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Davies & Thomas

Davies and Thomas Foundry
Location:  North side of Race St on the east bank of the Catasauqua Creek (Marker TBA)

Among the industrial organizations that brought fame and fortune to Catasauqua was Davies and Thomas Company.  Daniel Davies fitted up an old planing mill as a gray iron foundry and machine shop in 1865.  When Davies partner William Thomas returned to Wales. the business continued as Daniel Davies and Son until Daniel’s death in 1876. The company was then passed on to Daniel’s son George, who partnered with his childhood friend  James Thomas, son of Hopkin Thomas, to create the Davies & Thomas Company.  After the death of George Davies in 1894, the company underwent a number of changes in ownership between 1894 and 1947.

By 1913 the foundry occupied 16,000 square feet of floor space and had a capacity of 300 tons per day of finished castings.  When fully operational, the plant employed over 600 men.
The plant was classed with the largest in the country conducting general foundry and machine work.  The local office occupied the old Fountain House Hotel located on the corner of 10th and Union (now razed).

Davies and Thomas Company became best known for its success in manufacturing cast iron tunnel lining for both rail and vehicular traffic., as the company was a pioneer in the manufacture of iron plates for lining tunnels under rivers by the shield method.   Beginning in 1905 the company supplied the cast iron segments for tubes for the under-water tunnels in New York City.  Some of the prominent transportation projects in which the Davies and Thomas product was used included the Holland Tunnel (1923), the Lincoln Tunnel (1937) , the Queens Mid-town Tunnel (1936-40) and the Battery to Brooklyn Tunnel (1945)  These were all vehicular tunnels.  Railroad tunnels included those for the Pennsylvania Railroad tunnels, the Harlem River and the MacAdoo tunnels. The construction of these tunnels constitute a profound and widely acclaimed enginerring achievement. 

Other projects include the underground electric railway in Washington D. C., the Broadway cable in NY and the East River tunnel, the Hudson River tunnel, and the Traction and People’s cable lines in Baltimore.

In 1904 it was reported in the Allentown, Pa. newspaper that the Davies and Thomas Company had been awarded the largest contract for castings ever given to a single firm.  The Pennsylvania Railroad had decided to build an immense depot in New York City and to tunnel beneath the North and the East Rivers.  A model of 8 rings, 20 feet long was made at the Davies and Thomas works for the Pennsylvania Railroad and was later displayed at the St. Louis Exposition.  At the time, C. R. Horn was the general sales agent of the company and it was due to his efforts that the contract was obtained.

In 1913 the newspaper again reported that Davies and Thomas had obtained a large contract through the efforts of its agent, Mr. Horn.  This contract was for the manufacture of the lining of two large sewer tunnels for the Borough of Queens on Long Island.  Davies and Thomas was in competition for this contract with 11 other firms including Bethlehem Steel.  The news report noted that the Davies and Thomas product was carefully made and that the plant was especially well equipped for the work.  “The segments are being faced in immense planing mills and fitted together in circular lengths for the underground work, being water tight and of sufficient strength to sustain great weight and pressure.

The story of Davies and Thomas does not end with its dissolution in 1947.  A news story date lined May 15, 1949 relates the following:  “The terrific explosion in New York’s Holland Tunnel Friday provided a testimonial to the former David-Thomas Foundry in Catasauqua.  About 42,000 tons of steel segments produced at the Catasauqua plant went into the construction of the tunnel in 1923.  Although weakened, the tunnel failed to crack when 80 drums of carbon disulfide, highly toxic and inflammable, on a heavily-laden chemical truck, exploded.   Searching fire boats failed to find any indications of a leak in the tunnel.”

The Davies-Thomas Foundry contributed steel used in underground tunnels and railroads in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore.   Its product was sold throughout the United States, Canada, South America, West Indies and all European countries.

Following taken from The Hopkin Thomas Project
Century-Old Foundry Razed in Catasauqua
By Claire Heckenberger
Bethlehem Globe Times Staff Writer
April 5, 1965

An old familiar landmark in Catasauqua is being demolished to make room for the storage of prefabricated concrete and steel roofs. Portions of the old Davies and Thomas Foundry its office and blacksmith shop along Race St. are being demolished by the present owner,  Woodrow Frantz, president of Clearspan Inc.

The one-time furnishers of 10 per cent of all cast iron material for construction of underground railway and tunnels, Davies and Thomas Foundry, was considered pioneers in this line of work and the ideas and plans have been universally adopted and accepted by engineers. constructing the same.

The Davies and Thomas Foundry in 1865 was purchased by Daniel Davies and his partner, William Thomas, who traded under the name of Davies and Thomas.

Tunnels Material Made

Various tunnels connecting New York with Jersey City, Brooklyn and Long Island City, were constructed with materials almost entirely from this company.

