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TITUSVILLE IRON COMPANY / TITUSVILLE IRON WORKS COMPANY (STRUTHERS WELLS CORPORATION), 1860 - 1971

Sep 22, 2008 | Posted in Essays, Technology

TITUSVILLE IRON COMPANY / TITUSVILLE IRON WORKS COMPANY (STRUTHERS WELLS CORPORATION), 1860 - 1971
David L. Weber, 2002
Revised and Expanded, 2008

John C. Bryan and William McMullen, Irish immigrant employees of the Brown Brothers (later Struthers Wells Company) machine shop of Warren, PA, started a machine shop / foundry facility on South Franklin Street, Titusville, 1860. This factory was the first machine shop founded exclusively for serving the oil industry. It was located “a year and a mile from the Drake Well.”

Dillingham & Cole Company, a second Titusville machine / blacksmith shop, was opened at an adjacent site, 1864. The two neighboring firms were merged as Bryan, Dillingham & Company, 1866 - 1867. Products included steam engines and power boilers, saw mill machinery, plows and scrapers (for farms), iron tanks, stills, rig irons, well drilling tools and cast iron architectural columns.

Several changes in buildings and ownership took place during the 1870s and 1880s. John Eaton, founder of Oil Well Supply Company, owned an interest in the firm (then known as Titusville Manufacturing Company), 1870s. John Fertig, John L. McKinney, James C. McKinney, Benjamin Kraffert, Edward O. Emerson, Daniel Colestock, Evalon C. Hoag, John J. Carter and Barnard Abel purchased the plant, 1889. The firm was reorganized as the Titusville Iron Company, Limited.

The Spencer Hotel was purchased and converted into the company’s office building. Brick structures replaced the original wooden shops - a change that was speeded up after the plant was damaged in the June 5, 1892 Fire and Flood. Titusville Iron Company products included oil storage tanks and railroad tank cars.

Thaddeus C. Joy Radiator Company, East Spring Street (Universal Stainless & Alloy, 2008), was purchased by the Titusville Iron Company, 1895 - 1896. The radiator department, which had its own iron foundry facility, was spun off and merged by the Iron Company shareholders / officials into the American Radiator Company, 1899. Profits from the separate radiator / water heater firm (later American Standard Company) enabled the Iron Company shareholders to expand the older concern’s boiler manufacturing business!

The Petroleum Gazette, April 21, 1897 carried the following item: “The contract for the erection of nine large tanks for the Briggs, Ellis & Co. [Wilburine / Valvoline] refinery at Warren has been awarded to the Titusville Iron Company.”

Production of oil field gas engines, “such as the Olin, J.C. and Tico”, and commercial heating / power boilers commenced after 1895. The world’s first direct connected oil well pumping power was designed (by Barnard Abel) and built by the Titusville Iron Company, c. 1901. A large boiler fabricating shop “of brick and steel construction” was added to the plant, 1902. Six years later (1908) a combination warehouse / tube storage building / welding shop / power plant was constructed south of Mechanic Street.

The Titusville Iron Company / Titusville Iron Works began production of the Abel Acme Gas Engine, 1902; the J.C. (two cycle) Gas Engine (identical in design to the Bessemer and Butler Engine & Foundry “Ball” gas engines), 1906; and the Tico Gas Engine,1924. Tico semi - Diesel engines were later built by the Iron Works, 1930s.

J.C. engines (named for Iron Company President James C. McKinney) were said by some of the firm’s employees to have received that name because they were Just Copied from the Bessemer and Ball designs!

A 1906 Titusville Evening Courier special edition described the Iron Company’s facilities:

“The plant of the Titusville Iron Company covers several acres between the New York Central lines and the Pennsylvania railroad; the different departments are connected by convenient switches, giving ample shipping facilities.”

Titusville Iron Company products were listed by the same publication:

“The products of this company are varied and too much space would be required to give a detailed description or enumeration of the same. Prominent among these are the well known Acme steam drilling engine, the Olin gas engine, the Abel gas engine, the Abel combination pumping power for oil wells (a recent product which is gaining a well merited reputation), the Acme drilling boiler, horizontal tubular boilers, fire box boilers of different types and general steel plate work. Of the above products the Olin engine was one of the first successful gas engines placed on the market for use in the oil fields, and has maintained a reputation for economy, reliability and durability. Thousands are in use throughout the
various oil fields of the United States and Canada.”

