Pages 797 to 802




Page 797




CONCERNING the early history of anthracite iron manufacture, we present the following from the able-written and admirable little volume entitles “Guide-Book of the Lehigh Valley Railroad,” by “L.
C.,” - the Rev. Leighton Coleman, formerly pastor of St. Mark’s (Episcopal) Church:

It is not positively known when or where iron was first made in the United States, but the attention of the first settlers of the British colonies was very early directed (no doubt by the previous knowledge of the Indians) to the iron ore with which the country abounds, and in various sections furnaces were soon erected for its conversion into metal. Perhaps the first production from native ore in Pennsylvania was at the Coventry Forge, in Chester County, in 1720.

It was not until after the discovery of the use of anthracite coal in furnaces that the foundations of the immense establishments were laid which have given to this trade its present importance. Prior to this time the ore was converted into metal by the use of bituminous coal, charcoal, and coke. This process was far less economical than was desirable, and therefore when the value of anthracite for ordinary purposes of fuel was fairly tested, its adaptation to smelting uses was tried, and, after a series of reverses and a period of general incredulity, gladly hailed as a great saving in both metal and fuel.  This success added largely not only to the prosperity of the iron trade, but of the coal trade also.

Up to about 1833 the cold-blast was exclusively employed in the furnaces. At that time the Rev. Frederic W. Geisenhainer, of Schuylkill County, after various experiments in the treatment of
anthracite with the hot-blast, obtained a patent for the same, and in 1835 he made iron by this process in a small stack near Pottsville.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Touching the question of who first used anthracite coal in the manufacture of iron, the following documents are submitted. Reference has already been made to this subject under the head of Mauch Chunk Borough, where it is stated upon good authority that an attempt in this direction prior to the dates below…





 Page 798

                        … mentioned was made at Mauch Chunk by members of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company.

 The first letter, originally published in the American Manufacturer, is as follows:

 “CATASAUQUA, PA., Feb. 23, 1872.

B. F. H. Lynn, Esq.:

“Dear Sir, - The question of who was the first person to use anthracite coal for smelting iron is difficult to answer; but I will give you a few facts, from which you can draw your own conclusions.

”In the year 1825, while manager of the Yniscedwin Works, South Wales (where I was from 1817 to 1839), I built a blast-furnace of nine feet bosh and thirty feet high to make experiments with anthracite coal, which abounded in that neighborhood, while we brought coke fourteen miles by canal to smelt ore with. This furnace was blown in with coke in 1826, and the anthracite introduced first one-sixteenth part of the fuel and gradually advanced to one-half, when we had to stop and blow out. It was a failure. 


“In 1832 the same furnace was altered to forty-five feet high and eleven feet bosh, and the same experiment tried, with the same result. 


“In 1836 hot-blast ovens were built to this furnace, according to Mr. Neilson’s patent for hot-blast, of Glasgow, Scotland, and on the 5th of February, 1837, anthracite iron was made, and quite successfully, and in that I claim to have been the first person to obtain successful results, at least as far as I know or ever heard of.

“By an agreement in writing, made with the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company (which agreement I still have in my possession), I came to this country in the spring of 1839, at which time I found a small furnace at South Easton, worked by a Mr. Van Buren, who was endeavoring to make iron with anthracite coal. It was run some ten days or two weeks, when it chilled, and proved a failure, both financially and as a furnace. There was another at Mauch Chunk, owned by three or four men, - a Mr. Bauhm (Baughman), a Mr. Gitto (Guiteau), and a Mr. Lathrop (Lowthrop) (the latter, I think, still being at Trenton, N. J.). This furnace was chilled up in about one week after

“At the same time there was another building at Pottsville, by Mr. Lyman. I received a communication from this gentleman by the hand of the president of the Lehigh Crane Iron Company, for whom I was building the first furnace at this place. This letter urged me to come to Pottsville. I visited him in August, 1839, and furnished him with plans of in-wall, bosh, hearth, etc., and continued to visit him about once a month until the furnace was completed, which was in January,
1840. Then I was so engaged here that I could not remain with him long enough to put it in blast. He accordingly obtained the services of Mr. B. Perry, who blew it in, as founder. They made iron for some weeks (I am not able to say how many), but, the machinery not being strong, they broke down, and I believe the furnace chilled up, though I will not be positive on this point, as it might have been blown out.


