Boonton is a town in Morris County, New Jersey, United States, that was chartered in 1867. As of the 2010 United States Census, the town's population was 8,347, reflecting a decline of 149 (−1.8%) from the 8,496 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 153 (+1.8%) from the 8,343 counted in the 1990 Census. The town was originally called "Boone-Towne" in 1761 in honor of the Colonial Governor Thomas Boone.
The development of Boonton began in about 1829, as a result of the construction of the Morris Canal and the formation of the New Jersey Iron Company. The original location of the town is now largely under the Jersey City Reservoir, completed in 1904. In 1908, the waters from this reservoir were the first municipal water supply in the United States to be chlorinated. The decision to build the chlorination system was made by John L. Leal and the facility was designed by George W. Fuller.
During the 18th century, the settlement of Boonetown (variously spelled as Booneton or the current Boonton) was established on the Rockaway River, about downstream from the current site of the town. As early as 1747, Obadiah Baldwin ran an iron refining forge there using the iron ore and charcoal available in the area together with water power from the river. As the ironworks grew, workers and their families formed a community that was named "Boone-Towne" in honor of the Colonial Governor, Thomas Boone, in the year 1761. The present town bears only small resemblance to the village of Booneton Falls, and still less to the village of Old Boonton, whose site has been covered by the Jersey City reservoir since 1903.
The Boonton Iron Works were founded about 1770 by Samuel Ogden who, with others in his family, purchased a tract along the Rockaway River. Throughout the American Revolutionary War the Booneton Iron Works was busily engaged in supplying numerous miscellaneous iron products for the military. After the war, operations at Boonton were continued under John Jacob Faesch and his two sons, and, later, by William Scott, who vainly sought to instill new life in the declining business. In 1824, Scott's interest in rejuvenating the antiquated ironworks faded when he learned that the Morris Canal was soon to be constructed, and that it would be of little service to the Village of Booneton a mile or more away.
The nearness of the canal to Booneton Falls made that site ideal for a large factory. A group of business men in New York City incorporated themselves in 1830 as the New Jersey Iron Company, with a capitalization of $283,000. Machinery and ironworkers were imported from England, and with the erection of the mills, a new town, called Booneton Falls, began to appear on the rugged hillside overlooking the river.
The town's Main Street is unique in that it is pitched against a cliff overlooking the 'Hollow' of the Rockaway River. This was said to follow an old Native American Trail, which followed the original deer path.
The new Iron Company flourished for nearly 50 years. The new village of Booneton Falls – like the older Booneton downstream – was essentially a one-industry town. After the Company closed down its operations in 1876, the town was on the verge of collapse.
Although several attempts – one by Joseph Wharton – were made to re-establish iron works on a smaller scale, none endured for any great length of time. Only vestiges of foundations and structures remain in the "Hollow", between Plane Street and the river, to remind Boonton of its own Iron Age.
One of the first of the new industries secured for the town was a silk factory, which, as Pelgram & Meyer, and, later as Van Raalte, Inc., contributed materially to the town's prosperity. Others that followed were a knife factory, a paper mill (at the old village, by then called Old Boonton), a nail factory, a brass and iron foundry, and a carriage factory. The Morris Canal, although going into a rapid decline, still employed a number of men; the Lackawanna Railroad, which had completed its Boonton-Paterson branch in 1875, gave employment to a number of Boonton people and provided commuter service to a number of Boonton residents who worked in New York City. There were, of course, many individually owned businesses, such as blacksmith shops, machine shops, bakeries and a miscellany of stores, all of which began to prosper as the nation emerged from the depression of the 1870s.
In 1891, the Loanda Hard Rubber Company was founded by Edwin A. Scribner, and began the manufacture of molded hard rubber products. Seven years later, Mr. Scribner died, and the management of the firm fell to his son-in-law Richard W. Seabury. In 1906, was Richard W. Seabury, who, casting about for new materials, learned of experiments with synthetic resins made by Dr. Leo Baekeland, for whom the well-known material, Bakelite, was later to be named. Originally intended by Dr. Baekeland for a synthetic varnish, the new material was used by Seabury in making the world's first molding of organic plastics in 1907. Boontonware, a molded plastic dinnerware, was sold nationwide. George Scribner, son of Loanda founder Edwin Scribner, opted to continue the business of plastics molding and established Boonton Molding. The company went on to produce the famous Boontonware dinnerware, molded plastic plates, bowls, and cups manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s. The company also operated a factory outlet store in Boonton for many years. George Scribner was eventually inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame for being a pioneer in developing molding techniques and applications at Boonton Molding Co. from 1920, and preeminent contributor to the development of the industry through his services as president and board chairman of the SPI during the period 1943–1947. His older brother Charles E. Scribner intended to join the family business but it was discovered that he was color blind, he then attended Princeton University and later Harvard Law. He served as Margaret Sanger's lawyer and then as the first chairman of the board of Planned Parenthood. He was instrumental in orchestrating Sanger's trip to Japan through correspondence with General McArthur.
The molded plastics industry was to some extent responsible for bringing the radio and electronics industries to the Boonton area. In the 1920s, the burgeoning radio industry created a large demand for molded parts, and, thereby, attracted the attention of Richard W. Seabury, who organized Radio Frequency Laboratories to exploit that new field. Spawned by that original company, more than a half dozen radio and electronics firms were later formed, and recognized internationally for the excellence of their products. A well-known example among radio engineers was the Boonton Radio Co., located in nearby Rockaway, which manufactured a high-quality test instrument known as a Q meter, still used by hobbyists today. Most of those companies are now divisions of larger corporations and have relocated elsewhere, having undergone name changes in many cases. The Boonton Radio Co., for instance, was purchased by Hewlett-Packard. RFL Industries, Aircraft Radio Corporation, Measurements Corporation (founded by Jerry Burnett Minter and two partners and later sold to the Edison Company after World War II), and Ballantine Laboratories are among those that contributed materially to the prosperity of the area.
The largest industry in the town of Boonton during the 20th century began in 1917, when E.A. Stevenson & Company established the "Butter Works" on the site of the old Knox Hat factory, and started processing coconut and other vegetable oils and making margarine. Under later operation by E.F. Drew & Company, the Boonton plant grew to be one of the largest edible oils processors in the country. The plant closed in the early 1990s, and the site is now a Walmart.
In recent years, Boonton has attracted several art galleries. Most of the galleries are located on the 800 block of Main Street, with a total of six galleries in the area surrounding Boonton Avenue and Main Street that is often referred to as the Boonton Art District. The galleries hold an art walk showcasing the galleries opening receptions on the first Friday of each month.