The Harrisburg Car Manufacturing Company


| September/October 1989


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.






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