James W. Fuller

Roberts et al, History of Lehigh County, 1914


James W. Fuller, 2d, was born March 16, 1843. He attended the public schools of town and private schools at Weaversville, Norristown and Kingston, Pa. At the age of eighteen he enlisted in the Union Army as a member of Company F, 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry, under the command of Captain Henry S. Harte. He was promoted to sergeant Aug. 30, 1861. On October 20th of the same year, he was elevated to the rank as adjutant. After a protracted illness which overtook him during the first winter of the Civil War in Virginia, he was honorably discharged from the army and returned to his home.


In 1867, he organized the firm of McKee, Fuller & Company, proprietors of the Lehigh Car, Wheel & Axle Works. Beginnings of the plant had been made during the year preceding by Charles D. Fuller, an uncle and William R. Thomas. The capacity of the shop at this time was fifteen car wheels per day. The new firm at once commenced to enlarge the plant. They bought the defunct concern of Frederick & Company, built a forge and added an axle department. Since then the firm was known as the Lehigh Car, Wheel & Axle Works, and developed an enterprise of much benefit to the business prosperity of the community.


The town of Fullerton was laid out by Mr. Fuller in 1870, and was named in his honor. So devoted was he to his charge that he made his daily trips to the works, personally superintended the mixing of irons for the casting of the wheels and made the rounds among his men in whose individual welfare he was vitally concerned. His advice was sought in many spheres and his opinions were valued.


He was president of the Catasauqua Manufacturing Company, a director in the Thomas Iron Company, the Wahnetah Silk Company, and the Ironton Railroad. At the time of his death he was vice-president of the Empire Steel and Iron Company and a director in the Lehigh Foundry Company.


He had a wide acquaintance and large personal influence with prominent men in the Commonwealth. He inherited from his father personal magnetism and an alert mind, grasping a subject almost intuitively; had an excellent-knowledge of men and had that peculiar ability in a great degree possessed by men of large affairs, in selecting men for positions of responsibility and trust and attach them to him by strand s of steel. From his mother he inherited a wiry constitution, love of rural scenes, of animals and a rapid manner of speech.


He was married in 1864, to Miss Kate M., daughter of Hopkin and Catharine Thomas. Five children came to grace their happy home; George, Llewellyn, who died at the age of twenty-one; Maud, the wife of J. S. Elverson; Blanche, married to Dr. L. A. Salade; Mary Louise, married to H. D. McCaskey and Lieut. Colonel James W. Fuller, 3d. He died Jan 15, 1910, at the age of sixty-seven years and is buried in Fairview cemetery.


Source: Portrait and Biographical Record, 1894


JAMES W. FULLER, President of the Catasauqua Manufacturing Company, and general manager and owner of a half-interest in the Lehigh Car Wheel and Axle Works, at Fullerton, is widely known in the Lehigh Valley. Although it is often said that it is scarcely safe to judge of a man until his life career shall have closed, yet Mr. Fuller has thus far acted his part so well in the business world that he may confidently be expected to add still further to the credit already belonging to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania as one of the most important manufacturing states of the Union.


The biography of one who, through unaided exertions, has risen from an humble position in boyhood to a foremost rank among the wealthy and influential business men of his community, will possess more than ordinary interest for our readers. James W. and has throughout his entire life known no other home than the city of his birth. After having conducted his studies in the schools of this place, he was a student in the academies at Weaversville, Norristown and Kingston, Pa., and there gained the practical knowledge that fitted him for a successful business life.   When Mr. Fuller was approaching manhood, the dark clouds of the Rebellion were falling over the nation. His patriotic spirit was fired, and so great was his ardor in the Union cause that in 1863, at the age of eighteen, he enlisted with the boys in blue. He was at first a private in Company I, Forty-seventh Pennsylvania Infantry, and as such was mustered into the service at Harrisburg, marching from that city to the Potomac River. Meritorious conduct secured his promotion to Sergeant, and later to Adjutant. On account of illness, he was honorably discharged from the army, and returned to his home.


