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Industrial History @ Front & Pine

Union Foundry, Fidelity Manufacturing, Rail Roads

The cornerstone of industry at Front & Pine was the Union Foundry and Machine Company, built just 11 years after the Crane.  It used pig iron from the Crane to make iron plate and machined parts. Downtown did not expand into this area until after the Union Foundry relocated in 1901.

Name: Union Foundry & Machine Company
Location: SE corner of Front and Pine
Year built: 1851

Built by: John and George Fritz, B.F. Stroud, Isaac E. Chandler

Allied industries for fabrication using pig iron grew up rapidly around the furnaces. The first iron-related business to open in Catasauqua after the Crane, was the Union Foundry and Machine Company in 1851. Before steel technology was developed, improving the strength of iron was achieved by adding more carbon to the pig iron using puddling furnaces, and then reforming the material either through recasting or the use of rolling mills to make plate. Final machining of the pieces was also a critical part of foundry operations. The Union Foundry and Machine Co in Catasauqua was the first foundry in the Lehigh Valley to cast iron into columns for construction purposes. The 1876 map shows this foundry at the SE corner of Front and Pine, site of the current gas station. It was enlarged over the years until it outgrew the neighborhood, then in 1901 relocated to a 7 acre site between the canal and river along the north side of Race St, where it operated until 1905.

The Union Foundry and Machine Shop was established by John Fritz, of Bethlehem Iron Company fame and inventor of the three-high rolling mill, with his brother George Fritz and brother-in-laws B. F. Shroud and Isaac E. Chandler. The foundry included puddling furnaces and rolling mills to make materials for building blast furnaces and rolling mills. But Fritz, known for continuous introduction of improvements, was soon disenchanted with the design of the foundry and decided it would not be profitable without more capital investment. Within a year he moved on to become superintendent at the new Cambria Works in Johnston and, in 1854, sold the Union Foundry to David Thomas and William Michel. David Thomas soon became sole owner.

Thomas invited many of his friends from Wales to come to Catasauqua. One life-long friend was Oliver Williams who, two years earlier, Thomas hired to manage the Catasauqua Manufacturing Co (CMC). In 1869, Thomas sold the Union Foundry business to Oliver Williams, David Williams (his brother), and William P. Hopkins who enlarged the business. Williams went on to create the Bryden Horseshoe Company which would buy raw material from the foundry and CMC. Oliver Williams and his nephew J. Arthur Williams incorporated the foundry after the death of David Williams and moved the firm onto a 7 acre site along Race St. between the canal and river. Oliver Williams died in 1904 and the business ceased operating in 1905. The Union Foundry and Machine Company plant, located on Race Street, between the canal and the Lehigh River, remained idle for two years when a new operation was effected there in 1907, which was called the Catasauqua Casting Company. The plant was placed under the management of Frederick Conlin and it manufactured all kinds of castings. Richard O. Kohler, son-in-law of Oliver Williams, was prominently identified with the undertaking as the chief executive officer. The company continued in operation until 1912, when it suspended all operations.
In 1909, the Majestic Theater was built at the early site of the foundry at Front & Pine. Williams built the Tudor-style home at the corner of Second and Pine, catty-corner to his friend David Thomas.

Name: The Fuller Company
Location: Front & Pine Street

The iron works in Catasauqua closed following WWI. The property was purchased and redeveloped by the Fuller Company for manufacturing equipment for the nearby cement industry. Their offices were on Bridge St. F. L. Smidth, which acquired the Fuller Company and property in 1990, discontinued manufacturing here in 2002, but still operates a research facility on the north side of the Pine St Bridge.

The Fuller Company was founded based on a patent by Kinyon of Allentown which defined a ‘pump’ for moving solids. Alonzo Kinyon got the inspiration for an enclosed pump at a plant in Ashtabula, Ohio, in 1919. Kinyon was looking for a better way to move pulverized coal, which was used as a fuel in boiler furnaces. Companies had used large fans to blow the dust through ducts, which created an explosion risk. Open conveyor belts were no better, since the dust they gave off could also spark an explosion.

Kinyon found that dry, pulverized materials “assume a fluent, liquid-like condition when properly mixed with air.” Kinyon also found the mixed powder and air could be moved through a pipeline by a combination of two things — displacement pressure from new powder behind it, and the continuous turning of a large motor-driven screw fit into the pipe. The pump would work wherever a pipeline could be run, and material could be dropped off at more than one point. Kinyon sold his concept to Fuller-Lehigh Co. of Catasauqua, which was also looking for ways to move coal powder. The first pump was made in 1923. Company owner James Fuller III kept the rights to the invention when he sold Fuller-Lehigh and founded a new company, Fuller Co., in 1926. The new pump became the company’s first flagship product.

