History of Cambria Steel
From: History of Cambria County, Pennsylvania
By: John E. Gable
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianapolis, 1926


The iron industry in Pennsylvania was almost 100 years old before it became established in what is now Cambria County. Beginning about 1716, near Philadelphia, numerous small furnaces and forges soon appeared in Chester, Lancaster, Lebanon, Berks, Bucks and Lehigh counties. By 1787 or 1788 the first blast furnace in the Juniata Valley was in operation on Black Log Creek, now the Town of Orbisonia, Huntingdon County. A few years later Centre furnace, on Spring Creek, Center County, was second in the Juniata Valley. Hauling pig iron and bar iron from Huntingdon County to Pittsburgh, before the completion of the Pennsylvania Canal and Portage Railroad, made business for the early roads, especially the Frankstown road to Johnstown, which is now being reconstructed of concrete and brick. Before 1800 cemented steel was being made at Caledonia, near Bedford.

Pioneering for a time passed by Cambria County. The march of progress in settlement and in commerce was by way of Cumberland toward Pittsburgh. In 1790 the first iron manufactured in Pennsylvania west of the Alleghenies was in Fayette County and the first furnace was built at Jacob's Creek, and probably the next at Dunbar. By 1811 Fayette County had ten furnaces, one air furnace, eight forges and several rolling and slitting mills. Westmoreland County followed Fayette in making iron for Pittsburgh and the river trade. There were a number of plants in Westmoreland before Gen. Arthur St. Clair built Hermitage furnace on Mill Creek, two miles northeast of Ligonier, in 1803. While the industry was approaching Johnstown from the west, it also came near from the south. Shade furnace was built on Shade Creek, Somerset County, about 1807, and three or four years later Mary Ann forge, on Stonycreek, about four miles below Shade furnace, began work on pig iron brought from Bedford County. Between those two dates, in 1809, John Holliday built Cambria forge on the north bank of the Stonycreek at Johnstown, removing it two years later to a site on the Conemaugh River, where bar iron was hammered out of Juniata pig iron and blooms. About 1810 Robert Pierson established here a small nail factory. The first Cambria furnace was built by George S. King and others in 1842, on Laurel Run, to be followed within six years by five other charcoal furnaces. This was the real beginning of the iron and steel industry in Johnstown, the actual start of the Cambria Steel Company.

John McCormick, in his History of Johnstown (1923), summarizes the financial story of Cambria Iron Company and its successors as follows:

"The early history of Cambria Iron Company was one of financial embarrassments.

"Organized in 1852 by Peter Shoenberger and George S. King with the aid of Boston capitalists who were unable to meet their obligations; then a reorganization with New York capitalists; then a group of Philadelphia capitalists, headed by Richard and Charles S. Wood, secured the property. The mill rolled its first iron rail on July 27, 1854.

"On May 15, 1855, the Cambria Iron Company, then almost in the hands of the sheriff, leased its works to Wood, Morrell & Co. for five years, the lease being subsequently extended one year.

"In 1856, Mr. Hite states, the Cambria Iron Company's works consisted of a rolling mill, 56 puddling furnaces, a machine shop, a blacksmith shop, a foundry with a pattern shop upstairs, a brick yard, wagon shop, stables, etc. Fifteen hundred men were then employed in the mills and 300 horses and mules provided transportation.

"On Aug. 1, 1857, the mill, a large frame structure, burned down, but by this time the Iron Company was financially profitable and the mill was promptly rebuilt.

"In December, 1861, the Cambria Iron Company decided to operate the works, and the lease to Wood, Morrell & Co. was terminated.

"In 1898 a program of works expansion was decided upon and for a time the question of whether the additional plant would be built at Erie, Pa., or in Johnstown was in doubt, but it was finally decided to build the Franklin plant.

"On Nov. 1, 1898, the Cambria Iron Company leased their plant to the Cambria Steel Company for a term of 999 years, with a capital of $16,000,000, afterwards increased to $50,000,000, of authorized stock of which $45,000,000 was issued.