For the next three years Mr. Fuller was sales-man in a Philadelphia house, and in 1868 he returned to Catasauqua, where he organized the McKee, Fuller & Company Car Wheel Works, and opened a factory at Fullerton. Some years later the firm bought out the bankrupt concern of Fredrick & Co., and about the same time built a forge.  Since then the factory has been known as the Lehigh Car Wheel and Axle Works. The plant covers about ten acres, and during the busy seasons employment is furnished to about fourteen hundred men, while the products are valued at $350,000 to  $380,000 per month.   When the works were established, their capacity was but fifteen wheels per day, but from time to time, through the introduction of the most modern improvements and latest machinery, the capacity has been increased to about three hundred wheels a day. The wheels made are the ordinary cast-iron chilled wheel, and a steel tired wheel designed by Mr. Fuller some years ago, and since perfected, so that they are now the best of their kind in the country. From one car they have now increased to twenty, and during busy times they use in the different departments eighty or a hundred tons of wrought iron and over one hundred tons of cast iron per day. In the ordinary cars there are about one and one-half tons of cast iron and three and one-half tons of wrought iron, outside of the wheels, which have two and one-half tons. The building originally occupied by the company was 50x80 feet in dimensions, which was afterward extended to two hundred and eight feet. Upon the failure of Fredrick & Co., their building, 50x200 feet, was purchased, with an adjoining building, 50x50. The building was later increased to 50x420, and a new structure erected, 80x140, which now forms the car shops. The building, 50x50, was increased to 290x50, with an addition 60x35, another wing 30x80, and a blacksmith and machine shop 50x80. Somewhat later the car-wheel department was improved by the erection of a machine shop, 80x80, with a wing 32x50. The next improvement was the building of a forge with two large steam hammers, and not long afterward the value of the property was increased by the purchase of a building 500x112, utilized as a paint shop.


Railroad tracks three miles in length extend around the works, enhancing the facilities for the reception of raw material and transportation of products. In addition to the buildings already named, there is a boiler house with four boilers, that furnish power for the car department; also a carpenter shop, 24x62 feet, and two standpipes. One of these is used for oil, which is pumped into the standpipe every morning and let out again at night, the tank holding a sufficient amount for a day's supply.


The town of Fullerton was laid out by Mr. Fuller in 1870, and was named in his honor. The works of which he is manager, and in the success of which he is largely interested, do an immense business, and their products are larger than those of all the factories in Catasauqua combined. Until recently he and Mr. McKee were the sole proprietors, but four other gentlemen now own an interest in the concern. While they have met with some misfortunes, including the burning out of the forge on two occasions, in the main the history of the Lehigh Car Wheel and Axle Works is one of unexampled prosperity, and their entire losses aggregate not more than $15,000 since the firm was  organized.


While Mr. Fuller has devoted his time, ability and energy largely to the enterprise above mentioned, he has not done so to the entire exclusion of other interests. He is the President of the Catasauqua Manufacturing Company, which possesses four roller-mills in Fullerton and Catasauqua. He is also a Director in many corporations, including the Thomas Iron Company, which operates twelve furnaces; the Wahnetah Silk Mill, in Catasauqua, in the organization of which he assisted;  the Lehigh Valley Trust Company, of Allentown;  the Ironton Railway Company; the Catasauqua &  Fogelsville Railway Company, and two coal companies.


Another industry in which Mr. Fuller is interested is that of stock raising. He owns opposite his works three farms, containing about two hundred acres, and here may be found seventy-nine head of Guernsey cattle, imported from that island. Some time ago he sold a cow for $2,000, and has disposed of other stock at good prices.  His private affairs engross his attention so largely that he has little time to devote to politics, but nevertheless is a firm believer in the principles of the Republican Party.  At the Centennial, in 1876, the Lehigh Car Wheel and Axle Works were awarded a premium, and their exhibit in the Transportation Building at the World's Fair in Chicago was given the highest award. During the inaugural years of the enterprise the business amounted to about $8,000 per month; but this increased to $380,000 in 1882, and at the present time (1894) is more than  $400,000. Such unusual success as this proves conclusively that the one who has devoted to this business the active years of his life, who has given to it his untiring thought and closest attention, is indeed a man of unusual business ability, and such the general public concedes Mr. Fuller to be. Through an honorable and useful career he has maintained the principles of integrity and probity implanted in his mind during youth. These qualities, together with force of character and indomitable perseverance, have brought him a fortune.


Occupying an attractive site on the Bridge and Howertown road stands the elegant residence of Mr. Fuller. This structure is built of native granite, in a modern style of architecture, and is furnished with an elegance indicating the refined tastes of the family. The lady who here hospitably welcomes her hosts of friends, and who became the wife of Mr. Fuller in 1867, was formerly Miss Kate Thomas, and was born in Wales. She is the daughter of Hopkin Thomas, a native of Wales and a machinist by trade, to whom belonged the distinction of having burned the first anthracite coal used in a locomotive.



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