NEWCOMEN SOCIETY ADDRESS

 

The following draft of the paper entitled Iron In Industry, Progress Over 100 Years In The Melting Pot, delivered by Leonard Peckitt at a meeting of the Newcomen Society held at the Baltusal Club in Short Hills, NJ on May 15, 1940.  The draft was located in March of 2011 in the James Sydney Stillman family archives by Daphne Kimball Holmquist, granddaughter of James. S. Stillman. The draft is a compilation of carbon copies clipped together in a binder.

 

Page 1 of the draft

 

Interestingly, the following notation is found at the beginning of the compilation:

 

 So the question is raised, who was the principle author – Stillman or Peckitt?

 

Leonard Peckitt joined the Crane Iron Works in 1888 and by 1900 was promoted to the presidency of the company. As president, he was involved in the assimilation of the Crane into the Empire Steel & Iron Co. in 1900  - at which time he assumed the presidency of Empire. Later, in 1921, he was involved in the purchase of the Empire Steel and Iron by J. L. Replogle, a wealthy industrialist. Peckitt continued as president of that company.  At that time he moved his home from Catasauqua, Pa. to New York City.

 

James Stillman came to the Empire Steel in Catasauqua in 1900 and in several years became Secretary/Treasurer under Peckitt. There is no information on how long he remained connected with Peckitt.

 

There is a notation on the draft -- “4/10/40 Newcomen L.P.”. The question of who authored the report delivered by octogenarian Peckitt is of interest in view of the vision and artistry of the verbiage contained therein. The report appears in the printed transactions of the Newcomen Society. That final version has not been reviewed.

 

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IRON IN INDUSTRY

 

PROGRESS OVER 100 YEARS

 

in

 

THE MELTING POT

 

 

Fifty years ago, a native son of Yorkshire, England, with eight years of experience as a blast furnace chemist in Pennsylvania, had, a short time before, been appointed Superintendent of the Crane furnace plant at Catasauqua, in the Lehigh Valley.

 

Here it was that, just fifty years earlier, pig iron had first been produced successfully in the United States with the use of anthracite coal as fuel, by David Thomas, whose courage, perseverance, skill and pioneering success won for him the title of "Father of Anthracite Iron in America."

 

The young Superintendent, before taking an early train for Philadelphia, was making a hurried tour of inspection of the furnaces and accosted the stove tender: "Good morning, Edward, what is the temperature of the stoves?" "Good morning, Mr. Peckitt, I'll go and look," he replied. "Go and look?", I inquired, "don't you know? You are the stove tender and watching the temperatures is your job. Don't you ever think?" "No, I don't" this good Irishman shouted above the noise; “It's this way, Mr. Peckitt, I'm the stove tender, but you're the Super, B'God, you're the lad that's paid for thinking."

 

I recall this incident because, to me, it carries significance. Here we were at a "MELTING POT" (if I may violate technical terminology), which was the outcome of an important industrial experiment by a Welshman, imported to conduct the operation, and contributions to its success had been and were being made by men whose roots had known the soil not only of the British Isles, but of every nation in Europe, and other continents.

 

There was a code with which I was gradually becoming familiar in those days as one of those being cast in the "Melting Pot" of the United States of America, alongside of thousands of others gathering from the far corners of the earth; an admixture of every race, color, creed, and social background.

 

Distinctions were recognized as to relative human values and authority, but there existed also a spirit of equality and brotherhood in a common effort - and while decisions might be made by group action, the ability to command respect, to gain success or power or wealth seemed to lie within the individual himself. He had been accorded the opportunity to advance his position in a land of Promise.

 

If the Promise of America to those of alien birth or descent was a promise of economic freedom and prosperity and, as Herbert Croly says, if it "was made on the strength of what was believed to be an inexhaustible store of natural opportunities, it will have to be even when those natural resources are no longer to be had for the asking." "It is entirely possible, of course," he continues "that the promise can never be kept, - that its redemption will prove beyond the patience, the power and the wisdom of the American people and their leaders; - but if it is not kept, the American Commonwealth will no longer continue to be a Democracy."

 

This observation, which was made some thirty years ago, seems to contain a challenge; and while America has been subjected to many crucial tests within the past thirty years and has gained much experience in seeking solutions to a multiplicity of problems, the observation may still be dealt with as a challenge.