“On the 4th of July, 1840, I made the first iron on this plan in our first furnace here, and kept it running month after month and year after year. In 1841 I built the second; in 1846, the third; in 1849,
the fourth and fifth; and in 1860, the sixth; and there are now in this valley forty-six anthracite furnaces, producing over four hundred thousand tons of pig-iron annually.

“I am sorry to have to write this so long, but could not well make it intelligible if shorter. When next I see you I will take pleasure in telling you of scores of experiments made with anthracite coal. I have been in the blast-furnace business sixty years the 12th of April next, and forth-five to fifty of these
years I have been experimenting with anthracite. I care very little about the glory, - who was or who is the successful candidate, - as men’s praises are like shadows.

“You may use this, as I fear no contradiction. I have written nothing but plain facts, but not one-tenth of what might be said did necessity call for it.

“I should be glad to hear from you.

”Yours very truly,

“David Thomas.

“P.S. - Mr. Richards did not buy the Mauch Chunk Furnace until 1842 or 1843, and he used charcoal in it. “

We give below a letter from Mr. James Pott, of Harrisburg, to the editor of the Coal and Iron Record:

“In No. 1 of vol.i, of your journal you give a sketch of David Thomas, in the course of which you say, ‘He was the first man to demonstrate the practicability of using anthracite in smelting iron ore... And of all this magnificent industry the furnace started by Mr. Thomas at Pottsville, less than thirty years ago, has been the pioneer.’

“My object in addressing you is not to detract from the credit due Mr. Thomas for the perfection to which he has carried this business, but to correct what I believe to be an error. Mr. father, John Potts, used anthracite coal to smelt iron ore in his furnace (Manheim Iron-Works), on the West Branch of the Schuylkill, as early as 1836-37, first in connection with charcoal, then with wood cut short, like stove-wood, and finally, by making some change in the interior of the furnace, with anthracite alone, a hot-blast having already been attached.


“These experiments, running through several years, demonstrated to his entire satisfaction the practicability of using anthracite in reducing iron ore; but about 1838-39 the works stood idle for a year or more, when, in the year 1840, he made preparation to enlarge the furnace and to construct it on different principles, which its former size would not admit of. In the early spring of 1841, and before the work was…





 Page 799

                                                … completed, came a terrible ice-freshet, which swept away everything, tearing up the very foundations of forge and furnace, and this was the end of the ‘Manheim Iron-Works.’ A few years later my father sold the property, and in 1844 removed to Bedford (now Futon) County, Pa., where for several years he conducted the ‘Hanover Iron-Works.’ The paralyzation of this industry, following the adoption of the tariff of 1846, compelled him to abandon the business in 1847, and thenceforth he devoted himself to agriculture and milling until he died, in November, 1856.

“From early life my father had been engaged in the manufacture of iron, and so also was his father (John Pott), who, in 1807, built ‘Greenwood Furnace’ on the ‘Island,’ where Atkins’ extensive furnaces at Pottsville now are.

“Mr. Thomas is a public benefactor, and deserves great credit for his energy and enterprise in carrying forward this business to such perfection and success; but I feel that it is but just to correct what I believe to be an error, and to claim for John Pott the credit of having first successfully demonstrated the ‘practicability of using anthracite in smelting iron ores,’ and for little ‘Manheim Furnace’ the distinction of having been the ‘pioneer’ in what has since grown into such wondrous proportions under the skill and tact of Mr. Thomas. I remember well hearing my father often remark that he was the first to use and demonstrate the adaptability of anthracite to blast-furnaces, and that others - the name of Mr. Thomas being mentioned in his observations - had carried it forward to perfect success.

“At the time of the destruction of the works the supply of anthracite for the reconstructed furnace had been contracted for, and a large quantity had already been delivered on the furnace ‘bank,’ - a pile so large as to seem to my youthful eyes like a mountain of coal.

