The Crane Iron Works


The interest of the public in the Crane Iron Works is not limited by their importance as an industrial establishment, nor by the measure of their influence in building up a thriving town, but extends to the broader field in which they are considered as the outgrowth of he first commercially successful attempt to manufacture iron by the use of anthracite coal in America.  The story of this incalculably valuable manufacturing triumph and of the Crane Iron-Works properly begins in the far-off country of Wales, to which the world is indebted for a vast deal of its progress in the line of the sterner industrial arts. David Thomas, who may be  regarded as the father of the anthracite iron manufacture of America, was born in South Wales, Nov. 3, 1794, and entered the iron business in 1812. After working in various places he went, in 1817, to the Yniscedwin Works, Brecknockshire, located on the southern edge of an anthracite coal-basin, - the only one in the island of Great Britain. The Yniscedwin  Works were the only blast-furnaces created on that bed of coal, the others being located where the coal was either bituminous or semi-bituminous. The works he was employed in were therefore more interested in the use of anthracite as fuel than those in other parts of the country, inasmuch as they had to bring their coke to be used in smelting iron from ten to fourteen miles away by canal. As early as 1820, Mr. Thomas, with George Crane, one-third owner of the Ynescidwin Works, began to experiment with anthracite, burning it in small proportions with coke, but not with practical success. In 1825 he had a small furnace built twenty-five feet high, with nine feet bosh, which was put into blast with coke and increased amounts of anthracite, but the experiments were not promising, and had to be abandoned.  In 1830 the same furnace was made forty-five feet high, with eleven feet bosh. Attempts were again made to discover the secret of success, and with better results than formerly, but still it was so unprofitable that the work was again abandoned. During the time that Thomas and Crane were experimenting in Wales, similar attempts were being made in the United States with equal unsuccess. In the year 1825, Josiah White and Erskine Hazard, both of Philadelphia, being largely interested in the mining of anthracite coal in the then recently-opened Lehigh basin, and having successfully used this coal in the manufacture of iron wire at their mill at the Falls of Schuylkill, created a small furnace at Mauch Chunk, for the purpose of experimenting as to the practicality of smelting iron with this coal. Among other methods that was tried was that of passing the blast through a room heated as high as possible with common iron stoves. They soon abandoned this furnace and erected a new one, in which they used charcoal exclusively, thus acknowledging their effort to  have been a failure, though it contained the unrecognized suggestion of the true and afterwards successful method. In Wales, David Thomas was still toiling on persistently and patiently to discover the mystery. A key to unlock it as furnished in 1834 by Nielson, manager of the Glasgow Gas-Works, who discovered the use of the hot-blast.  Its value was not immediately fully appreciated. The pamphlet on the hot-blast, issued by Mr. Nielsen, was read by David Thomas, who had been on the alert and had perused all of the treatises on iron manufacture and the combustion of anthracite which he could find. One evening, while sitting with Mr. Crane in his library talking the matter over, he took the bellows and began to blow the anthracite fire in the grate. "You had better not, David, " said Mr. Crane; "you will blow it out;" and Thomas replied, "If we only had Nielsen's hot-blast here the anthracite would burn like pine." Mr. Crane said, "David, that is an idea." In fact, it was the origin of the application of the hot-blast in making iron with anthracite. In September, 1836, Thomas went to work, with Crane's consent, and made ovens for heating the blast. On Feb. 5, 1837, the new process was applied. The result was a success in a far greater degree than the two men had dared to hope after their many disappointments, and from that time on there was no difficulty in making iron with anthracite as fuel. The news of the success was spread over the kingdom. The London Mining Journal gave it great prominence, and its account appeared in the United States.