The Titusville Iron Company acquired the Olin patents from the Olin Gas Engine Company, Buffalo, NY. Titusville and Pleasantville residents were stockholders in the Buffalo Olin firm!

The Titusville Iron Company briefly built steam rollers and related construction machinery, 1907. Boilers used in the Panama Canal construction project were made in Titusville, 1912. Further reorganization resulted in the firm’s name becoming the Titusville Iron Works Company, 1915. Marine boilers and engine components for Emergency Fleet Corporation ships were produced during World War I.

John T. Dillon, Sr. founded the Titusville Forge Company, on East Spring Street (with financial assistance from Titusville Iron Company / Titusville Iron Works shareholders, who desired a local source of engine crankshafts), 1897. After the Titusville Forge was sold to Bethlehem Steel Company (which expanded and modernized the shops in time for World War I defense production), Dillon purchased the Iron Works, 1919.

John T. Dillon, Sr. had originally been a supervisor at Stearns Manufacturing Company (Erie, PA), and later superintendent / part owner of Erie Forge Company (Erie Forge & Steel Company).

Investors headed by the Dillon family reacquired ownership of the Titusville Forge, September, 1919. One year later (1920) the Dillon group bought the Struthers Wells Company (founded in 1851); a Warren, PA manufacturer of power boilers, storage tanks, heat exchangers, tank cars, penstocks, water standpipes, turpentine and alcohol distillation equipment, oil field steam engines, sawmill and tannery machinery, nitrators (for high explosives plants) and heavy duty gas engines (some rated at 1300 H.P.).

The Struthers Wells foundry and machine shop departments in Warren actually made flywheels and beds for the larger Tico engines assembled in the Titusville Iron Works machine shop / erecting floor, 1920s.

Other Dillon family - controlled industries included the Lake Erie Engineering Company (a machine shop and foundry operation which specialized in the manufacture of pumps and other industrial machinery, affiliated with the Titusville Iron Works, Buffalo, NY), Delaney Forge Company (Buffalo, NY), Welland Forge Company (Welland, Ontario, Canada) and Warren Axe & Tool Company (Warren, PA). John T. Dillon, Jr. was also involved with the Titusville Supply Company (coal, cement and roofing materials dealership) and the Oil Creek Refining Company, 1920s.

Penn Seaboard Steel Corporation, a Philadelphia - based consortium of steel mills and foundries, briefly owned an interest in the Titusville Forge, 1921 - 1923.

The Titusville Iron Works offered a line of rotary deep well drilling rigs, c. 1925 - 1935. Drawworks and rotary tables were made by the related Lake Erie Engineering plant in Buffalo; slush pumps, steam engines and power boilers came from the Titusville Iron Works shops.

Sales and management forces of the three Titusville and Warren plants were eventually combined, 1928 - 1932. The firm’s name became Struthers Wells -Titusville Corporation (1928), later shortened to Struthers Wells Corporation (1942). John T. Dillon, Jr. headed the three plants after 1932 (his father died, 1934). Steam and gas engine manufacturing ended in Warren (and was transferred to Titusville) at this time.

Only 40% of the Iron Works’ products were for oil field use by 1934. A line of heat exchangers (of all sizes), valves and strainers was added to the Titusville plant’s output, 1935 - 1936.

Master Separator & Valve Company, Los Angeles, CA, sold patent rights to the Titusville Iron Works, 1935. These patents included scrubbers, oil / water separators, feed water heaters, mixer heads, heat exchangers, processing kettles and agitators designed by E.C.R. Weisgerber for the chemical, oil refining, rubber and paint industries. Weisgerber - designed product lines were later transferred to the Struthers Wells plant in Warren, 1940s.