"In 1916 the Pennsylvania Railroad sold their controlling interest to the Midvale Steel and Ordnance Company. This company bought about 97 per cent of the Cambria Steel Company's stock and had previously purchased the Midvale Steel Company of Philadelphia, the Worth Bros. plant of Coatesville, Pa., and the Wilmington Steel Company of Wilmington, Del.

"In 1923 the Bethlehem Steel Company bought the Midvale Steel and Ordnance Company and now operates the Cambria plant.

"The Cambria Iron Company's presidents have been: Dr. Peter Shoenberer, Oct. 24, 1853, to 1854; Mathew Newkirk, to 1862; Charles S. Wood, to May 27, 1873; Edward Y. Townsend, to 1891; Powell Stackhouse, present incumbent.

The Cambria Steel Company's president have been: Powell Stackhouse, 1898 to 1910; Charles S. Price, to 1912; William H. Donner, to 1916; A. C. Dinkey, to 1919; A. A. Corry, to 1923, when the Cambria Steel Company was dissolved.

"The local managers or chief executives at Johnstown have been: Daniel J. Morrell, May 15, 1855, to 1884; Phillip E. Chapin, to 1887; John Fulton, to 1892; Charles S. Price, to 1910; Hartley C. Wolle, to 1912; E. F. Slick, to 1916; J. C. Ogden, to 1919; L. R. Custer, present incumbent.

"The present Bethlehem Steel Company's executive staff of Cambria plant: Charles M. Schwab, chairman Executive Committee; Eugene G. Grace, president; H. E. Lewis, vice president; Quincy Bent, vice president in charge of operations; H. S. Snyder, vice president of finance; and C. A. Buck, vice president of raw materials. Located at Johnstown. "L. R. Custer, general manager; R. J. Wysor, assistant general manager; H. Oliver Williams, assistant to general manager; C, L. Baker, management's representative; R. H. Stevens, chief engineer; Fred A Scammel, superintendent mechanical department Louis F. Quigg, superintendent Franklin Open Hearth Department; Johnson V. Symons, superintendent lower mills; Robert McEldowney, superintendent blast furnaces; Homer M. Crossett, superintendent coke plants; D. S. Muckley, superintendent Gautier department; Benjamin F. Faunce, superintendent steel car department; Harry H. Phillips, superintendent wire department; Patrick J. Scott, superintendent steel wheel department; Charles S. Proudfoot, superintendent electrical department; H. E. Trout, superintendent transportation department; L. H. Winkler, engineer of tests; S. D. Evans, works accountant; B. J. Picking, cashier.

Bethlehem Mines Corporation.

"T. R. Johns, general manager of coal mines; Samuel Steinbach, assistant general manager of coal mines; Frank Horten, superintendent Johnstown division; Duncan May, superintendent Johnstown mines; M. G. Moore, mining engineer; T. L. Evans, mine accountant."

The million dollar state in the development of iron and steel in Johnstown came with the organization of Cambria Iron Company by Peter Shoenberger in 1853 to take over the holdings of Shoenberger & King. The properties included about 25,000 acres of land in Johnstown and vicinity, giving the industry its own supplies of coal, limestone and timber; with plenty of water and fairly good resources in iron ores. The erection of four coke blast furnaces, puddling furnaces and a rolling mill to make railroad rails was begun. It was here that William Kelly made experiments in 1857 with a converter into which air was blown through liquid pig iron to burn out the impurities. The old converter is still kept at the Locust Street offices of Cambria Steel. In a legal contest later, Kelly was given patent rights to his invention on the grounds of priority over the Henry Bessemer discoveries and process.

In the same year John Fritz invented and put into operation the first "three high roll," a device which greatly reduced labor costs and vastly speeded up the process of rolling steel.