Other than making castings for tunnels, the company manufactured cast iron material used in construction of water gas plants. In 1880 the foundry manufactured all castings used by A. O. Granger and later by United Gas Improvement Co. of Philadelphia in the equipment of their water and coal gas plants.  In 1876 the plant employed very few men but its growth continued steadily until in 1914 the foundry occupied over 16,000 square feet of floor space equipped with electric and boom cranes and four cupolas, three machine shops, power plant with boiler and engine room for the manufacture of electricity for the running of the entire works. The plant then had a capacity of 200 tons per-day of finished castings and at one time employed over 600 men.

In 1914 Hopkin Thomas1 was made general manager with Leonard Peckitt as its president. Harry E. Graffin, treasurer, and C. R. Horn, general agent. In 1879 the foundry operated under the same name but under a partnership agreement of James Thomas and George Davies. After the death of Thomas in 1906 the presidency was accepted by his son Rowland D. Thomas, until 1911. After 1911 Peckitt was named president.

While in the process of furnishing cast Iron lining for Holland Tunnel, the George H. Flinn Corp. of New York City, master contractors, came into control of the Davies and Thomas Co., with S. M. Rutledge of that firm as president. Later the ownership again changed when United States Pipe and Foundry Co. of Burlington, N.J. acquired control and elected George Davies2 of the Davies and Thomas Co., with headquarters in New York City, to the presidency.

Davies In Control

On or about 1945 Davies secured control by purchase of the stock held by the United States Pipe and Foundry Co. and during the intervening years to 1947 the company fulfilled a contract for a substantial tonnage of the cast-iron lining for the Battery to Brooklyn tunnel. Operations were suspended shortly thereafter and Davies decided to dispose of the plant, sold all of the physical assets to Schneider Associates of Allentown in October, 1947 and liquidated the corporation.

Some of the most prominent transportation projects in which extensive quantities of cast iron castings were used were for the Pennsylvania Railroad, Harlem River and McAdoo tunnels for rail traffic, Holland, Lincoln, Queens-Midtown, and Battery tunnels, all within the metropolitan area of greater New York City and adjacent New Jersey.

In October, 1939 Fred J. Walker and Milton O. Knauss of Catasauqua, then secretary and works manager, respectively of Davies and Thomas Co., with some out-of-state interests, formed the Catasauqua Machine Corp., with S. M. Rutledge of George H. Flinn Corp., of New York City as president, M. O. Knauss as vice president, and Walker as secretary and treasurer. They leased the machine shop fronting on Race St. with equipment from the Davies and Thomas Co. and proceeded to do jobbing machine work.

Some of the principal sources of work came from Fuller Co. of Catasauqua, Bethlehem Steel Corp., Hershey Machine and Foundry Co., Manheim, Hydraulic Engineering Co., Alburtis, Andale Co., Lansdale, Sarco Manufacturing Corp., Bethlehem and Ingersoll-Rand Co.

In 1943 Walker and Knauss purchased all of the outstanding stock and continued the business as a partnership under the title of Catasauqua Machine Works until October, 1950 when the physical assets were sold and the business liquidated. The property was then purchased by H. S. Campbell and later by Robert E. Moyer until 1959 when, it became the property of the First National Bank of Catasauqua.

In 1960 the chemistry laboratory of the former Davies and Thomas Co. was demolished and purchased by Pennsylvania Power and Light Co. and a transformer erected on the property. Since 1960 portions of the building have been sold to Allentown Fabricators, Everson Electric, McCann Homes, and to Frantz.

Buildings Renovated

Frantz, a Nazareth business man, is also owner and operator of the Frantz Ornamental Iron Co., Nazareth. Production of the precast concrete and steel roofs began in October, 1993, after extensive renovations of the building. With the increased production in the vast year of prefab roofs, Frantz was forced to seek land for the storage of the roofs and demolition of the two buildings was necessitated.

More than 1600 square feet of roofing material is being manufactured at the plant daily. The pre-cast roofs are 40 feet by 4 feet by 3 inches and can be erected at the rate of one every four minutes. The roofs are composed of cement, steel and perlite and has an acoustic effect, It can be used as a completed ceiling for any office or building and is as economical as a steel roof, said Frantz.

Assisting Frantz in the business is John Nickolas, secretary-treasurer, and proprietor of J M. Nicholas Corp., construction builder.


Notes (J. McV.)

1. Hopkin Thomas (1876 – 1924) was the son of James Thomas, grandson of the family patriarch of the same name.

2. George Davies, son of Daniel Davies and partner of James Thomas, died in 1894. The George Davies referenced here is probably the son (b. 1876) of James Thomas’ partner.