In the great anthracite region of Pennsylvania, able and enterprising men were in readiness to utilize this valuable discovery. In 1836, the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company had offered to any person who would establish a furnace, lay out thirty thousand dollars, and run successfully on anthracite coal exclusively for three months, the valuable water privileges extending from Hokendauqua to the Allentown dam. Under the inducement of this offer, the Lehigh Crane Iron Company, consisting of members of the Coal and Navigation Company, was organized in the same year, and in the fall of the year Mr. Erskine Hazard, one of the leading spirits of the company went to Wales to engage some competent person to come to this country in their interest, and to superintend the erection of furnaces. He went to Mr. Crane who recommended David Thomas. Together they went to see him. At first he was reluctant to leave his  native land, but at last influenced by a liberal offer, and the consideration that his sons would have better opportunities in America than they could hope for in Wales or Great Britain, he consented, and upon the night of the last day of the year, concluded an agreement, of which we give here the text, together with that of a supplement made in Philadelphia.


"MEMORANDUM OF AGREEMENT made the thirty-first day of December, 1836 between Erskine Hazard for the Lehigh Crane Iron Company of this part and David Thomas of Castle Dhu of the other part.

"1. The said Thomas agrees to move his family to the works to be established by the said company on or near the river Lehigh and there to undertake the erection of a blast furnace for the smelting of iron with anthracite coal and the working of the said furnace as Furnace manager, also to give assistance in finding mines of iron ore, fire clay, and other material suitable for carrying on iron works, and generally to give his best knowledge and services to the said company in the prosecution of the iron business in such manner as will best promote their interests for the term of five years from the time of his arrival in America, provided the experiment of smelting iron with anthracite coal should be successful there.

"2. The said Hazard for the said company agrees to pay the expenses of the said Thomas and his family from his present residence to the works mentioned on the Lehigh and there to furnish him a house and coal for fuel - also to pay him a salary at the rate of Ten hundred pounds sterling a year from the time of his stipend ceasing in his present employment until the first furnace on the Lehigh is got hot blast with anthracite coal and making good iron and after that at the rate of two hundred fifty pounds sterling a year until a second furnace is put into operation successfully when fifty pounds sterling shall be added to his annual salary and so fifty pounds sterling per annum additional for each additional furnace which may be put into operation under his management.

"3. It is mutually agreed between the parties that should the said Thomas fail of putting a furnace into successful operation with anthracite coal that in the present agreement shall be void and the said company shall pay the said Thomas a sum equivalent to the expense of removing himself and family from the Lehigh to their present residence.

"4 In settling the salary four shillings and six pence sterling shall be estimated as equal to one dollar.

" In witness whereof the said parties have interchangeably set their hands and seals the date above written.

"Erskine Hazard

    "for the Lehigh Crane Iron Company

"David Thomas


    " Alexander Hazard.


"It is further mutually agreed between the Lehigh Crane Iron Company and David Thomas the parties to the above written agreement that the amt of the sd Thomas salary per annum shall be ascertained by taking the United States Mint price or value of the English Sovereign as the value of the pound sterling - instead of estimating it by the value of the dollar as mentioned in the fourth article and that the other remaining articles in the above written memorandum of agreement executed by Erskine Hazard and the Lehigh Crane Iron Company and David  Thomas be hereby ratified and confirmed as they now stand written.

" In witness whereof the President and Secretary of the Lehigh Crane Iron Company by order of the Board of Managers and the sd David Thomas have hereunto set their hands and seals at Philadelphia on the second day of July 1839.


" In presence of

            "TIMOTHY ABBOTT


The organization of the Lehigh Crane Iron Company, prior to Mr. Hazard's going abroad, had been only an informal one, and on the 10th of January, 1839, it was perfected. The first meeting of the board of directors was held at that time. The board consisted of Robert Earp, Josiah White, Erskine Hazard, Thomas Earp, George Earp, John McAllister, Jr., and Nathan Trotter. They organized by electing Robert Earp president and treasurer, and John McAllister, Jr., secretary. In April they entered into articles of association, which are here appended as affording some idea of the foundation on which this staunch old company has arisen and flourished:

*ARTICLES OF ASSOCIATION of the Lehigh Crane Iron Company, made and ordered into and pursuant to an act of the Legislature of Pennsylvania, entitled an act to encourage the manufacture of Iron, with Coke, or Mineral Coal, and for other purposes passed June the sixteenth, One thousand and eight hundred and thirty-six.