In 1867, about the time the nation was recovering from the effects of the Civil war and a tremendous expansion in railroad transportation was at hand, Cambria plant rolled the first steel rails in America, displacing the iron rails. Cambria Iron Company also was the first in America to use the retort coke oven, a battery of Belgian type ovens being installed before 1870 at the Cambria blast furnaces and another later at the Conemaugh blast furnace. The last of these went out of use in 1888. Cambria Iron Company early sought processes which would make better coke products out of the local low volatile coal. Cambria was fortunate in the proximity of its coal to its furnaces and power plants. The Rolling Mill Mine, opened in 1856, has been in continuous operation. Much of the plant coal is used without railroad transportation at all.

About 1892 James A. Fronheiser was sent to Europe by Cambria to study German and Belgian by product coke ovens. Three years later operation of batteries of Otto-Hoffman by product ovens was begun. Under the Midvale Steel and Ordnance management a great battery of ovens with coal handling equipment and by product plants was installed in Rosedale, and by product plants have been erected at the Franklin plant. These developments cost over $21,000,000. At Rosedale a shaft was sunk to a level permitting the delivery at its foot of coal from the Rolling Mill Mine, south of the Conemaugh River, and the workings from the north of the river, to be hoisted to the coke plants or delivered to other places of consumption. Gas coal from the Latrobe field and coking coal from Washington County and West Virginia are also delivered there. The bee hive oven, with its 30 per cent waste, is gone. At the new plants coal is dumped from mine cars into a crusher. The pulverized coal is taken by belt conveyor to the top of a tall building and thence fed by gravity into jigs which are flooded with water, so that rock and other impurities are washed to one side and the pure coal to another side, and thence to a huge settling tank, where the water is drained off. A few days later the coke ovens are charged with this fine coal. Besides a large surplus of gas, other volatile matter in the coal is now saved, some of the by products being listed elsewhere. The list is a long one, covering a vast field of the manufacturing chemist. The tonnage of by product coke manufactured has grown from 177,000 in 1900 to about 1,000,000. There is little stocking of coke and limestone, which are produced as needed, but great piles of iron ore from the Great Lakes region are stocked during the months of lake navigation.

No local ores are now used. The vein is thin and carries but 25 to 30 per cent iron, mining is not economically possible as against the steam shovel surface and open pit mining of the lake ore beds, and the ore is not easily reduced in the blast furnaces. The last local ore was mined in 1881 and 1882 from the Benshoff mine, on the west side of Rosedale, or Hinckston Run Hollow, at a cost of about $2.40 a ton.

To the layman one of the most remarkable mechanical achievements in the Cambria plant is used in the handling of raw materials at the ore and coal dumps and the furnaces. A steel plant in operation is not a good place for visitors, but it would be a matter of great educational value if the whole population of the city could be shown Johnstown steel makers at work, or if the whole gigantic machinery could be portrayed somewhat as the Johnstown City Plan was taught to the school children of the city.

In 1900 the Cambria furnaces produced 428,266 tons. With slumps in 1904 and 1908, the tonnage grew to 1,106,172 in 1913, and 1,523,308, the peak, in 1917. The 1921 depression carried the production down to 459,137.

The total tonnage of Bessemer and Open Hearth steel ingots was 1,078,133 in 1900, with a war time peak at 1,567,703 in 1917. Franklin Open Hearth department was built in 1900 and 1901, making its first heat on April 20, 1901. There were seven furnaces at this time, the number being increased to 22 by 1916.

The 134 inch plate mill rolled its first plate September 10, 1902. The steel car shops, now greatly extended, were built in 1901. Among the latest and most important reconstructions and expansions, coming into production in 1926, are the new or rebuilt units of the Gautier plant. Bar and wire mills of the D. G. Gautier Company were removed to Johnstown from Jersey City in 1878, with Cambria Iron Company owning a half interest, which was made a full interest in 1881. Over a thousand shapes and sizes were rolled on the Gautier mills before the recent expansion and improvement, agricultural and other implement products having long maintained a reputation in the markets of the world. The Gautier wire mills were in operation until 1889, when the flood destroyed them. For some years Cambria was without a wire plant, but in 1911 began operation of a new plant at the western end of the works, in Morrellville, where the rod mill took billets 30 feet long by 13/4 inches square and rolled them on to a Morgan 16 stand continuous two strand mill, passing through enough rods in a day to reach from Johnstown to Denver. These rods, after pickling and washing and baking, are drawn into miles of wire, hard annealed and galvanized, and into a nail mill with a capacity of 40,000,000 nails a day.