March 04, 2007 | By Kurt Blumenau Of The Morning Call

This process revolutionized the way solids were handled, particularly in the cement plants. It eliminated the need for men with shovels and carts to charge the kilns, reduced the risk of dust explosions, and provided for continuous operation of the kiln, rather than batch processing (such as in the Saylor kilns). The Fuller Company also made ball mills to pulverize solids for feed to the Fuller-Kinyon pump. The technology was quickly adopted by the cement industry. Along with the discovery of ideal limestone for making Portland-style cement and the adaption of the rotary kiln to use pulverized coal and limestone, the Lehigh Valley became the largest producer of Portland cement in the country through 1970, with production peaking in 1927 and again after WWII.

Name: Fidelity Manufacturing Company
Location: West Side of Front at Bridge St.
Year built: 1850

Started in Allentown in 1928, incorporated in NY, it came to Catasauqua in 1945, leasing the brick building here at the foot of Bridge St to manufacture chemical products for use mainly in automobiles. Employing only 10-15 people, the company supplied Tube Repair kits and Rifle Bore Cleanser to the federal government during WWII. After the war, the company built a larger cement block building south of Bridge St and closer to the canal.

Name: Railroads: Lehigh Valley, Catasauqua and Fogelsville, Central New Jersey, Ironton
Location: Serving the Crane Iron Works
Year built: 1855+

One of the major outcomes of the expanding iron industry was the construction of iron rails and the development of the railroad industry. The Crane built a rail system on the site of the iron works in the late 1840s to transport iron ore, limestone, coal and slag to and from the furnaces. An engine house was built at the SW corner of Front and Bridge for the maintenance of their engines. The first RR to arrive in Catasauqua was the Lehigh Valley, founded by Asa Packer, which brought coal from the north and iron ore from NJ. Tracks for the Lehigh Valley Railroad were completed in the fall of 1855 and were located on the west bank of the Lehigh River. With its arrival, the Lehigh Crane Iron Works became less dependent on the canal as a means of procuring raw materials for their furnaces, and industry expanded rapidly. By 1860, the town had 400 dwellings and a population of nearly 3000.


The next railroad to arrive was the Catasauqua and Fogelsville RR. The Lehigh Crane Iron Company, assisted by the Thomas Iron Company, sought a charter from the state for a railroad from Catasauqua to Fogelsville. After prolonged efforts by James W. Fuller I, the railroad charter was secured and construction on the Catasauqua & Fogelsville Railroad began in the spring of 1856 with the formal opening of this line during the summer of 1857. The officers of the Catasauqua and Foglesville Railroad were David Thomas, President; John Thomas, Superintendent; Joshua Hunt, Secretary; John Williams, Treasurer. The station was located on the west side of the river, directly across the tracks from the LV RR. (See post card view). The line reached Trexlertown in 1860 and Alburtis in 1864, connecting with the East Penn RR. Passenger traffic was established by Charles Chapman, sup’t and engineer of the C&F RR, in 1875. The 1907 picture shows the original station being replaced with the more familiar, newer structure.

In 1909, the Empire Steel & Iron Company created an eastern rail connection from the plant to the east of town to provide access to lands for a new proposed cinder dump. It would also provide a possible link to the LC&N railroad expansion in that area (the link along the river was damaged during a flood and could not be rebuilt) and provide a shipment connection for the Davies and Thomas Company. To cross town, a tunnel was built between Front St, underneath the company homes along Wood St, to American St, where there was a once a quarry and municipal dump. The line extended from there, across Catasauqua Creek, and onto a 24 acre site (Kurtz Valley) that would become known as the Cinder Tip.

Two spurs were created: one linking to the Crystal Ice Company and one to the Davies and Thomas Foundry, providing both with access to the Lehigh and Philadelphia Railroad connection by the Crane. This track never was extended further east or north.

In 1882, the Thomas Iron Company secured complete ownership of the Ironton RR, which hauled ore, coal, limestone and iron for the plant in Hokendauqua.

A wonderful history of the RRs in Catty is available on the Hopkin Thomas Project website of John McVey, “Catasauqua: Crossroads of the Anthracite Railroads”, written by Joe Yurko.