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The Reading Iron Company

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The Reading Iron Company was organized Aug. 12, 1889, and purchased from the assignee of the Reading Iron Works its various plants, consisting of the Tube Works, Reading Rolling Mill, Scott Foundry, Sheet Mill and Steam Forge.

Reading Iron Company on the banks of the
Schuylkill River - South Reading
~Click Image to Enlarge~

The company comprised a Rolling Mill, Tube Mills, Furnace, Forges, Foundry and Machine Shop, and Sheet Mill. The operations were so comprehensive that they embraced almost every branch of the general Iron Manufacture.

The Keystone Furnace was acquired in 1889, and the Crumwold Furnace at Emaus in 1895. The Oley Street Rolling Mills were built in 1896 and the Ninth Street Rolling Mill (formerly the P. & R. Rail Mill) was added in 1896, and remodeled in 1899 and 1902. The Montour Rolling Mills at Danville (Built in 1845, and where, in October of that year, the first T rails in America were rolled) were acquired in 1895, and rebuilt in 1901. The Danville Puddle Mill was purchased and repaired in the early part of 1905. The forge on North Ninth Street was built and equipped with powerful machinery and electric cranes in 1901-02, and took the place of an old Steam Forge, built in 1850. The Scott Foundry (originally built in 1854, and where guns were made during the Civil war) was rebuilt in 1905-06. The company owned and operated 7,538 acres of Coal lands in Somerset County, known as the Somerset Coal department, which supplied the various departments with bituminous coal.

Aerial View of the Reading Iron Company on the banks
of the Schuylkill River - South Reading - 1915
~Click Image to Enlarge~

The company owned a large interest in the Pennsylvania Steel Company, one of the largest independent steel companies in the United States.

The many separate departments of the company enabled the management to control the manufacture from the assembling of the raw materials to their conversion into the finished article, the largest output of which was tubular goods, consisting of wrought-iron pipe, plain or galvanized, for gas, steam and water, charcoal iron and steel boiler tubes for locomotive and other uses; oil well casing and tubing, hydraulic and line pipe, etc., ranging from 1-8 inch to 20 inches in diameter.

The two Blast Furnaces had a total annual capacity of 180,000 gross tons of pig-iron and foundry-iron of superior quality, and the five distinct rolling-mill plants had an annual capacity of some 200,000 gross tons of finished rolled products, skelp, bar iron, etc., in the manufacture of which the mills consumed over 170,000 tons of their own puddle-bar. Cotton compressors, sugar mills, ordnance and general machinery were made at the Scott Foundry, and heavy marine, engine and general forgings, up to fifty tons, were made at the forge.

The Tube Works was the nucleus from which sprang this splendid aggregation of industrial plants. In 1836, Benneville Keim, George M. Keim, Simon Seyfert and James Whitaker, trading as Keim, Whitaker & Co., erected a rolling mill and nail factory, known as Reading Iron & Nail Works, at the foot of Seventh Street, between the Schuylkill Canal and the Philadelphia & Reading railroad (which had just been constructed). It was here that the first large stationary engine in Berks County was introduced for driving machinery. Bar iron was made in large quantities; also cut nails by twenty-six nail machines. In 1846 the firm name was changed to Seyfert, McManus & Co. (Simon Seyfert, and his son Simon; John McManus, a railroad contractor, who had helped to build the Philadelphia & Reading railroad in the early forties; J. V. R. and Nicholas Hunter, Horatio S. Trexler, and a few other, were at various times members of the firm) and it so remained up to 1878, when the Reading Iron Works was incorporated. The first pipe-mill was built in 1848. Butt-weld pipe was made by the old tong process, drawing first one-half, and then the other, and lap-weld pipe was made shortly after, the edges of the skelp being then scarfed with sledge hammers. These methods were later greatly revolutionized. Charcoal iron tubes were made a few years later.

There had arisen from this modest beginning not only one of the largest independent tube works in the country, alone comprising nine mills, capable of producing 150,000 gross tons of tubular goods annually, but as well as the many other important plants or departments above mentioned, some of which comprised several establishments in themselves.

