In 1853, with total initial capital of $25,000, eight forward-thinking Harrisburg, Pennsylvania businessmen and one railroad car builder from Worcester, Massachusetts formed the Harrisburg Car Manufacturing Company. The stockholders were William Calder, David Fleming, Jacob Haldeman St., Isaac G. McKinley, Elias E. Kinzer, Thomas H. Wilson, A.O. Heister, W.F. Murray, and carbuilder William T. Hildrup.
They established a plant on a 2 acre tract on Herr Street in Harrisburg, and set up shop manufacturing railroad cars. Initial output capacity was 9 cars per week. By 1871, daily capacity was up to 14 cars, with the company's annual product totaling $1,250,000.
The car business was brisk during the Civil War, but suffered a slight depression immediately following that conflict in 1865. General manager Hildrup, in order to keep the men employed, expanded the car works' foundry and machine works within the car works plant on Herr Street in 1866 to include the manufacture of farm implements and machinists' tools. The demand for cars soon rose again, and by 1869 the plant space given to the foundry was needed. The company decided to continue the foundry enterprise rather than give it up, and separate facilities were erected in 1870 in the Allison's Hill area of Harrisburg, on an extension of Market Street East (The 1879-1880 Harrisburg Business Directory lists the address as Howard St., north of 13th). By 1871 the foundry was beginning to pay off, and was officially incorporated as the Harrisburg Foundry and Machine Works with capital stock of $200,000.00.
A widespread financial panic in 1873 greatly affected the railroad industry; the car company found itself almost completely idle. The foundry in turn suffered 'serious financial embarrassment' in 1875, leading the car company to take over the foundry's assets and close the plant.
By 1879, increasing business at the car works allowed the foundry to reopen, with Martin E. Hershey as superintendent. The principal business, aside from machining parts and wheels for the car manufacturing company, was the manufacture of boilers and engines, mostly portable and traction steam engines, as well as rollers, sawmills and agricultural implements. They also manufactured heavy castings and machinery for rolling mills and blast furnaces, compound pumping engines for municipal water systems, blast pipes, gas flues, air pipes, oil tanks, tank cars, wrought iron draft stacks, and standpipes.
Their specialty was the Paxton Portable steam engine, of which they manufactured 150 per year. The engines were built with locomotive-style fireboxes and single-riveted boilers. The works also produced the Paxton grain and fertilizing drill. The Paxton trade name was taken from the Little Paxton Creek, which flowed across company property between Plants #1 and #2.
The plant employed 100 men and boys. The car works and foundry combined employed 800, with a payroll of $8,000 per week and annual production of approximately $3 million value.
The company was plagued by fire. In 1881, the original foundry building (a frame structure) at the foundry and machine works burned down. Although the company had installed its own fire protection system (inspired by a series of fires in 1872), including a network of water pipes, hydrants and horseboxes throughout the grounds of both plants and their lumberyard, a poor connection to the city water main hampered fire-fighting efforts and several buildings were lost.
A second fire broke out in October of 1882 in the top floor of the machine shop. Better connections to the city water supply enabled workers to contain the blaze and save surrounding buildings. A large number of patterns stored in the attic of the machine shop were destroyed, but the machinery on the first floor was not greatly damaged.
By 1883, after reconstruction, the foundry works covered 22 acres on Allison's Hill. The buildings included five 60'x200' and one 50'x200' two-story brick structures containing the foundry, machine shop, boiler shop, tank shop, finishing or set-up shop, plus warehouse space and offices. There were also a number of one-story structures used for forging, storage, and miscellaneous departments. All the buildings were connected by an internal railway system which was built at a cost of $36,000 and was joined with the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad tracks.
Equipment at both the foundry and the car works was modern and up-to-date. In all, twelve stationary engines, ranging from 15-120 HP, were in use to power plant machinery.
By December 1884, the Foundry and Machine Works had manufactured 625 portable engines, 40 stationary engines, 125 saw mills, and innumerable farm implements.
In 1885, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania celebrated its centennial. As part of the observance, an industrial display and procession was held on September 16,1885. The Harrisburg Foundry and Machine Works, Martin E. Hershey, Manager, entered the following equipment in the parade:
One large Paxton traction engine; one large Paxton traction engine pulling a platform on which was displayed an Ide automatic cut-off engine; one small Paxton traction engine pulling another Paxton; two small traction engines; a traction engine pulling a Champion thresher and huller; a traction engine pulling Champion combined thresher/-huller; and one small Paxton traction engine. Also presented were a Citizen street sprinkler, drawn by a double team, and a 4-horse platform wagon carrying an oil car tank manufactured by the Foundry and Machine Works. Of these entries it was said, 'This entire display was handsomely decorated and made not only an attractive but a noisy exhibit as well.'
This Paxton engine, owned by James L. Layton, IMA subscriber and member of the Eastern Shore Threshermen and Collectors Association in Federalsburg, Maryland, is shown here on display at the Association's annual show. It has a 5' bore, 8' stroke, and is believed to have 6 HP. Layton bought the engine at Felton, Delaware in 1957. He also owns an 18 HP Paxton, which he bought at a sale in Pennsylvania.
While the company made a strong showing of actual product, their financial situation by the late 1880's was unstable at best. In 1884 the company had for the first time recorded a financial loss at the end of the fiscal year. Public confidence had been shattered by scandals uncovered in the banking and railroad securities exchange professions. Railroad companies were in no position to invest in new material or rolling stock, which left the Harrisburg Car Manufacturing Company with very little to do. The only work at all was at the Foundry and Machine Works, but even that failed to produce a profit. Not only did the company cut salaries and lay off workers, but they also lost a great deal of money through depreciation of materials on hand. General manager/treasurer Hildrup lamented that the company's new generation of stockholders wanted to stand by the company only in times of big dividends. The original stockholders of 1853, many of whom had since died, had been committed to keeping the organization together through hard times as well as good. Hildrup also admitted that the history of extending long credit to consumers in the agricultural implement business was an 'inconvenient feature' as far as management was concerned, but in the end there were few accounts that weren't ultimately paid in full.
The Foundry and Machine Works continued to manufacture steam engines through at least 1886, but business was declining. Engine manufacture had ceased for good by 1890, when the Harrisburg Car Manufacturing Company was finally dissolved as a result of the failure of a banking house with which the company dealt. William T. Hildrup, a man of seemingly boundless optimism, along with partners David E. Tracy and J. Hervey Patton, managed to pool enough funds to reorganize what was left of the car works and the foundry as the Harrisburg Pipe and Pipe Bending Company. The manufacture of rail cars was abandoned; the new enterprise concentrated on metal fabrication and production.
This company, incorporated in 1899, was quite successful. In 1902 it was merged with the Harrisburg Tinsmith Company. In 1906 the company was instrumental in the construction of the nation's first artificial ice skating rink, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In May 1935 the company incorporated itself as the Harrisburg Steel Corporation, a name which better reflected the nature of the company's business.
Harrisburg Steel is currently in operation as a division of Harsco Corporation, a diversified industrial corporation with interests in construction, metal reclamation, and the manufacture of titanium products, railway maintenance equipment, military recovery vehicles, pipe fittings, and varied industrial steel products.
Harsco maintains a file on the company's long history, which includes a booklet titled 'Since 1853'. Inquiries can be directed to the attention of Mary Britt at Harsco Corporation, P.O. Box 8888, Camp Hill, PA 17011.
Egle, William Henry, M.D. Centenary Memorial of the Erection of the County of Dauphin. 1886.
Egle, William Henry, M.D. History of the County of Dauphin in the Common wealth of Pennsylvania. 1883.
Harrisburg Business Directory: 1879-1880. W. Harry Boyd, Pottsville, PA. 1879.
Hildrup, William T. History and Organiztion of the Harrisburg Car Manufacturing Company. Estate of Theo. F. Scheffer, Printer and Bookbinder, Harrisburg, PA. 1885.
The Manufactories and Manufacturers of Pennsylvania of the Nineteenth Century. Galaxy Publishing Co., Philadelphia, 1875.
Norbeck, Jack C. Encyclopedia of American Steam Traction Engines. Crestline Publishing, Sarasota, FL. 1976.
Steinmetz, David. This Was Harrisburg. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA. 1976.
Public Relations Department, Harsco Corporation, Camp Hill, PA.