The Hopkin Thomas Story
In the mid-nineteenth century in the valleys of Eastern Pennsylvania, the American Industrial Revolution was fueled by the amalgamation of vast energy resources, ready capital, plentiful labor and emerging technology. Few of those who labored in this cauldron of activity would imagine that they were forging an industrial power that would be unrivaled throughout the world for the next one hundred years. Most of these men came to these valleys for opportunity - opportunity for themselves and their families. Now their stories are being told - by their descendants who today enjoy the benefits wrought by their forebearŐs labors and who marvel at the fortitude these pioneer families showed as they struggled to achieve their dreams.
The Crane Iron Works, Catasauqua, Pa. where Hopkin Thomas retired in 1870 after a 60-year-long career. Courtesy, The Canal Museum, Easton, Pa.
One such man was Hopkin Thomas. Son of a miller from the rugged hills of South Wales, Thomas led a successful early life. The burgeoning industrial communities in the Vale of Neath with tongue-twisting names like Merthyr Tydfil and Ystradgynlais and Dowlais provided plentiful opportunities for a young man trained in the technology of the day. Why would a successful 43 year-old uproot his wife and small children and undertake the hazardous journey under sail to America? We do not know, as Thomas left no written diaries – and so was the case for the thousands that came to America during this period. What we do know about Hopkin Thomas is that he made the voyage in 1834 and he made his mark on his new home during the ensuing 44 years. This is the story of that journey and of those accomplishments.
Hopkin Thomas was an engineer. His training was through apprenticeship, not scholarship. He passed his knowledge on to those with whom he came in contact and he passed his engineering aptitude on to his descendants. I am aware of seven generations of engineers in America that trace their heritage to Hopkin Thomas. The technologies that Thomas mastered are rapidly passing into history as America shifts its wealth-creating processes of mining, smelting and manufacturing to the more genteel and less environmentally challenging service industries. It is my purpose to resurrect in these pages the accomplishments of that era and describe to those with a technological bent the wondrous accomplishments of that period.
Therefore, consider this as a story about an engineer, written by an engineer, for those who have an interest in applied technology, and especially for those young people who are interested in science. In a broader sense, this is a story about a man who led an inspirational life. When you read about Hopkin ThomasŐ accomplishments and his legacy, you are stimulated by what indeed can be brought about by dedication to your chosen field.
Rev. January 2012