Crane Iron Works

Source:Roberts, C. R, et al,  History of Lehigh County Pennsylvania,  1914.



The Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company was organized in 1818, and after operating their coal beds and canal for 20 years, in which time they had increased their production and transportation of 1,000 tons, in 1821, to 224,000 tons, in 1837, they quite naturally considered the propriety of encouraging the establishment of industries along the Lehigh river for the consumption of their coal. They, therefore, in 1838, offered the valuable water privileges of the river from the Hokendauqua dam to the Allentown dam to any persons who would expend $30,000 in the erection of a furnace and run it successfully for three months by the exclusive use of anthracite coal.


This offer led to the organization of the Lehigh Crane Iron Company, which included members of the Coal and Navigation Company, and, in the Fall of 1838, Erkskine Hazard (one of the leading spirits of the Iron Company), went to Wales for the purpose of securing a competent person to come to the United States in their interest and superintend the erection of furnaces. He there met George Crane (proprietor of the Crane Iron Works at Yniscedwin) who recommended David Thomas, an expert employee, and they called to see him.


At first, Thomas was reluctant to leave his native land, but, influenced by a liberal offer, besides the consideration that his sons would have better opportunities in America than they could hope for in Wales or Great Britain, he consented, and on the night of the last day in the year 1838, he entered into an agreement with Mr. Hazard.


It should be mentioned in this connection that Solomon W. Roberts went to Cardiff, Wales, in 1836, as an inspector of rails which were ordered by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company, and other railroad companies. He visited the Crane Iron Works in May, 1837, and then informed his uncle, Josiah White, of the successful use of anthracite coal in the manufacture of iron there. He returned in November, bringing the details of Crane's plans and specifications illustrative of the process. He was asked to take up the manufacture, hut declined and recommended one of Crane's associates. In accordance with his recommendation, Erskine Hazard, of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, went to Wales in November, 1838, and Hazard secured the services of Mr. Thomas.


In the Spring of 1839, Samuel Glace, while inspecting the canal along Biery's Port, noticed a number of men standing on the cast side of the canal, which led him to think that there might be a leak in its bed, and so he asked the locktender, Jonathan Snyder, who they were. He then recognized Owen Rice and Frederick Biery, and they introduced him to the strangers as gentlemen from Philadelphia. Shortly afterward, he received orders from Mauch Chunk, to ascertain if there were any quick-sands along the canal at Biery's Port. These were the men who selected the site for the furnace where the first iron was made in America with the use of anthracite coal, which proved a commercial success.


Mr. Thomas sailed from Liverpool on May 13, 1839, and reached New York June 5th. He brought with him his whole family. Before leaving England he had made the blowing machinery and castings for the hot-blast, 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 foundries 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 5-foot cylinder without enlarging their works, which they were unwilling to do. 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 required cylinders.


Fire-brick were imported from Wales, none being 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, 1846. 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 600 degrees.


The first run of iron was made the 4th of July, and proved a great success. From this time its manufacture by anthracite was successfully conducted at the Crane Works, and continuously except for the slight cessations common to all manufacturing establishments.


Furnace No. i, in which the success of the new discovery was first fully demonstrated in this country, was 42 feet in height, with 12 feet bosh. It was operated by a breast-wheel 12 feet in diameter and 24 feet long, geared by segments on its circumference to a spur-wheel on a double crank, driving two blowing cylinders, 5 feet in diameter, with a 6-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 waters of the flood of January, 1841, a period of six months, during which time 1,088 tons of pig iron were produced. The largest output for one week was 52 tons.


The furnace was blown in again after the freshet May 18, 1841, and continued in blast until August 6, 1842, producing in this time 3,316 tons of pig iron.


Mr. Thomas had been looked upon as a visionary and the remark was made by a leading charcoal ironmaster that he would eat all the iron Mr. Thomas made with anthracite coal.


Other Furnaces Erected.  This successful operation led the company to put up one furnace after another to supply the increasing demands of their trade, until they had six in operation, as follows: 1842. Furnace No. 2, 4.5 feet high; 14 feet bosh. 1846. Furnace No. 3, 50 feet high; 18 feet bosh. 1849. Furnace No. 4, 50 feet high; 18 feet bosh. 1849. Furnace No. 5, 50 feet high; 18 feet bosh. 1868. Furnace No. 6, 6o feet high; 17 feet bosh.