“You will not blame me, sir, for being a little sensitive on the subject. I have not at hand my father’s books, from which to obtain data, and am writing from memory, making the ‘hard-cider’ campaign in 1840 and the great freshet in 1841 the points from which I calculate. If I am in error I am willing to be corrected.”

 The Following was published in the Mauch Chunk Democrat:

 “Trenton, N.J., March 26, 1872.

“MR. EDITOR, - Some unknown person (a friend, I suppose) has sent me an article of about half a column in length, clipped from some newspaper, upon the margin of which I find written in pencil the question, ‘How about this?’

“The article begins thus: ‘For some time past there has been a discussion going on in regard to the credit of making the first anthracite iron in the United States, - Mr. David Thomas, of the Thomas Iron-Works, Mr. John Richards, deceased, once of the old Mauch Chunk Furnace, and Mr. Lyman, of Pottsville, each having their friends to advocate their separate claims to the honor.’

“Next follows a letter from Mr. David Thomas, relating his experience and knowledge of the matter in question, in the course of which he makes the following statement: ‘There was another (furnace) at Mauch Chunk, owned by three or four men, - a Mr. Bauhm, a Mr. Gitto, and a Mr. Lathrop (the latter, I think, is still living at Trenton, N. J. ).  This furnace was chilled up in about one week after blowing-in.’

“Mr. Thomas’ memory must certainly have failed him, or he was misinformed in regard to the Mauch Chunk Furnace, as will appear evident from the following extracts from ‘Notes on the Use of
Anthracite in the Manufacture of Iron; with some Remarks on its Evaporative Power. By Walter R. Johnson, A.M., Boston, 1841.’


“ ‘The furnace at Mauch Chunk, which stands at the head of the preceding table, is believed to have been the first in this country at which any considerable success was attained in the smelting of iron
with anthracite.
(Footnote: Beaver Meadow (Pa.) coal.) Their ore produced was of various, but mostly inferior, qualities, owing probably to deficiency of blast. The blowing cylinders were of wood (single acting), and at the speed employed did not furnish over seven hundred cubic feet of air per minute.

“ ‘Their apparatus for hot-blast was at first defective, and was afterwards placed at the tunnel-head, where it could be seen as well regulated as though managed in separate ovens, with an independent
fire. Hence even of the limited supply of air taken into the bellows, a considerable portion must have been lost by leakage, and by escapes at the open tuyeres there applied.’

“ ‘BEAVER MEADOW, PA., Nov. 9,1840.

“ ‘Sir, - Agreeably to a request of Col. Henry High, of Reading, I send you the following hastily-written statement of the experiments made by Baughman, Guiteau & Co., in the smelting of iron ore with anthracite coal as a fuel.

 “ ‘During the fall and winter of the year 1837, Messrs. Joseph Baughman, Julius Guiteau, and Henry High, of Reading, made their first experiment in smelting iron ore with anthracite coal, in an old
furnace at Mauch Chunk, temporarily fitted up for the purpose.

“ ‘They used about eighty per cent of anthracite, and the result was such as to surprise those who witnesses it (for it was considered an impossibility even by ironmasters), and to encourage the persons engaged in it to go on. In order, therefore, to test the matter more thoroughly, they built a furnace on a small scale near Mauch Chunk Weigh-Lock, which was completed during the month of July, 1838. Dimensions: Stack 21-1/2 feet high, 22 feet square at base, boshes 5-1/2 feet across, hearth 14 to 16 inches square, and 4 feet 9…





 Page 800

                                                                        … inches from the dam-stone to the back. The blowing apparatus consisted of two cylinders, each 6 feet diameter; a receiver, same diameter, and about 2-1/2 feet deep; stroke 11 inches. Each piston making from 12 to 15 strokes per minute. An overshot waterwheel, diameter 14 feet, length of buckets, 3-1/2 feet; number of buckets, 36; revolutions per minute, from 12 to 15.

“ ‘The blast was applied August 27th, and the furnace kept in blast until September 10th, when they were obliged to stop in consequence of the apparatus for heating the blast proving to be too temporary. Several tons of iron were produced of Nos. 2 and 3 quality. I do not recollect the proportion of anthracite coal used. Temperature of the blast did not exceed 200 degree Fahrenheit.