 

It to my purpose to present a saga which will not tax your patience with metallurgical, physical and chemical high cockkolorum, as that might deprive of its true historical perspective a subject comprising not only an example of the bounty of nature's heritage to mankind, but the romance attaching to discoveries; the vision to observe unfolding possibilities; - the determination to overcome difficulties; - and, lest you be disappointed, the possible rewards to those who may achieve victory and thereby contribute towards a civilization of culture and further progress in a long established industry which has demonstrated that private enterprise operates in the interest of the Public Welfare. We cannot dissociate man from material progress, nor can we deny that the incentive and, to an increasing extent, perhaps, the inspiration to higher resolve rests upon a recognition of man's inherent rights and responsibilities.

 

At the vary foundation of this philosophy is faith and confidence in the preservation of the rights of the individual - and the benefits that flow therefrom in what we understand as the American system, in the perpetuation of which we should ever be alert, and evidence our loyalty by a readiness to fight for the principles involved.

 

In approaching a study of iron we are immediately concerned with Iron Ore as this is the Raw Material which more nearly measures the limitations surrounding the primary processes of production. I know that I am on debatable ground when I say that the Actual Qre reserves of the world may be estimated at sixty thousand million tons and the Possible reserves at something less then one hundred and seventy thousand million of tons; these estimates are based upon changes in the Industry and are being modified from time to time.

 

Iron as a vital basic lndustry, is a most important factor in the life or any nation and a brief historical back round is of interest.

 

Iron exists In almost every portion of the earth’s a surface and its use can be traced to the earliest stages of antiquity.

 

The exact facts are obviously controversial but I think that a broad summation such as is made by Meredith Givens in an article in the ENCYLOPEDIA of SOCIAL SCIENCES is pertinent and its freedom from debatable conclusions encourages me, with grateful acknowledgement to the author, to quote from his statement;

 

''The use of iron was preceded by the use of copper and bronze, although in some cases the order was reversed. In the primitive open forges and Bloomeries the impurities of iron were slowly “burned” out and a disappointingly small amount of pasty metal - a variety of the modern wrought iron - was ready for hammering, drawing and shaping. Uniting the two primary stages of iron manufacture - smelting and shaping - the early iron makers fused and softened the balls of malleable iron and hammered out their own shapes and implements for industry and war. For thousands of years the open wood or charcoal fires of the forge, or bloomery, was the sole known method of obtaining iron, the only progress during that long period taking the form of minor' improvements in the bellows and other auxiliary apparatus.

 

On the basis of these primitive methods (which still persist in remote parts of the civilized world and in economically backward countries) the ancient civilizations developed an important iron industry which produced an excellent quality of wrought iron and steel used mainly in military and agricultural implements. The industry reached its highest development in the Roman Empire, with the main producing centres in Italy, Spain and Britain.

 

The origin of the blast furnace, a vertical cylindrical crucible, in which iron is separated from the ore by smelting in direct contact with the fuel and flux, is enveloped in uncertainty. In the latter part of the mediaeval period the Germans developed the Stückofen, an improved form of the CATALAN forge which they had built to a height of ten to sixteen feet. This improvement was the direct antecedent of the blast furnace which is known to have been used in Belgium about l340.”

 

This same author further observes:

 

“In the vast forests of North America the iron industry persisted in the use of charcoal for one hundred years after that fuel had become obsolete in England. By the middle of the Eighteenth Century the British Colonies were producing almost as great a quantity of pig iron, bars and blooms as the mother country, perhaps from a fifth to a third of the world output during this stage of the charcoal era.

 

 There was little improvement In American smelting practice between 1790 and the introduction of anthracite in the 1830's.

 

 The introduction of anthracite prepared the expansion of the American iron industry, which was stimulated by the manufacture of solid iron rails and the rapid growth of railroad construction."

 

Great importance attaches to the concluding paragraph in this quotation and I shall revert to the subject later.