The first load of iron ore was brought to the works on April 30, 1840, by Henry Hoch. It was hematite from the mine of Jacob Rice in Hanover. township, Lehigh county. One was brought during the first year from the mine of Nathan Whitely, near Breinigsville, in Upper Macungie township; and one from the mine of John Kratzer, in South Whitehall township. In 1842, the celebrated Goetz bed was opened in Hanover township, Northampton county, and the first ore was taken to the Crane furnace.


The first magnetic ore was brought from the Mount Hope mine in Morris county, N. J., in 1840.


In the erection of the furnaces no machinery was used. Trees were cut down and set up as poles, to which ropes and chains were fastened and these held scantling in place at intervals; planks were laid as a floor on this scantling and on this floor heavy stones were pulled up to the masons on small two-wheeled carts with long handles.


A large blowing-engine was afterward erected, because the water-wheels were not powerful enough to furnish blast for all the furnaces, even though a small engine had been erected at an earlier date. This necessitated more room, and Bridge street (which ran in a direct line to the Canal) had to be vacated and located as at present.


Canal Bridge Moved.  The question then was how to remove the canal bridge to the new location, and Samuel Glace, an experienced superintendent on the canal, solved it. He waited until the boating season was over; then he placed two empty boats under the bridge and drew the water from the canal, which put the boats on the ground; then he placed long blocks on the boats and covered them with planks; then the water was let into the canal, which raised the boats and put the bridge up in the air and then the bridge was easily drawn to its new position.


Public Interest.  The manufacture of iron was quite a curiosity, and down to the Civil War, for a period of 20 years, the works were visited by many people of prominence, including Sir Morton Pero, Simon Cameron, Horace Greeley, and Dom Pedro (Emperor of Brazil). The bridge house was at times crowded with people, and it became a custom of the villagers to come to the evening cast.


The teams which brought -~~on ore from the mines were sometimes more than two miles in length, reaching from the Crane Iron Company scales out to Eberhard's quarry on the Mickley road. The roads in the county were frequently made impassable to the farmers and this reconciled them to the proposed C. & F. R. R. The magnetic ore was brought from New Jersey in loads and hoisted on an inclined plane by horse power and then piled up in front of the furnaces 6o feet high.


The coal was brought by boats and piled up on the site of the new canal, opposite the Bryden Horse Shoe Works, in immense quantities. In the winter season it was placed on barrows, then taken on huge scows to the furnaces, ready for use. This was done night and day during the entire winter. On one of the midnight trips, Hugh Dougherty was missing, and found drowned. His funeral was the first Catholic funeral in town. The interment was made at Easton.


Immense quantities of coal were also hoisted by buckets and piled in great heaps on the site of No. 6 Furnace (which was torn down in February, 1914.) The opening of the L. V. R. R. and C& F. R. R. changed this, and many costly improvements had to be made to meet these new conditions.


The six furnaces operated by the company for many years have been reduced to two. The men employed vary from 300 to 500.


The company erected numerous small two-story brickand frame dwellings in the First ward of the borough for the convenience of its workmen, numbering altogether 95, put up at the same time as the furnace. It has also 5 dwellings in the Second ward, 3 in the Third, and one in the Fourth; total assessed, 104.


Iron Curiosities.  At the laboratory of the Crane Iron Works there are two interesting curiosities on the north side of the building which look like the mouths of two projecting cannon. They were placed there in 1907 as mementos. They are abandoned tuyeres, which had been in the furnaces, through which the hot-blast was forced. The one next to the pavement was in the first furnace, erected in 1840.


The company made an assignment in 1893; a re-organization was effected under the name of the Crane Iron Works, and it passed under the control of the Empire Steel and Iron Company. Its main office was at Philadelphia from 1839 to 1895; then it was transferred to the Front street office at Catasauqua, opposite the furnace, where it continued until 1908, when it was removed to the Empire Steel and Iron Company building on Bridge street.


The Empire Steel and Iron Company removed its offices from New York City to Catasauqua in 1900, locating in the Crane Iron Works office building, and continued there until 1908, when they were transferred to the superior three-story brick building on Bridge street, which the company erected at a cost of $20,090.


Besides the Crane Iron Works, other companies, controlled by the Empire Steel & Iron Company, with offices here, are the Mt. Hope R. R. Co., and the Victoria Coal and Coke Co., of West Virginia.


Leonard Peckitt, president of this company since 1899, became chief chemist of the works in 1888, and since 1980 has been prominently identified with its management.


Return to the Crane Iron Works Index Page


About The Hopkin Thomas Project