“ ‘A new and good apparatus for heating the blast was next procured (it was at this time I became a partner in the firm of B. G. & Co.), consisting of two hundred feet in length of cast-iron pipes one and a half inches; it was placed in a brick chamber, at the tunnel-head, and heated by a flame issuing thence. The blast was again applied about the last of November, 1838, and the furnace worked remarkably well for five weeks, exclusively with anthracite coal; we were obliged, however, for want of ore, to blow out on the 12th of January, 1839. During this experiment our doors were open to the public, and we were watched very closely both day and night, for men could hardly believe what they saw with their own eyes, so incredulous was the public in regard to the matter at this time; some ironmasters expressed themselves astonished that a furnace would work, whilst using unburnt, unwashed, frozen ore, such as was put into our furnace.


“ ‘The amount of iron produced was about one and a half tons per day, when working best, of Nos. 1, 2, and 3 quality. The average temperature of the blast was 4000 Fahrenheit.

“ ‘For about three months we used no other fuel than anthracite, and produced about one hundred tons of iron of good Nos. 1, 2 and 3 quality. When working best the furnace produced two tons a day.

“ ‘Temperature of the blast 4000 to 6000 Fahrenheit. The following ore were used by us, viz.: “Pipe ore,” from Miller’s mines, a few miles from Allentown; “brown hematite,” commonly called “top mine,” or surface ore; “rock ore” from Dickerson mine in New Jersey; and “Williams Township ore” in Northampton County. The last-mentioned ore produced a very strong iron and most beautiful cinder.

“ ‘The above experiments were prosecuted under the most discouraging circumstances, and if we gain anything by it, it can only be the credit of acting the part of pioneers in a praiseworthy undertaking.

“ ‘Most respectfully, sir,

“ ‘Your obedient servant,

“ ‘F. C. Lowthrop.

“ ‘Prof. Walter R. Johnson, Philadelphia.’ “

” ‘Correct copy from the book:

“ ‘John Wise,

“ ‘Librarian Franklin Institute,

“ ‘Philadelphia, Pa.’

“As an evidence of the reliability of the work from which the above extracts were taken, I would remind your readers that its author, in 1844, published, by order of Congress, a ‘Report on the Different Varieties of Coal,’ in order to determine their evaporative powers.

“Respectfully yours,

“F. C. Lowthrop.”

Subsequently the following appeared in the Bethlehem Times:

“The following documents have been placed in our hands for publication, and we hope that any persons who may have facts or evidence of facts which will throw light on the subject will forward
them to us, that we may lay them before our readers. Some time since we published the following paragraph:

“ ‘The first successful use of anthracite coal for the smelting of iron was in 1839, at the Pioneer Furnace, at Pottsville, Pa. It had been tried on the Lehigh in 1826, but was unsuccessful.’

“To some extent to corroborate this statement, which was called in question in private conversation by some gentlemen, a friend handed us the following letter and petition to the Legislature, with the request to publish them, as throwing light on the subject. We are unable to give the presentation of the petition to the Legislature. Does any one know when it was circulated or signed? There may have been debate in the Assembly on the reference of the petition when presented, which might contain interesting facts.

“ ‘To the Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: The petition of the subscribers respectfully sheweth, That the State of Pennsylvania has been greatly benefited by the
results of the experiments lately so successfully made to manufacture iron with anthracite coal. They conceive that these results are mainly to be attributed to the exertion of William Lyman, of Schuylkill
County, who, at his own risk and expense, put into successful operation in this country the first anthracite blast-furnace (on a practical scale), the origin, therefore, of all others since built and now projecting; and they therefore pray your honorable bodies that an act may be passed conferring on him such privileges as in your wisdom may be deemed expedient, thereby encouraging useful enterprises in future, and afford-…





Page 801

                                                                        …ing some compensation for the heavy outlays always necessarily incident to the commencement of every such undertaking.

“ ‘Pottsville, Oct. 14, 1840.