 

 

 Digressing here from the sequence of events as recorded in the statement from which I have quoted, some reference should be made to the development of iron ore deposits in the United States after the taking over by the white man. In numerous cases, his predecessor, the North American Indian, a primitive type, varying in characteristics as to tribe and location, was concerned chiefly with sustenance and self preservation, to which agriculture, game hunting, transportation and tribal warfare was incidental. The requirements were simple and nature's supplies were adequate. For tools and weapons pure meteoric iron was used to a large extent, but the cultural tendencies of a few of the tribes led to observations as to the characteristics of "hard rock,” and in such cases Indians were valuable to pioneers in locating the existence of ore bodies which had been revealed in the uprooting of trees or the burning over of forests.

 

In 1643, Capt. Robert Bridges was instrumental in the formation of a Company in London to undertake the building of a forge for making iron from bog ore on the Saugus River, near Lynn, Mass. At this point the first mining and smelting of ore in America was accomplished.

 

The mining of ore in Northern New Jersey may be said to have begu in 1710 and the manufacture of iron in forges in this district at about the same time. There has been an almost continuous mining of magnetite ore of high quality since that time from various ore veins, quite a few of which are still active producers.

 

 

 

There are also to noted the Port Henry and Champlain ore deposits in Neww York, the Cornwall mines in Pennsylvania, the extensive ore beds in Alabama and other southern states, but the largest bodies of ore in America are in the Lake Superior region. The first authentic discovery of iron ore in this region was at what later became known as the Jackson mine at Negaunee, Marquette County, Michigan. A monument erected there in 1904 bears an inscription which gives credit to Marji Gesick, a chief of the tribe of Chippewa Indians, for the discovery of the ore at that point, after U. S. Surveyors, during the preceding year had noted evidences of iron in the region.

 

In 1854, 1000 tons of ore from this mine was hauled to Marquette in wagons and thence taken by water to furnaces in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

 

The total shipments of iron ore from the Upper Lakes in 1939 were 45,072,724 tons. The record tonnage from the upper lake region in one year was in 1916 when shipments totaled 66,902,778 tons. Since the beginning of the ore movement on the lakes, annual shipments have exceeded 50 million tons in 12 of these years.

 

 

 

And now, I return to the subject of Pig Iron, which is the direct product of the blast furnace and which serves no useful purpose until subjected to further manipulation and converted into cast iron, wrought iron or steel.

 

It is, as I have stated, an essential basic commodity in the Iron and Steel Industry and its importance is such that It has been regarded as a barometer of economic conditions.

 

This position has been due to its responsive market price fluctuations and to the heavy tonnage involved in transportation, a ton of pig iron representing four tons of raw material going into its manufacture plus the tonnage resulting from consumer goods produced therefrom.

 

Since the World War the greater proportion of independently owned “merchant blast furnaces" previously operated In the eastern section of the United States have been scrapped and the market which they formerly supplied with pig iron has been absorbed by the steel mills out of the production in excess of their own requirements.

 

In 1920, there were In the United States 480 blast furnaces with an annual capacity of 42,600,000 tons and at the close of 1939 there            furnaces, the annual capacity of which is estimated at            tons. Only            percent of this rated capacity is controlled by the "merchant furnaces."

 

I can recall no more drastic dislocation in an established industry over so short a period of time and yet it involved a policy which was economically sound, as the perpetuation of what would have constituted potential capacity, lying idle, would have entailed ruinous consequences.

 

This is illustrative of the effect of modern progress, In the course of which in the field of transportation, road building, construction of bridges and dams, generation of heat and power, supplying of lighting and ventilation, manufacture of material for wearing apparel and numerous other activities one product is replacing or implementing another.

 

 

 

We have mentioned the use of anthracite coal in the manufacture of pig iron, which, just one hundred years ago, marked a turning point in the iron industry in America.

 

The following information is taken from a biological sketch by E. Roberts found in the "Red Dragon" rnagazine in October, 1883 and an address by Samuel Thomas before the American Institute of mining engineers in September 1899.