* Witness, that the subscribers, citizens of Pennsylvania, whose names are hereto affixed have associated themselves, under and pursuant to the act aforesaid for the purpose of making and manufacturing Iron, from the raw material with Coke or mineral Coal, and do certify and declare the articles and conditions of their association to be as follows:

* ARTICLE 1. - The name, style, or title of the Company shall be 'Lehigh Crane Iron Company'.

* ARTICLE 2.- The lands to be purchased by the Company, shall be in Northampton, or Lehigh County, or both.

*ARTICLE 3.- The capital stock of the company shall consist of One hundred thousand dollars divided into two thousand shares of fifty dollars each, the whole of which has been subscribed for by the subscribers hereto in the numbers, of shares, set opposite to their respective names.

*ARTICLE 4.- The sum of twenty-five thousand dollars being the one-fourth percent. of the whole capital stock, subscribed for, has been actually paid in.

*ARTICLE 5. - The remaining installments on the stock, already subscribed for, shall be called in in such sums, and at such times and with such forfeiture for non-payment thereof as the Board of Directors, may prescribe.

*ARTICLE 6.- The Board of Directors shall consist of such a number of persons as the stockholders, may from time to time prescribe.

*ARTICLE 7.- The company shall be in all things subject to and governed by the provisions of the act of Assembly, under which it is created and shall have the same, and no other, or greater powers, privileges, and franchises than are conferred upon it by the virtue of the said act.

*Philadelphia, April 23, 1839.


Josiah White

Erskine Hazard

Thomas Earp

George Earp

John McAllister, Jr.

Robert Earp

Theodore Mitchell

Nathan Trotter


Returning to the Welsh iron-worker, we find that he sailed for this country from Liverpool in May, 1839, on the clipper "Roscius," which made the then unprecedented run of twenty-three days, reaching New York June 5th, Mr. Thomas brought with him his whole family, - his wife and five children. Before leaving England he had the blowing machinery and castings for the hot-blast made, and all were shipped except the two cylinders, which were too large for the hatches of the ship. So when the other machinery arrived the projectors of the works were as badly off as if none had been sent. There was not at that time a foundry in the United States large enough to cast such cylinders as were needed. There were small ones at Allentown and Bethlehem.  The company applied to the Allaire Works of New York and the Alger of Boston, but neither of them could bore a five-foot cylinder without enlarging their works, which they were unwilling to do.1


Mr. Thomas then went to Philadelphia to the Southwark Foundry of S. V. Merrick and J. H. Towne, who enlarged their boring machinery and made the five-foot cylinders required. Fire-brick were imported from Wales, there then being none manufactured in this country, and in August, 1839, ground was broken at Craneville (now Catasauqua) for the first furnace. After many difficulties and discouragements, the furnace was finally blown in at five o'clock July 3, 1840. The ore was two-thirds hematite to one-third New Jersey magnetic. It was blown with two-and-a-half-inch nozzles, and the blast heat was six hundred degrees. The first run of iron was made the fourth of July, and proved a great success2. From this time on the manufacture of iron by anthracite was successfully conducted at the Crane Works, and continuously except for the slight cessation common to all manufacturing establishments. Furnace No. 1, in which the success of the new discovery was first demonstrated in this country, was forty-two feet in height, with twelve feet bosh. It was operated by a breast wheel, twelve feet in diameter and twenty-four feet long, geared by segments on its circumference to a spur wheel on a double crank, driving two blowing cylinders, five feet in diameter, with a six-foot stroke, worked by beams on a gallows-frame. The motive power was the water of the canal, - the difference between the upper and lower levels of Lock No. 36. The furnace remained in blast until its fires were quenched by the rising water of the great flood of January 1841, a period of six months, during which one thousand and eighty-eight tons of pig iron were produced. The largest output for one week was fifty-two tons. Concerning the flood which we have mentioned, one of the company's old books contains the following in David Thomas' handwriting:


"On Thursday, January 7th (1841) at nine o'clock in the evening the river rose so that the backwater prevented the wheel from turning, at half after ten covering the tow-path of the level above lock 36. At twelve it was two feet over the banks, and was one foot over the hearth of the furnace. At 1:20 the water was at its height, and about thirty-four inches in the furnace. It was at this height until 3:30 o'clock , when the river began to fall. The water wheel was muddied all over, and the water was nine inches over its top. The dam and canal bank was broken, so that when the water fell in the river it was too low to turn the wheel, though every effort was made to fill up the banks - but they could not succeed, and were obliged to throw the furnaces out on Monday the eleventh of January.

