Henry F. Henderson, Jr. was born in Paterson, New Jersey in 1928. Henderson’s father was the only African-American general contractor in all of northern New Jersey at that time. Henderson attended New York University and took a number of pre-law classes.
After deciding that he was not interested in law Henderson transferred to the State University of New York at Alfred and attained an associate degree in electrical machinery and power distribution, graduating in 1950. After several encounters with discrimination because of his ethnic origins Henderson was finally able to find a job with the Research and Development Department of the Richardson Scale Company in Clifton, New Jersey.
From 1953 until 1967 Henderson was an estimator that estimated practically every electrical system job for Richardson Scale.
In 1954 Henderson began his own electrical contracting company with retired postal worker John Dotson as his partner. The company operated from the basement of Henderson’s home (which Henderson had built in 1952 in an all-white neighborhood.) Henderson continued to work for Richardson during the day, and took on commercial or industrial buildings for his own company in the evenings or on weekends.
Henderson’s big break came when Richardson found itself with a backlog of work orders that they could not fill on time. Henderson offered his services as a subcontractor, saying he would fulfill the orders from his basement. Richardson agreed and Henderson Industries (HI) was created.
HI grew quickly, soon moving out of Henderson’s basement and moving into a large industrial plant. Today HI is a large industrial technology company with revenues reaching approximately $50 million per annum.