“ ‘This is to certify to all whom it may concern, that all contracts or bargains for ore which may be made by the bearer, Mr. Lance, will be confirmed by Messrs. Marshall & Kellogg, proprietors of the
anthracite furnace at this place; and all ore purchased by Mr. Lance will be paid for by city acceptance, as shall be agreed on between the parties. - For Marshall & Kellogg.

Wm. Lyman.’”

The following article is from the Pottsville Miners’ Journal:

“This subject has again been broached in a letter which we published a few days ago from James Pott, in which he stated that his father, John Pott, was the first to make anthracite iron at his furnace in 1837-38, located in the West Branch Valley. This we know is correct as far as it goes; but in the use of anthracite coal alone he failed in making it in a merchantable quantity, and ceased working until the trial was made at the Pioneer Furnace on the Island in 1839. After the success at the Pioneer Furnace, he did intend to remodel his furnace to use anthracite coal exclusively; but a freshet came and swept away his works, and he moved to Bedford (now Fulton) County. Mr. Geisenheimer made a small quantity of anthracite iron at the Valley Furnace, and took out a patent, but afterwards abandoned it. Small quantities were made on the Lehigh; and we believe that the late Mr. Ridgway succeeded in making a small quantity at the old Pott Furnace near the Island. But, as they were all charcoal furnaces, of course no quantity could be made. Anthracite iron was also made in Wales. But these experiments satisfied Burd Patterson, and other parties deeply interested in coal and iron interests, that iron could be made with anthracite coal; and then he and other parties commenced building the Pioneer Furnace on the Island after the model of the furnace in Wales, which Mr. David Thomas had seen, and who superintended the building of this furnace. They ran out of funds, and the late Nicholas Biddle and others made up a fund of five thousand dollars as a premium, which they offered to any person who would make anthracite iron for commercial use, and run the furnace for a period of six months. Mr. William Lyman then took the furnace, and completed it after the model of the Wales furnace, which Mr. Thomas furnished. When finished, the furnace was blown in by Mr. Benjamin Perry; and it was a success, and the furnace was kept running for a period of six months. The premium, after full investigation, was awarded to Mr. Lyman, at the Mount Carbon House, in
1840, where a supper was given, and it was at this supper that Nicholas Biddle gave the following toast:

“ ‘OLD PENNSYLVANIA - her sons like her soil: rough outside, but solid stuff within; plenty of coal to warm her friends, and plenty of iron to cool her enemies.’

“The iron trade was at that time so much depressed under the compromise tariff of 1833, reducing the duties down to twenty per cent. In 1840, and the opposition to the use of anthracite iron by the
charcoal interests, that Mr. Lyman failed a short time after; then Mr. Marshall, now of Shamokin, ran it afterwards, and he met with the same fate. The furnace was afterwards run by other parties who had but little capital, and they too failed, when it finally fell into the hands of the Atkins Brothers, who took charge of it in 1857 or 1858, and they too became to some extent involved, owing to the dull state of the iron trade under the free-trade system; and if it had not been for the Rebellion occurring in 1861-62, which put up the price of iron, they might have met the same fate; but they succeeded, and added another furnace to the old Pioneer; then tore down and remodeled the Pioneer, and are now erecting a third furnace on the Island on a larger scale than the others. Of the three brothers, our citizen, Mr. Charles Atkins, is the only survivor. After the success at the Pioneer, other parties, avoiding the defects of the old Pioneer, erected other furnaces on the Lehigh and elsewhere, and anthracite iron was soon made in large quantities, and in 1871, out of 1,914,000 tons of iron produced in the United States, 957,608 tons, a little more than one-half of the supply, was made with anthracite coal. In 1861 the product was 409,229 tons, having more than doubled in ten years.


“These are the facts connected with the first manufacture of anthracite iron for commerce in the United States; and Mr. Lyman, who undertook the furnace, Mr. David Thomas, who superintended its erection, Mr. Benjamin Perry, who blew it in successfully, and the gentlemen who offered the premium of five thousand dollars for its production in commercial quantities, are really entitled to the credit of establishing this branch of business in this country; while the other gentlemen, who had previously made small quantities before it was made in England, are entitled to the credit of demonstrating that it could be made with suitable fixtures; but they all failed in making it in quantities for use.”