"David Thomas,

Thomas R. Young"3


Furnace No. 1 was blown in again after the freshet, May 18, 1841, and then remained in blast until Aug. 6, 1842, producing three thousand three hundred and sixteen tons of pig iron.


A very large chorus of the "I told you so," always unpleasant even as a solo, would have been heard by Mr. Thomas and the members of the Crane Company had they met with failure in their undertaking. Mr. Thomas had been very generally looked upon as a visionary. The remark made by the leading charcoal ironmaster, "I will eat all the iron you'll make with anthracite", gave expression to the general sentiment of the trade at that time. It is needless to say that he did not keep his promise, although Mr. Thomas sent him word that he had a hearty dinner for him, cooked in the company's first furnace.


The success of the Crane Company's work in Furnace No. 1 led them to immediately enlarge their facilities for manufacturing pig-iron, which they did by erecting Furnace No. 2, forty-five feet high and with fourteen feet bosh. This was blown in Nov. 4, 1842, and remained in blast until March 17, 1844, making five thousand and thirteen tons of iron. In 1842, an additional water wheel was added of the same size as the first, to which it was geared, and in 1844 an additional blowing power was added by the introduction of two turbine wheels eight feet in diameter, which drove two horizontal cylinders of five diameter and six feet stroke; the wheels and all machinery connected with them being built by Merrick & Towne, of Philadelphia.


The first load of ore brought to the works was delivered April 30, 1840, by Henry Hoch, who is still living and now the owner of the mine from which it was dug. This was hematite from Jacob Rice's mine, in Hanover Township, Lehigh County. Ore was also brought during the first year from Nathan Whitely's mine. near Breinigsville, in Upper Macungie township, and from John Kratzer's in South Whitehall County, and the first ore taken from it was brought here. The first magnetite ore brought to the Crane Furnace (in 1840) was from the Mount Hope mine in Morris County, N.J.


In 1842 the celebrated Goetz bed, which is still worked, was opened in Hanover Township of Northampton


  The demands made upon the company exceeding their facilities,. Furnace No. 3 was erected in  1846. It was larger than either of the others, its height  being fifty feet and its bosh eighteen. It was blown by two cylinders of five and a half feet diameter and six foot stroke, which were driven by two beam engines with steam cylinders of twenty-six inches diameter and six-foot stroke. In the spring of 1849 was begun the  erection of Furnaces Nos. 4 and 6, each fifty feet high and of eighteen feet bosh. The blowing cylinders for  each of these were of nine-foot stroke and seven feet diameter, and they were operated by two beam  engines, the steam-cylinders of which had a nine foot stroke, while their diameters, originally thirty six inches, were afterwards enlarged to forty-eight.


 In 1867-68, Furnace No. 6, of seventeen feet bosh and sixty feet height, was built, and in 1880-81 the first furnace constructed, together with Nos. 2 and 3, were razed to the ground, and two modern furnaces with iron shells and fire-brick stoves, were erected in their stead from plans made by the present superintendent,  Mr. Joseph Hunt. They are now successfully working and exhibit the advance made in forty years. The new No. 1, which replaces the original put in  blast in 1840, has made in one year twenty two thousand two hundred and eighty-one tons of iron, its best day's work being one hundred and two tons, or nearly twice as much as was made in the best week by the old No, 1 during its first blast. During its best week the new furnace has produced five hundred and forty gross tons, all foundry iron.


