According to a 1976 report for the National Park Service's Historic American Engineering Record, Hocker Manufacturing began its life in Philadelphia in the late 1800's when brothers John and George Hocker started a tin-smith business. John, who had pioneered several new manufacturing techniques, moved the business to Lewes in 1899 to take advantage of lower manufacturing and transportation costs. According to the Engineering Record, Hocker was a Sussex native and was married to a Lewes woman, which may have played a role in his move.
The first factory location was out near Pilottown, on Queen Anne Avenue. Around 1903, Hocker Manufacturing became Henlopen Manufacturing and moved to a new factory building in town on Schley Avenue, now (I think) part of the home of the Lewes Board of Public Works. The Hocker family, and their manufacturing business, prospered at Schley Avenue until 1951. They made tin boxes, bottle caps and brush handles.
Founder John Hocker died in the mid-1940s and his son, John Jr., in the late 1940s. When Mrs. Hocker died, Henlopen Manufacturing passed out of the family and the factory was closed.
In 1953, John Hocker's son Harold, who had left the business a decade earlier to raise poultry, re-established a brush business in a small building behind his home on Front Street, across the street from where the Canalfront Park is now being built.
At the time of the Engineering Record report, Hocker's was still a very small, very specialized business in a tiny building on Front Street. At some point between that report, in 1976, and the mid-1980s when I moved to Lewes, Hocker's moved to Kings Highway, at one of the entrances to the City. The business grew a little, but remained very much a niche company.
In a standard Google search, I have not been able to find an account of that move. In the 20 years that I have lived here, Hocker's has simply always been there.
In early 2007, Hocker's was sold to National Novelty Brush Company, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was, according to a story in the Intelligencer Journal, at the suggestion of Hocker's management.
"We were friendly competitors for the last 30 years," [Novelty Brush president Richard] Seavy said, "until we got a call (from Hocker) wanting to know if we were interested in purchasing it."The housing downturn, apparently, has depressed the market for one of the main products of the Hocker's plant, the metal cap with attached brush that is used to apply solvents and cements to PVC pipe. I can see one in the hands of This Old House plumber Richard Trethewey as he runs pipe for some re-built bathroom somewhere. As a result, there's not enough business for two brush-factories and the Lewes site will close.
I'll miss it.