 

David Thomas, who may be regarded as the father of the anthracite iron manufacture of America, was born in South Wales, November 3rd, 1794, and entered the iron business in 1812. After working in various places he went in 1817, to the Yniscedwyn Works, Beecknockshire, located on the southern edge of an anthracite coal basin the only one in the island of Great Britain. The Yniscedwyn works were the only blast furnaces erected 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 by canal. As early as 1820, Mr. Thomas with George Crane, one-third owner of the Yniscedwyn 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 in 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 unsuceess. 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 near the Falls of Schuylkill, erected a small furnace at Mauch Chunk, for the purpose of experimenting as to the practicability of smelting iron with this coal. Among other methods tried was that of passing the blast through a room heated as hot 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 was furnished in 1834 by Neilson, 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 Neilson, 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 Neilson’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 built ovens for heating the blast. On February 5th, 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 press of the United States.

 

In the great anthracite region of Pennsylvania, able and enterprising men were in readiness to utilize this valuable discovery. In 1838 the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Co. had offered to any persons 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 the Hokendauqua to the Allentown dam. Under the inducement of this offer the Lehigh Crane Iron Co., consisting of members of the Coal and Navigation Co., was organized the same year, and in the fall of the year 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 in the year, concluded an agreement of which we here give 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:

 

 1st. 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.

 

 2d. 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.

 

 3d. 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.

 

 4th. 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 (Seal.)

 for the Lehigh Crane Iron Company

 DAVID THOMAS. (Seal.)

 

 Witness

      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 said 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 said David Thomas have hereunto set their hands and seals at Philadelphia on the second day of July 1839.

  DAVID THOMAS (Seal)

  In presence of Timothy Abbott.

 

David Thomas 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 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 project ore of the works were as badly off as it 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. 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 3rd, 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 success. From this time on the manufacture of iron by anthracite was successfully conducted at the Crane Works, and continuously except for the slight cessations common to all manufacturing establishments. Furnace No. 1 in which the success of the new discovery was first fully demonstrated in this country, was forty-two feet in height, with twelve foot 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 waters of the great flood of January, 1841, a period at six months, during which one thousand and eighty tons of pig iron were produced.

 

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

 

The furnace plant in Catasauqua was in continuous operation from July 4, 1840 until March 4, 1921 when a modern furnace with a capacity of 400 tons per day, completed and blown in less than six months before, was blown out and later dismantled along with other furnaces owned by the same company, by reason of conditions cited above. Since that time many blast furnaces have been built which produce 1000 tons per day. And so, in a span of 100 years, blast furnace capacity per stack has been increased from 41 tons to 7000 tons per week.

 

In the narration of these events there is but little mention made of the human effort involved in those things which made up the experience of this one small unit in a powerful industry. It had availed itself of the orantzation under its own control and of the Knowledge, the research, the experience and the skill which might be acquired from other sources, all multiplying human effort a thousand fold. There were the successes and the failures; periods of discouragement and of elation, but somewhere there was always faith in the future, and the determination to carry on, coupled with the eagerness and the willingness to work,

 

What of the Ore reserves?

 

There seems to be an assured supply for several hundred years and if these become exhausted there will have been other sources discovered or a substitute available.

 

Are the frontiers disappearing?

 

Perhaps these with which we have contended in the past are no longer frontiers in the sense in which we have regarded them,but we have progressed a sufficient distance along the roads to knowledge in metallurgy, in physics, in chemistry, with arts and sciences to know that there are frontiers as broad as the horizon, as infinitesimal in size as the atom, if we can but develop our minds to envision them, flex our muscles to cope with them, and maintain a determination to conquer them in the interest of a higher cultural civilization.

 

There is no evidence of decadence here when we review what has been accomplished by Industry in the past decade, although there are those who seem to regard the past ten years as marking only an era in which the world has experienced the worst period of economic stress in its history.

 

Many conditions have indeed been distressing; there have been exhibited evidences of failure in many quarters, some of which were the inevitable consequences of a destructive war; others because of human error; still others, perhaps, were a result of hesitancy or fear that there existed tendencies pointing to a gradual departure from standards under which were guaranteed the freedom of the individual and his participation in private enterprise.

 

Upon Industry, to a very large extent, rests the responsibility for the future well being of the land: its prosperity, interpreted into terms of the standard of living; its further development of its resources; and the happiness of the individual as a result of these things.

 

In spite of obstacles which may lie in the path, we may at some future time look back, upon the past decade as the initial period of a Twentieth Century Streamlined Renaissance, but the attainments to be desired will come to us only as a result of our united effort to preserve the fundamental principles.

 

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Rev. April 2011