  Until 1855 the company shipped the product of its furnaces by the Lehigh Navigation Company's canal, and after that year principally by the railroad the completed. Now branch tracks of the railroad run to various points about the works, and the company owns  ten locomotives, which are used in the movement of its ores and iron. About three hundred men are employed at the works, and a still larger number at the ore-beds and limestone quarries, and the payroll is very large. The buildings, machinery, and all the adjuncts of the works have been kept in the best of repair and from time to time improved and extended so that they present an appearance unsurpassed by any other iron works in the country. It has been the aim of the Crane Company to produce the best quality of' iron and to displace the famous product of Scotland, and this design having been constantly adhered to the works have seldom been idle; and often pressed with orders while other furnaces were out of blast. The liberality and enterprise of the company has given Catasauqua the benefit of a fine system of water works, and an excellent fire steamer, and the steady employment of its large number of men was for years almost the sole support of the town and is now the largest factor in  its prosperity. The iron-workers here are in better circumstances then in most manufacturing towns, and a large proportion of them have  exceedingly comfortable and even tasteful homes.


At the company's offices in Philadelphia many changes have taken place since the original organization of which we  have spoken in the beginning of this article. Theodore Mitchell Has elected president, vice Robert Earp, in 1845, and was succeeded by George A. Wood in 1868. He resigned in 1878, and the office was then filled by Samuel Dickson, Esq., the present president. The office of secretary, originally filled by John McAllister, was taken by John A. McAllister in 1844, and by Benjamin J. Leedom in 1848. He was  also elected to serve as treasurer some years later. George T. Barnes was elected secretary in 1869, and treasurer in 1878, and now serves in both capacities. Frederick R. Backus filled the office of treasurer for a number of years subsequent to 1845. The board of directors is now constituted as follows: Charles L. Borie, Henry Winsor, Samuel R. Shipley, Fisher Hazard, Robert Lenox Kennedy, Lemuel Coffin, John T. Morris, Charles E. Haven, Charles S. Wurts, and Alexander Biddle. 


 At the Crane works in Catasauqua David Thomas was superintendent most  of the time from 1839 to 1855, though his son, Samuel, had charge during a few years of that period. In 1855, when David Thomas retired he was succeed by his son John. Joshua Hunt, who entered the employment of the company in 1848 was assistant superintendent under John Thomas, and was  chosen to fill the office when the latter retired in 1867.   He resigned at the close of the year 1881 and in recognition of the value of his long term of duty  was presented by the company with a beautiful solid silver tea service,--a fine specimen of repousse work. His son, Thomas Hunt, was assistant superintendent  from 1867 to 1872, when, upon June 22nd, he was so  severely injured by a premature explosion of nitro-glycerin used  in clearing out one of furnaces that the he died two weeks later. Joseph Hunt, a brother of Joshua Hunt, became assistant superintendent, and upon the retirement of the latter, Dec. 31, 1881, took charge of the works, and a little later was made superintendent. David Thomas, after retirement from the office  of superintendent, remained with the company as cashier until 1865, when that    position was filled by John Williams, who had entered the company's employ Nov. 14, 1845. He still retains the position having been on duty altogether over thirty-eight years, and as cashier more than eighteen years.


1 As an indication of the progress made in iron-working in this country in sixteen years, we will mention that Ericsson in 1855 had a cylinder seventeen feet in diameter cast and bored for his hot-air ship.


2 Here we say a word in regard to the claims made for by other works as the first manufacturers of iron by anthracite. It is true that previous to the completion of the first stack of the Crane Company's works, Mr. Thomas was applied to for help and advice by William Lyman, who was  then building the Pioneer furnace at Pottsville, and he made several visits there, directing the putting in of the hearth, boshes, etc. The furnace was blown in in the fall of 1859 in the presence of Mr. Thomas, and soon after, several others were put in blast in the Schuylkill and North Branch region, but the pioneer and the others all failed to make anthracite pig-iron successfully and profitably, and for that reason remained but a short time in blast. Their success was rather in the nature of a laboratory experiment than a profitable manufacturing enterprise, and it remained for the Crane, under the management of Mr. Thomas, followed soon after by the Glendon Furnaces, under William Firmstone, and then the Allentown Furnace, under Mr. S. Lewis, to successfully introduce the profitable use of anthracite coal in the smelting of iron in this country.


3 Young was the first clerk employed at the works


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