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#20 Wells Whips Wear Well; Wellsville’s Wells Whip Company

Photo of Wells Whip Company with Factory Location(s) Pinpointed in Aerial Photo of Wellsville, PA (Annotations by S. H. Smith, 2014)
Photo of Wells Whip Company with Factory Location(s) Pinpointed in Aerial Photo of Wellsville, PA (Annotations by S. H. Smith, 2014)

“Wells Whips Wear Well” was the tongue-twister marketing slogan of the Wells Whip Company of Wellsville.  The circa 1905 photo of the Wells Whip Company Factory is from 1892-1992 Wellsville … Remembrances for Tomorrow, by Joan S. Clippinger.

As noted within the 1937 aerial photo, the Whip Factory(s) were originally along Main Street, until a fire destroyed the building, at that location for a second time, during 1901.  A new main factory was immediately built of native fieldstone along what is now Community Street.  The building was two stories high, with a dimension of 262 x 40 feet.  On the west side were three wings; these are not seen in the factory photo, however can be seen in the 1937 aerial photo.  The two end wings were 60 x 40 feet and the center wing was 50 x 30 feet.

In my post Late 1800s Factory Inspection Reports Assist in Identification of an East Prospect Photo  I wrote about finding these reports in the State Library of Pennsylvania.  For this series on the Top 50 York County Factories at the end of 19th Century, I’m using data from the 10th Report of the Pennsylvania Department of Factory Inspection.

The 10th Factory Inspection Report is for the Department’s year ending October 31st 1899.  I ranked the 479 York County factories by numbers of employees; #50 has 47 employees, on up to #1 with 510 employees.  It has been over three months since the last post in this series; from this point onward, I’m planning to continue the series on a regular basis.  In the coming weeks, on Monday and/or Tuesday, I’m counting down to the top employer in York County at the end of 19th Century.

At #20 in the count down of the Top 50 York County Factories at End of 19th Century is Wells Whip Company in Wellsville.  The 10th Factory Inspection Report notes that on June 6th 1899 Wells Whip Company in Wellsville has 100 employees; 80 male and 20 female.  Of these 100 employees, 31 employees are under 21-years-old; of which 6 males and 4 females are between 13 and 16-years-old.  The goods manufactured are recorded as “Whips.”

Continue reading to learn about the early history of Wells Whip Company.


The earliest history of the Wells Whip Company is told in George Prowell’s 1907 History of York County, PA.  Quoting from page 918 & 919 of Volume I:

The industry that has brought prosperity to Wellsville is a large whip factory, one of the leading establishments of this kind in the United States.  In 1837, Peter McIntyre, one of the associate judges of York County, and Abraham Wells started this business at York, under the firm name of McIntyre and Wells.  In 1841, Abraham Wells withdrew his interest from the firm of McIntyre and Wells and moved to Wellsville and started the business of whip making.

John E. Wells became a partner in 1841 and aided in building up an extensive manufacturing business.  The whips made were of an excellent quality and found a ready sale.  Wells Brothers also started a tannery nearby for the manufacture of leather to be used in the making of whips.

In 1859, William Riddle of Pittsburg became a member of the firm operating the whip factory and a branch of this business was established in that city.  From1861 to 1865, during the period of the Civil War, Wells, Riddle & Company made large quantities of artillery whips and army belts for the United States Government.

The patriotic spirit of Wellsville and vicinity was quite prominent and during the continuance of the war, about sixty of the employees of this factory enlisted for the defense of the Union.  Owing to the departure of so many of the young men to join the army, the factory at Wellsville was compelled to employ boys from the Pennsylvania House of Refuge.  In 1865 the factory at Pittsburg was discontinued and from that time forth the business at Wellsville was conducted by the firm of A. and J. E. Wells.

Abraham Wells, the senior member of the firm, died in 1870, and the business was then continued by J. E. Wells & Company, with James Gowen Wells, a son of Abraham Wells, as a partner.  In 1878, Mrs. Margaret Wells purchased the interest of J. E. Wells and the name of the Company and later in the year was again changed to Wells Whip Company.

A large factory building was erected in 1880 by the side of the original one.  It was well equipped with modern machinery for increased facilities of manufacture.  A fifteen horsepower boiler was put to use in this building, which was heated by steam.  With the enlarged accommodations afforded in the new building, all kinds and varieties of whips used, were then made and distributed throughout the United States, by a dozen or more traveling salesmen.

For several years this company engaged in the manufacturing of whips by employing the inmates of the state prison at Trenton.  This was done under a contract entered into with the State of New Jersey.  About fifteen employees at different times at the Wellsville factory were brought there from Girard College in Philadelphia.  In 1887, Wells Whip Company was incorporated.

R. J. Belt has been manager of the business at Wellsville since 1878.  In 1891, the factory which had been erected in 1880, all of its equipment, and a large number of manufactured whips were destroyed by fire.  It was then rebuilt and again consumed by fire in 1901—and the present stone structure erected in 1902.

Trade publications, such as “The Iron Age” and “National Harness Review” provide additional details about Wells Whip Company.  From 1893 to 1898 the Wells Whip Company was part of the United States Whip Company.  The operations in Wellsville broke off and continued on as the independent Wells Whip Company in 1898; as noted in the following article:


In 1900, the company was producing about 3,600 whips per day with 100 employees.  In 1920, Wells Whip Company employed 30 workers, making about 500 whips per day in addition to harness items.  Trade publications mention the company into the late 1930s.  As seen in the 2014 Bing.com aerial photo, at the beginning of the post, the Wells Whip Company Factory has since been demolished, to make way for another establishment at that site along Community Street.

A review of my count down, thus far, of the 50 top factories in York County at the end of 19th Century follows.  As a group, these 31 factories provided employment for 2,257 people in York County during 1899.

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