On March 5, 1889, an announcement was made of the failure of the Reading Iron Works. The company gave notice of the suspension of its payments. The first judgment entered against the company was by the Reading Railroad Company for $140,000. One of the creditors of the company said: "The Company has paid unearned dividends and spent large sums in other ways. A dividend was paid on the preferred stock as late as last fall. The managers have given other evidences of extravagance. Instead of allowing business which could only be taken at unremunerative rates to pass, they have accepted it. This policy was, to some extent, forced upon them. The company was a heavy borrower for a long time, and the Directors thought that a suspension of work in any of the departments would excite suspicion and precipitate a collapse. Therefore they continued to accept unremunerative business, and by that means postponed the inevitable. When the crash came, however, it was all the more disastrous. Extravagant management, low prices, and high rates of interest for money, were the causes of the Company's ruin. The Reading Railroad Company is quite as anxious as any of the creditors to settle this matter. The Reading, of course wants the works to continue, on account of the tonnage the railroad gets, and at the same time is averse to putting any more money in. The Reading has use, and very good use, too, for all the money it can get. The railroad company once owned the iron works, having a mortgage for nearly the entire value of the plant, and it doesn't want to get into that position again."

On July 1, 1889, the immense plant of the Reading Iron Works was put up for sale. In forty minutes after the bidding began the property in its entirety, which included furnaces, rolling mills, tube mills, pipe mills, foundry, forges, etc., besides valuable tracts of land, was sold to William P. Bard, a Reading lawyer, for $150,500, subject to a mortgage of $600,000. Mr. Bard purchased it for the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company.

On August 12, 1889 the company was reorganized and incorporated under the name of the Reading Iron Company.

On February 5, 1938 the Reading Chamber of Commerce learned indirectly that, the Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company directors ordered the immediate selling of the Reading Iron Company's stock of finished products and materials in process to this company's chief competitor.

Efforts by the Reading Chamber of Commerce to interest out-of-the-city investors and capital in restoring to operation the mills here, either through purchase or lease, were made over a period of many months early in 1938, but were unavailing. One proposal considered was to organize a new local company to take over some of the plants, on a lease-sale plan, the workers to take some of the capital stock and the new company to obtain a federal loan for operating expenses, but this plan also failed to materialize.

On Saturday, the last day of 1938, permits were obtained to raze 85 buildings at three plants of the Reading Iron Company, wiping out, with one exception, all of the remaining operations of the company in Reading. The exception was the nail mill at the South Seventh street pipe mills, the only unit in regular operation in 1938. The permits authorized the demolition of the huge pipe mills at the foot of Seventh Street in the Second ward, the North Ninth street mills in the Seventeenth ward, and the Oley street mills, two large plants in the Fifteenth ward. The Seventh street property was the equivalent of three city blocks in area; the North Ninth street tract nearly 45 acres and the Oley street plant area nearly as large.

At the peak of its operations, the Reading Iron Company's holdings, in land and equipment, aggregated a capital investment of approximately $12,000,000. Real estate was given a book value in the corporation's balance sheets of approximately $1,000,000. Between 1928 and 1938, it was estimated that the corporation's holdings and investments had depreciated to a book value of approximately $5,000,000. The capital stock of the company was $1,000,000.

The tube works, on South Seventh Street were rated as the largest investment, with the Roe puddling department on Oley Street, as second. The North Ninth street mills and their charcoal furnaces were third and the Keystone furnace plant fourth.

Employing 7,500 men around the turn of the 20th century in its various plants, including mills out of Reading, the Reading Iron Company's operations in Reading steadily dwindled in volume of employment. In the Spring of 1938, when its parent company, the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, went into reorganization proceedings under Section 77-B of the federal law, the last major operation, the Seventh street tube works, went out of operation. At that time estimates of the number of employees on payrolls in Reading located plants ranged from 1,500 to 1,700.

Around 1908 the company was one of the largest iron pipe and bar iron producers in the independent field.


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