#7 York Rolling Mill in Spring Garden Township; site of a Massive Explosion in 1908
This postcard shows the aftermath of the massive explosion that occurred at 2:45 P.M. on August 10, 1908, at the York Rolling Mill; located along Loucks Mill Road in Spring Garden Township, York County, PA. Daniel J. Diehl of 712 Prospect Street in York, PA took this photograph.
The York Rolling Mill was established in Spring Garden Township three years after the end of the Civil War. By 1899, it had grown to become the seventh largest factory employer in all of York County. The 10th Factory Inspection Report notes that on June 1st 1899, the York Rolling Mill has 200 employees; all male. Of these 200 employees, 12 employees are under 21-years-old, of which 2 employees were between 13 and 16 years old. The goods manufactured are recorded as “Plate Iron.”
The history of the York Rolling Mill, from inception until just prior to the 1908 explosion, is given in George Prowell’s 1907 History of York County, PA; quoting from Volume I, Pages 758-759:
The York Rolling Mill was established in the winter of 1868, by Jacob Jamison, F. H. Hughes, C. M. Nes and Henry Kraber. In 1869 the company was chartered as the York County Iron Company, with W. W. Wickes, president; L. T. Rossiter, secretary and treasurer, and Henry Kraber, vice president and superintendent. The works were enlarged with the intention of making steel rails, which was changed to the manufacture of steel bar and car iron, the business subsequently being chiefly the manufacture of rails with steel top, which business did not prosper, and the works were for a number of years idle.
In March, 1881, Samuel Trescott, M. S. Shuman and J. W. Steacy bought the works from the Farmers Mutual Insurance Company and commenced operation. Trescott sold his interest the same year to Michael Schall, the firm being Schall, Steacy & Company. They manufactured muck bars of puddle iron and later made bar iron, supplying the car shops and the trade through the Baltimore markets.
In October, 1881, Mr. Shuman sold his interest to John Q. Denny, of Harrisburg, and the firm of Schall, Steacy & Denny was founded. This mill continued to manufacture bar iron and later began to make plate or skelp iron in which it has been largely engaged in recent years.
In 1899 the Susquehanna Iron and Steel Company was chartered with Charles A. Porter, of Philadelphia, president; R. Y. Filbert, secretary and treasurer, and J. W. Steacy, general manager. Since then the company has operated the York Mill, four rolling mills and a pipe mill at Columbia. The plate for making pipes from six to twelve inches in diameter, at Columbia, is made at the York Mill.
In the late 1800s, the York Rolling Mill appeared as shown in this photograph from the collections of the York County Heritage Trust. This is a view of the west side and south end of the mill. The 250-horsepower steam boiler explosion occurred near the middle of the mill. The following postcard shows spectators viewing the explosion site.
The initial reports were 8 killed in the explosion, however the final count was 10 killed. The mill had been closed down for about a week; as a small workforce was engaged in making repairs to rolls and engines. If the boiler explosion had happened during full production, the loss of life would have invariably been much greater.
A coroner’s jury ruled the cause of the explosion to be a defective boiler. The written verdict called the boiler unsafe. It had been patched many times, there were cracks, and the metal was deeply pitted by corrosion. The mill owners, Susquehanna Iron & Steel Company were cited for negligence in its operations.
For more on the York Rolling Mill, continue reading.
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. In the coming weeks, I’m counting down to the top employer in York County at the end of 19th Century. At #7 in the countdown is the York Rolling Mill in Spring Garden Township; i.e. in 1899, only six factories in all of York County provided jobs to more employees.
The following Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, from 1908, is along the east side of Loucks Mill Road, just opposite Arch Street. The York Rolling Mill is in Spring Garden Township; just outside the York City Limits. This Sanborn map section is from Penn State Libraries on-line digital collection of older Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.
This 1908 map was printed several months before the explosion at the York Rolling Mill. The explosion threw pieces of the boiler and the mill as far as several blocks away. The plant of Broomell, Schmidt & Steacy, the mill’s neighbor to the west, was badly damaged. Boxcars on railroad sidings, east of the mill, were torn to splinters.
A horse, 300-yards distant from the mill, was killed instantly by a flying piece of the boiler. The head of the boiler, about 4-feet square, was hurled nearly a block. For years afterwards, owners of nearby homes would point out the reminders of the explosion via the bits and pieces of metal that had been imbedded in their houses.
Following the explosion, the mill was not rebuilt in York County. All useable equipment from the York Rolling Mill was moved to a Susquehanna Iron & Steel Company mill in Columbia. The remains of the damaged York Rolling Mill building were demolished.
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 44 factories provided employment for 4,160 people in York County during 1899.
- #7 York Rolling Mill in Spring Garden Township; 200 employees
- #8 York Carriage Company in York; 197 employees
- #9 Jacob A. Mayer & Brothers in North York; 170 employees
- #10 S. Morgan Smith Company in York; 166 employees
- #11 York Card & Paper Company in York; 163 employees
- #12 The Hench & Dromgold Company in York; 145 employees
- #13 Hanover Match Company in Hanover; 143 employees
- #14 Baugher, Kurtz & Stewart in York; 140 employees
- #15 Wrightsville Hardware Company in Wrightsville; 130 employees
- #16 John C. Schmidt & Company in York; 120 employees
- #17 Celestino, Costello & Company in York; 114 employees
- #18 Holtzman Manufacturing Company in York; 114 employees
- #19 York Wall Paper Company in York; 101 employees
- #20 Wells Whip Company in Wellsville; 100 employees
- #21 Billmeyer & Small Company in York; 100 employees
- #22 Nes Chain Manufacturing Company in York; 100 employees
- #23 Variety Iron Works in York; 100 employees
- #24 Oppenheim, Oberndorf and Company in York; 98 employees
- #25 Industrial Sewing Company of Glen Rock; 96 employees
- #26 New York Wire Cloth Company in York; 90 employees
- #27 Peter C. Fulweiler & Brothers Cigar Factory in York; 89 employees
- #28 York Safe & Lock Company in Spring Garden Township; 89 employees
- #29 Keystone Farm Machine Company in York; 87 employees
- #30 J. E. Williams & Company in York; 85 employees
- #31 Acme Wagon Company in Emigsville; 80 employees
- #32 Columbia Embroidery Works in Wrightsville; 80 employees
- #33 Hanover Silk Company in Hanover; 75 employees
- #34 George A. Kohler & Company Cigar Factory in York; 74 employees
- #35 Weaver Organ & Piano Company in York; 71 employees
- #36 York Knitting Mills in York; 67 employees
- #37 D. F. Stauffer Bakery in York; 66 employees
- #38 LaButa Cigar Factory in York; 65 employees
- #39 A. F. Hostetter Cigar Factory in Hanover; 64 employees
- #40 Broomell, Schmidt & Company Factory in York; 62 employees
- #41 William H. Raab Cigar Factory in Dallastown; 59 employees
- #42 Edwin Myers & Co. Cigar Box & Lithographic Works in York; 56 employees
- #43 Paragon Cigar Factory in York; 54 employees
- #44 York Cracker Bakery in York; 53 employees
- #45 Penn Heel & Innersole Factory in Hanover; 52 employees
- #46 George W. Gable Cigar Factory in Windsor; 50 employees
- #47 Charles P. Ketterer Wagon Factory in Hanover; 50 employees
- #48 National Cigar Manufacturing Company in West Manchester; 50 employees
- #49 George W. Hoover Wagon Factory in York; 48 employees
- #50 David S. Detwiler Cigar Factory in Wrightsville; 47 employees