The concluding letter was published in the Mauch Chunk Democrat:

 “Trenton, N. J., May 4, 1872.


“DEAR SIR,- In the Journal of March 30th, last you published for me a communication containing some extracts from a work issued during the year 1841, by Professor Walter R. Johnson, of Philadelphia, entitled; Notes on the Use of Anthracite in the Manufacture of Iron; with some  Remarks on its Evaporative Power.’

“My object in sending you that article was simply…





Page 802

                                                                                                … to defend my former partners and myself from the detractive remarks made in a letter written by David Thomas, Esq., of Catasauqua, Pa.; he having stated that our furnace at Mauch Chunk chilled up in about one week after blowing-in, whereas it, in fact, was not allowed to chill up at any time.

“Since my communication was written, I have read two or three articles from different papers asserting that I was detracting from the credit due Mr. Thomas.

“I have no wish to claim any ‘glory’ rightfully belonging to Mr. Thomas, or to others. I merely, in defending the firm of B., G. & Co. from Mr. T.’s unjust remark, quoted authentic history published more than thirty years ago, and which has never been contradicted.

“Some of the parties who have been writing in behalf of Mr. Thomas, but who evidently know little about the smelting of iron ore, speak rather contemptuously of us, because we operated with a small furnace.


“In a matter which at that time was looked upon, even by ironmasters, with much uncertainty as to its ultimate success, it would have been very unwise to go to the expense of building a large furnace at a cost of many thousands of dollars, when it was known that if the thing could be accomplished with a small furnace, it could be done much more easily, and far more profitably, with a large one.


“We did not enlarge our furnace, as one writer has stated, but simply the hearth, and we blew it out because it was too small to work at profit; and, not having funds with which to construct large works, we returned the property on which the furnace was built to the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, from whom it was leased, which was the last we had to do with it.

“A few years afterward I was introduced to a gentleman from Pottsville, who, upon being informed by our friend that I had been connected with the Mauch Chunk furnace, asked if I recollected a committee of the citizens of Pottsville visiting us one night. I answered in the affirmative, and asked him what conclusion they arrived at. He replied, ‘We watched you all night long, and returned home with the full conclusion that it was a perfect success.’

“Within the past week or two I have seen one or two articles from the pen of Mr. James Pott, of Harrisburg, who claims for his father, Mr. John Pott, the credit of having been the first in this country to smelt iron ore with anthracite. He dates his first success so far back as 1836 and 1837. A more unpresuming and candid letter than that of Mr. Pott I have never read; and if we are to look outside of published history for the one who was first successful, I should say that without a doubt (so far as I can learn) Mr. John Pott, of the Manheim furnace, was the man.

“Very respectfully yours,

“F. C. Lowthrop.”

We add an article from the Mauch Chunk Coal Gazette of May 25, 1872:

“Mr. James Cornelison, formerly a blacksmith residing here, was in town on Monday last, and was ‘interviewed’ concerning his knowledge of the first experiments in the manufacture of anthracite iron. He was employed in the establishment of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, whose works were upon the site of the present foundry of J. H. Salkeld & Co., and distinctly remembers the building, about the year 1823 or 1824, of a stack some fifteen or twenty feet high, for the purpose of smelting the iron ore with anthracite coal. This experiment was, at the time, so far successful, that Mr. Cornelison states several ‘pigs’ were actually made with cold-air blast. Messrs. Josiah White and Erskine Hazard were concerned in the building of the stack, in whose operations much interest was taken. This statement, coming from a gentleman in every way reliable, makes good the assertion in Johnson’s ‘Notes on Anthracite Iron,’ that the first known experiment in this important direction was made in Mauch Chunk.”
















The History of the Counties of Lehigh & Carbon, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,


Alfred Mathews & Austin N. Hungerford

Published in Philadelphia, Pa., in 1884


Transcribed from the original in August 2004


Shirley Kuntz



Proofing &

web page by

Jack Sterling

September 2004