The Harrisburg Car Manufacturing Company

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The physical plant of the Harrisburg Foundry and Machine Works, circa 1884.
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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.

Sources

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.

Farm Collector Magazine
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Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment