A Classification of American Wealth
History and genealogy of the wealthy families of America - Sponsors

 Part 1 : Colonial and Mercantile America  Part 2 : America in the Gilded Age
 Part 3 : America in the Twentieth Century  Encyclopedia of American Wealth

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   Part II-Chapter 11 :  The Trusts  > Steel Kings  :                            « Previous  1 - 2 -- 4  Next » 

     Kings and Princes of Steel 

The Cambria Iron Company of Johnstown Pa., emerged in 1854 from the conversion to coke of a number of charcoal iron furnaces, who belonged to George S. King, Peter Schoenberger and some partners. Because the original promoters could not repay their creditors, the firm of Wood, Morrell & Company was organized in Philadelphia to take over and operate the furnaces. This firm was headed by Charles Wood and Daniel Johnson Morrell (1821-1885), who moved to Johnstown as general manager of the iron works .

But it was to John W. Fritz (1822-1913), a son of German immigrants, who was brought-in as general superintendent of the works by David Reeves, a partner of Wood and Morrell, that Cambria owes its early success. A practical man, who had already acquired experience at James Hooven’s Norristown Iron Works, John Fritz devised the concept of the three-high rolling mill, which solved the problem of tear and brittles of rail production. As the financial situation of the company was critical, Fritz had a hard time winning the owners for his innovation though.

Finally Edward Y. Townsend, another partner of Wood and Morrell, supported the idea and convinced the other owners. The three-high rolling mill worked fine at Cambria and when he left the company in 1860, to take over as general superintendent and chief engineer of the Bethlehem Iron Company, Fritz had made Cambria the most efficient U.S. rail producer, with a workforce of 1948, second only to the Montour Iron Works .

As an entrepreneur, Daniel J. Morrell also played a part in the introduction of Bessemer steel making in the USA. In 1856, he allowed William Kelly to experiment his pneumatic process at Cambria, with the only result of an explosion, locally dubbed “Kelly’s fireworks”. But Morrell remained convinced of the steel-making process and in 1862, together with shipping magnate Eber Brock Ward and expert iron maker Zoheth Durfee, he purchased the Kelly patents and built a steel mill at Wyandotte, Michigan. From these efforts resulted the first (experimental) American steel rails, rolled in the North Chicago Rolling Mill in May 1865 .

In the same year (1865), Alexander Lyman Holley, who had acquired the American license of the Bessemer process in 1857 defeating Zoheth Durfee, finished a steel plant for [John A.] Griswold and [John F.] Winslow at Troy, New York. This set the stage for a violent legal dispute between the holders of the American rights to the Bessemer process [Holley, Griswold and Winslow] and the organizers of the Kelly Pneumatic Process Company [Ward, Durfee, the Cambria Iron Company, and two other firms including Park Brothers & Company from Pittsburgh) .

The complexity of the Bessemer steel patent situation in the USA at that time was increased by the fact that both operating units, the Wyandotte plant and the Troy works, infringed on the respective patents of their owners’ opponents in the dispute. The Kelly process was experimental only and thus the Wyandotte plant had been built along the basics of the Bessemer process. But the Kelly Pneumatic Process Company acquired the American rights to Robert Mushet’s patent on the use of spiegeleisen, a pre-requisite to the successful production of Bessemer steel on an industrial scale. Thus, none of the contenders could do without infringing the patents of the other side .


The Trusts  > Steel Kings  :   « Previous  1 - 2 -- 4  Next »  

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The Railroad Barons

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