patchogue area.

       Mr. Roe, the grandfather of the present operators of the Justus Roe Steel Measuring Tape Company was a surveyor at this time and desired to give his customers a full measure, so he started his own wire tape company to insure that his measurements would be correct.

       He started his tape measure business in a one room shop located over a store on East main Street. The first tape measure he made was constructed of a flat length of metal tape on which he placed rivets at designated intervals forming a type of Braille tape measure. Mr. Roe began using the new type tape in his surveying work and found it to be very satisfactory and a great improvement over other measuring methods. He told his friends about his tape they in turn asked him to make one of them and the Justus Roe steel measuring tape company became a reality.

       The founder of the company at first only intended it to be  a part time operation, since at this time he was involved in many other pursuits, among them being: The Roe Hotel, real estate business, surveying and various types of work for both the county and state governments. He produced only two or three tapes a week at the beginning and did not find it very profitable at this time. As more and more people became aware of his tapes they were more and more demand and he began to devote more and more time to the making of tapes.

       With the growth of the business, Mr. Roe's four sons became active in it each fulfilling one of the major positions in the company. Nathaniel Roe, who was an inventor, handled the mechanical work in the plant and kept all the machines in operation. During his life he held many patents in relation to the wire tape business and one for the clutch and steering mechanism now used in many boats. Howard was business manager and Austin and Henry were in charge of production. During this period the business was operated as a partnership.

       The business grew at first rather slowly and it remained mostly a family run business. Over the years the distribution area continued to expend and the Roe products gained nation and world wide prestige. As the demand ands market area increased addition space was needed to produce the product. In about 1900 the Roe factory building was constructed in Roe Court, off East Main Street, this served as the major plant for many years. At some period prior to 1900 they maintained a plant in Brookhaven in which the heavier work was handled.

       During the second world war the Roe plant reached its peak output. The plant operated on three shifts and much of the volume of business was for the U.S. Government. During this period the plant which had started as an owner operated plant employed 80 people from this area. The working space grew from the original one room located over the store on East Main Street to the 10,000 square feet of the plant in Roe Court. The methods of production also changed greatly: the first tapes were made entirely by hand and a limited variety of the product was produced. Now tapes measuring from 18 inches to 500 feet can be made in approximately one fourth  the time it took to make one tape in 1900.

       The Roe plant is proud of its employee relations. Nathaniel Roe, president of the company said that more than 30 per cent of their employees have been working for the company 15 years or more. He credited this record to the fact that the employees have job security and steady employment. He said if we have rush work to do or have a large order to turn out we do not hire additional help to fill it but we pass the increase in business along to our permanent help in the form of overtime which means they too profit from the increase. The plant also provides the normal employee benefit programs which together with the friendly attitude of the management makes it possible to maintain an enviable employee management relationship.

      In 1947 the company was incorporated with Nathaniel and Henry Roe being the major stock holders. The corporation operated until 1958 without a board of directors. Since 1958 an enlarge board of directors including now stock holders, has been running the company with Alfred Roe as chairman of the board, Nathaniel Roe as president. Justus G. Roe as vice president, and Gerald Newman. and Joseph Wiener as members. Howard Cohen production manager and Mrs. Rowden as office manager.

       This year a large new addition was added to plant facilities of the factory with the completion of the new building on the west bank of the Patchogue River and on the east side of River Avenue. The new building adds an additional 17,000 square feet of floor space to the facilities and will serve as the home office of the corporation. The expansion of facilities was undertaken for several reason according Nathaniel Roe. First was the need for additional space, secondly the old factory building had four floors and modern production methods necessitated a single story building thirdly, in the past it was necessary to farm out part of the tape processing work. To overcome this they recently obtained a new machine that is 100 feet long. The old building was too short to house it. Probably one of the most important reasons for the addition is the outstanding growth of the business since 1958 and the desire to expand their merchandising procedures to include more and more small accounts to which they can supply tapes under the Roe name.

       A large portion of the present output of the plant is done for four major purchasers. They have just recently reached an agreement to be the supplier for Montgomery Ward and they have also been the sole suppliers for Millers Falls and Western Auto, for quite some time. They also handle many government contracts. The rest of their outputs is to wholesale jobers. The tapes made for the large purchasers with the exception of the government are not sold under the name of Roe tapes, but rather under a brand name owned by the purchasers.

       The distribution of the products to the smaller accounts is done through manufacturers representatives. Contracts have been arranged with representatives in the United States. These representatives deal with domestic concerns and also with importers and exporters. The plant ships orders to India, South America, Australia, Canada and South Africa. Most of their promotional efforts are directed to these representatives but according to Justus G. Roe, they occasionally branch out to direct promotional methods. To illustrate this point he mentioned the special 500 foot tape made to measure Mickey Mantle's home runs which he personally presented to Mickey at Yankee stadium.

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