One of the last plants planned by Cambria before the acquisition of the works by Midvale Steel and Ordnance, but not completed until later, was the steel car wheel department, built in 1917 and 1918 on the Williams farm tract east of Franklin Borough.

It was long the policy of Cambria to do its own construction work in nearly all departments. This gave the mechanical department unusual importance and its heads a wide field of work. In recent years much of the construction work, on reservoirs, by-product coke plants, power plants and shops, has been done by contract. The transportation department, with more than 125 miles of broad gauge and some narrow gauge tracks, also was operated as a plant unit. So too with the mining department. Bethlehem Steel Corporation, however, has a policy of incorporating its plant railroads and making them common carriers. Bethlehem also has consolidated its coal mining interests under Bethlehem Mines Corporation.

The writer finds it difficult to be content with so skimpy an outline of the history of Cambria steel, but the purpose of this volume is to bring the important facts of Cambria County up to the present, rather than to repeat what has already been painstakingly gathered and preserved in earlier publications, and the limitations of space forbid too great a trespass upon the wealth of material left by McCormick, Swank, Storey and many others.

It would be unfair, however, to avoid here a discussion of several chapters in the history of Cambria which have to do with the relations between the company, usually represented by one man until recent times, and its employes, in matters of wages, conditions of labor, working conditions, pensions, sickness and accident, hospitalization, housing, collective bargaining, education, literature, recreation and other factors in the life of the industry and of the community.

Cambria Iron Company is believed to have been the first industrial firm in America to establish its own hospital. Whether, considered from today's view, it was wise for the industry to undertake this community matter of hospitalization is a question. But it is to be remembered that Cambria at that time was pretty much the community, that the relationship between the employers and the men was very close, that the company store was an established institution, and credit on the company's books undoubtedly a blessing in many periods of depression and low wages or no earnings at all.

Andrew Carnegie, who came into steel at the period of change from iron, was in a larger city than Johnstown, yet the works at Braddock were local in many ways, while Homestead, Duquesne and other plants were owned from the beginnings, so that both works and towns had to be built. Even within the City of Pittsburgh an iron or steel mill was fairly self contained in matters of housing employes in the immediate neighborhood and in other respects, Pittsburgh, in its business section, growing as Johnstown had as a center of many communities and the communities individually expanding until their lines met and joined each other.

Andrew Carnegie had the benefit of other leaders in American industry in other American cities when he came to the conclusion that hospitals should be financed and maintained as municipal institutions, if not as state or county institutions, and that hospitals founded and maintained by industries or by private individuals were not soundly created to serve their purpose.

Cambria Iron Company opened its first hospital of ten beds in 1881. Its physicians and surgeons had found that accident cases treated by them did not, in many cases, make good recoveries at their homes or boarding houses. There was a large increase in the number of new employes, and there was constant change in power and machinery, so that the number of serious accidents grew and in the minor cases there was always the danger of infection.

There was no city or community hospital, and if there had been there would still have remained the difficulty of apportioning costs of maintenance and operation or fixing a schedule of fees.

Cambria Hospital's capacity was gradually increased to 50 beds. Under the Midvale regime a new hospital, with a nurses' home, was built and equipped. It opened in 1921 at a cost of about $600,000. Johnstown at the time was discussing plans for increasing its hospital facilities by enlarging both Conemaugh Valley Memorial Hospital and Mercy Hospital, and it was felt that Cambria's new institution would be a community asset by producing a reserve capacity for emergencies. The hospital staff maintains works dispensaries in the plants, with nurses constantly on duty. Effective safety first campaigns have been repeatedly put on among the employes and the mine rescue teams and equipment rank with the most efficient in the country. Departmental safety committees were organized in 1911, and in 1913 a safety engineer was appointed to begin a system of records on all accidents and studies of methods of prevention. The number of accidents has been greatly reduced.

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