Founded by Peter Van Iderstine in 1855, the Long Island City Van Iderstine rendering plant was acquired by Darling and Co, a fertilizer and meat packing business, in 1901. Two years later Darling and Co was sold to Edward Morris and in 1962 Van Iderstine and several other acquired entities were merged to create the Darling-Delaware Company, which was renamed Darling International in 1993. In 1952, Van Iderstine and six other rendering firms were indicted by a federal grand jury for monopolistic practices that included cornering the market on rendered material in philadelphia and price fixing.
Darling International Irving, Texas based Darling International is the largest publicly-traded renderer in the country. The used cooking oil and animal byproducts collected by Darling are converted into tallow, yellow grease, and meat and bone meal. These feedstock commodities are purchased by processors that mix them into an amazing variety of goods including animal feed, lubricants, antifreeze, soap, shampoos, textiles, tires, inks, glues, solvents, paints, explosives, and biodiesel. In addition, animal hides are used to make leather shoes, upholstery, and clothing. Operating coast to coast, the Company’s 24 facilities service 44 states through its fleet of more than 900 trucks, tractors, and trailers.
The Van Iderstine Factory moved to Newark, NJ in 1977. Before shutting its doors, the plant employed 125 people and processed approximately 3 million lbs of bone and fat a week. Today the Newark plant continues to render bones and fat and also processes used cooking oil. The raw material for the plant comes from cattle and hog slaughterhouses, poultry processors, grocery store butchers, meat lockers, and animal mortalities.
Sanborn maps from1898 show the Peter Van Iderstine Grease Rendering Factory occupying block 312, lot 278. By 1915 the plant had expanded east along Newtown Creek, replacing a disused oil refinery. On modern tax maps the footprint of the Van Iderstine plant corresponds to lots 272, 279, and 280, the first of which is owned by Feng-Chiu Hwang and the later two by MW Newtown Capital.
By the end of the 19th century, the Van Iderstine plant was one rendering factory among the dozens that lined Newtown Creek vying for the ready supply of dead animals coming from a city still running on horse and buggy. The sprawling complex, which expanded as the decades passed, consisted of twenty-eight buildings sandwiched between the Creek and the Montauk Branch railroad tracks, both of which were used to export the factories final products: bone meal, bone glue and poultry feed made from dead animals.
Putrid Smells The smells and pollution from the Van Iderstine factory were a constant throughout it's 122 years of operation. The putrid factory caught the attention of the State Board of Health and Governor Flowers, who in 1894 ordered a "purification" of Newtown Creek. The Board of Health singled out Peter Van Iderstine Jr. and his brother, F.A. Van Iderstine, who were discharging contaminated water from their condensers directly into Newtown Creek, and ordered them to clean up or shut down. The order was ignored and the censure was seemingly forgotten when fifteen years later the Health Commissioner signed a contract with the Van Iderstine's to handle offal for all of Manhattan, Bronx, and Brooklyn. (Today the term offal commonly refers to the entrails and organs of a butchered animal, but in the late 1800's and early 1900's offal referred to dead animals and inedible animal parts).
Fire and a Daring Rescue In 1964 a five story building that was part of the Van Iderstine plant being prepped for demolition and new construction burned to the ground in a four-alarm fire. News of the conflagaration made headlines around the region because of a daring rescue of two Van Iderstine employees from the roof of the building by a National Guard helicopter pilot. The Van Iderstines later sued the contractor they hired to demolish the building for starting the fire, but the court ultimately found in favor of the defendant during an acrimonius trial in which the litigants frequently traded barbs.
Is That a Burning Cow? The Battle to Close the Plant A concerted six year community led effort to shut down the Van Iderstine factory came to a head in in the summer of '77 when the Environmental Protection Agency logged 1,200 telephone calls and 2,000 petition signatures in June and July from Long Island City and Eastern Manhattan residents protesting the wretched smells wafting from the Van Iderstine plant. It was estimated that approximately 125,000 people were exposed to the polluted air that was variously likened to sharp cheese, rotten eggs, scorched meat, and burning cow. The complaints led to the first instance of a business being closed under the City's pollution control laws when the Environmental Control Board voted unanimously to seal the plant and levy a $900 fine. The ruling came shortly after the Van Iderstine plant was charged with violating the Federal Water Pollution Control Act for dumping animal fats into Newtown Creek and not reporting the pollution. The Van Iderstine's appealed the Environmental Control Board ruling to the New York State Supreme Court but their requests to reopen the plant were ultimately denied. Having already made plans to move operations to New Jersey before the plant was sealed, the Van Iderstine's picked up where they left off, opening their new rendering facility at 825 Wilson Ave. in the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark several months later.