William R. Thomas

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Portrait & Biographical Record, Lehigh, Northampton, and Carbon Counties, 1894


WILLIAM R. THOMAS has for many years enjoyed a reputation not only as one of the finest mechanics in Catasauqua, but also as a man who is thoroughly posted in public affairs. He is now in the employ of the Davies and Thomas Company. A man of more than ordinary ability, he has had a vast amount of experience in his work, and every transaction is characterized by good judgment. He was born in Glamorganshire, Wales, May 30, 1829, and is the son of Hopkin Thomas, whose life history will be found in the biography of James Thomas. The paternal-grandfather of William R. Thomas, who was also a native of Wales, was a miller, which occupation he followed in his native land during his entire life.


Hopkin Thomas, who was also a fine machinist, crossed the Atlantic in 1834, and located for a time in Philadelphia. Thence he went to Beaver Meadows, where William R. Thomas, his son, received his education in the district school, and when sixteen years of age entered the machinist's trade in the shops located there. He remained there until attaining his twentieth year, when, desiring to perfect himself  in his life of work, he went to New York City and received special instruction in the navy-yards. For two years he worked there, and in 1854 emigrated to La Salle County, Ill., and thence to Amboy, where he engaged as an engineer on the Illinois Central Railroad, running between that city and Centralia.


After a service of two years on the road Mr. Thomas' health failed, and be returned to this city, and after recuperating entered the employ of the Crane Iron Company as master mechanic, remaining-with them until 1868, and only leaving their employ to become a partner in the McKee, Fuller & Company Car Wheel and Axle Works. He was Superintendent of the plant for two years, when he disposed of his interest in the business and became connected with the Coleraine Iron Works in the building of furnaces, managing the work shop until 1875. That year be went South to Georgia, where he built the Rising Fawn Iron Furnace in Dade County. From there he went to Helena, Ala, and superintended the operations of the Helena coal mine for a month. At the expiration of that time he returned home and accepted the superintendency of the Coleraine Iron Company for one year, after which he went to Hokendauqua to fill the same position for the Thomas Iron Company. After being seven years in their employ be was, in March, 1887, made Superintendent of the Crane Iron Company, and continued in this position until 1891, when, in company with A. and C. H. Fuller, he started the Globe Metal Works. With this he was connected n year, when he sold out, and, coming again to this town, became connected with Davies & Thomas Foundry and Machine Works.


William R. Thomas was united in marriage in Janesville, this state, in 1856, to Miss Martha Mayhew, a native of England, and the daughter of Francis Mayhew. Of the nine children who were born to them eight are now living: James, a machinist in this city; Katie, Mrs. Agthe, of Philadelphia; John, a chemist in this place; Helen, Irene, Mary, William and Fritz, at home with their parents. Frank, who was Superintendent of the Franklin Iron Works in New York, died in that city.


In social affairs Mr. Thomas is a Free and Accepted Mason, a Royal Arch Mason and Knight Templar. Politically he is a supporter of the candidates of the Republican party, and although not actively interested in political affairs, he maintains a deep interest in everything calculated to promote the best interests of the country, and is a loyal and public-spirited citizen



Obituary – The Catasauqua Dispatch, April 14, 1916



W. R. Thomas, Sr., Ironmaster, Mechanical Expert and Inventive Genius, Passes Away in 88th Year


William R. Thomas, Sr., whose career as a mechanical engineer was coincident with industrial development in America, died early this Morning at his home, No. 24 Second Street Catasauqua in his eighty-seventh year. Mr. Thomas had been in feeble health for over two years, during which time he suffered several strokes of apoplexy. Last Friday his condition become complicated with pneumonia, which caused his death. His condition became critical several days ago and the members of the family were constantly at his bedside.


Mr. Thomas was born at Merthyr Tydvil, South Wales, on May 30, 1829, the son of Hopkin Thomas, for many years master mechanic of the Crane Iron Company, Catasauqua, who was born at Glamorganshire, South Wales, in 1793, and died In Catasauqua, on May 12, 1878. When a boy Mr. Thomas, parents came to America and located for a time in Philadelphia. Afterward they moved to Beaver Meadow, where he received his education in the district schools.


The deceased, entered the shops at Weatherly at the age of sixteen years and learned the machinist's trade. He remained at home until be, was twenty years of age, when, having a strong desire to perfect himself in his line of work, he want to New York City, where he received special instruction in the navy yards. Two years later he went to LaSalle County I11., and then to Amboy, where he engaged as an engineer on the New York Central Railroad, his run being between that city and Centralia.


Later Mr. Thomas returned East and joined his family, who had moved to Catasauqua. He became the master mechanic at the Crane Iron Works which he served until 1868 when he became a partner in the McKee, Fuller Company, Fullerton, now the Lehigh Car, Wheel & Axle Works. After serving for two years as superintendent of the plant he became connected with the Coleraine Iron Works in the erection of furnaces, managing their workshop until 1875. From this time until March 1887, he was in the South, building-furnaces and superintending mines in Georgia and Alabama, was superintendent of the Coleraine Iron Co. and later of the Thomas Iron Co., with whom he remained for seven years.


Mr. Thomas then returned to Catasauqua and was superintendent of the Crane Iron Works for five years, when in company with Abbott and C. H. Fuller he started the Globe Metal Works, remaining with them for one year. During his later years he was the consulting engineer for the Davies & Thomas Company of Catasauqua, which built miles of tubing for the New York subways and the Hudson River tunnels. He received one of the first patents ever issued for a gas engine, and also had patents for milling, blast furnace and automobile machinery. He was a leading mechanical expert ad an inventive genius.


Mr. Thomas and the late Morgan Emanuel were the inventors of dynamite.  They sold their invention to one of the big powder concerns. Some years ago  Mr. Thomas gave testimony before then Supreme Court in an action between the  DuPonts and the Laffin & Rand Company concerning the dynamite question. 


He was united In marriage in Janesville, Pa., in 1856, to Miss Martha Mayhew, a native of England, who preceded him in death a number of years ago. Mr. Thomas is survived by four sons, all of whom are silk manufacturers, namely; William R. Thomas, Jr., president and general manager of the Wahnetah Silk Co., Catasauqua; James Thomas, chief engineer of the Wahnetah Silk Co.; Fritz W. Thomas of Chester, vice president and manager of the Chessauqua Silk Co., that place; and John W. Thomas of Littlestown, Pa., general manager of the Littlestown Silk Co.; three daughters, Miss Helen Thomas, at home; Mrs. O. E. Hawkins of Kingston, and Mary, wife of John Corsa, professor of public speaking at Amherst college, Amherst, Mass. There are also eight grandchildren and two sisters, Mrs. Kate Fuller, widow of James W. Fuller, of Catasauqua, and Mrs. John Thomas of Minneapolis. Mr. Thomas was a thirty-second degree Mason and became a member of Grace M. E. Church, Catasauqua.


The funeral will be held on Saturday afternoon, with services at his late home at 2.30 o'clock, followed by private interment in Fairview Cemetery, West Catasauqua.


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