Oil field machinery production was gradually phased out at the Titusville Iron Works after 1937. The plant’s iron and brass foundry departments closed in late 1939. Manufacturing of defense - related items (gun barrels / tubes, shells, breech blocks, naval steering gears, anchor windlasses / winches / capstans, boilers for military bases / hospitals and United States Navy destroyers / minesweepers, high pressure valves for synthetic rubber and high octane gasoline plants, etc.) commenced for the World War II effort.

The United States Government spent millions of dollars installing new machinery and erecting additional production (and office) buildings at the Iron Works and Forge Division plants, 1940 - 1944. Notable defense - related products of the Titusville Iron Works included capstans / winches for the battleships North Carolina and Washington, anti - aircraft gun breech blocks for the battleship South Dakota, anti - tank gun barrels successfully used by the British 8th Army in the Battle of El Alamein, high - speed machine cannon for B - 25 and P - 51 aircraft, and 8“ howitzer shells used by the U.S. Army in the Battle of the Bulge.

A 1940 Titusville Herald article detailed the equipment installed on the North Carolina and Washington:

“References have been made in The Herald recently to the launching of the new battleship Washington at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, in which there was local interest because a Titusville man, John Zerres, has been one of the hundreds of workmen on it for the past year or so. Now it develops that part of the equipment came from Titusville.

“Two electric deck winches and the warping capstan for bringing the ship to dock were built by the Titusville Iron Works….

“The U.S.S. North Carolina, a sister ship, has also had these same parts made by this company.”

The Iron Works and Forge plants played major roles in helping make possible the British / Australian Army’s victory at El Alamein and the U.S. Navy’s triumph (Battle of Santa Cruz, Second Battle of Savo Island / Battle of Guadalcanal) at Guadalcanal, 1942. Employment at both plants reached a combined total of 3000 people, many of them women, by 1943.

Following World War II the operations of the Iron Works and Forge plants were thoroughly integrated into a connected unit. New products; including tangent benders and press brakes / broaching machines for automobile and appliance manufacturing companies, rotary oil / gas well drilling rigs (designed and marketed by the Oil Well Supply Division, United States Steel Corporation), high pressure mixers, stackless boilers, automatic flame plate cutting machines, autoclaves (of all sizes), heavy steam generators, welded railroad car tanks, oil refinery / chemical plant fractionating towers, radio transmission tower structural / mechanical components, ballistic missile silos and rocket fuel storage tanks; were added.

Drilling rigs built under contract for the Oil Well Supply Division of United States Steel were manufactured at the Iron Works using castings supplied by Erie Forge & Steel Company (Erie, PA), National Bearing Metals Company / American Brake Shoe Company (Meadville) and Mutual Foundry Company (Franklin, PA). Each completed rig took several railroad cars to ship. These units, many of which were shipped overseas to Saudi Arabia, were built under the “Oilwell” name.

Local refineries which contained fractionating towers made by the Iron Works included Pennzoil, Wolf’s Head and Sonneborn / Amalie. The Cities Service Refinery, Titusville, also had Titusville Iron Works boilers installed in its No. 2 Power / Boiler House, 1934; as did the Bradford Penn oil refinery (Forest / Niagara Oil) at Clarendon, PA, 1930s. Titusville Dairy Products Company, Queen Cutlery, Horn Textile and the South Side Elementary School (Titusville) were also heated / powered with Titusville boilers.

The Isaly Dairy plants in Youngstown, Canton and Akron, OH all used Titusville Iron Works boilers!

Missile silo outer shells were built in the Perry Forge Building of the Iron Works Boiler Shop, inner liners were fabricated in the Struthers Wells Heavy Boiler Shop, Warren. Final silo assembly and testing took place in the Titusville Forge Heavy Welding Shop (which was interchangeable with the Iron Works Boiler Shop facilities), 1959 - 1960.

Several Iron Works product lines were sold or eliminated after 1957. Dillon family heirs sold the three plants to a New York City investment group, headed by lawyer Jerry Finkelstein, 1960. Wasteful production and management methods caused the Titusville operations to lose money.

Struthers Wells Corporation, after purchasing a structural steel / welded pressure vessel and industrial process furnace fabricating operation in Winfield, KS (1960 - 1961), closed the Titusville Forge plant, 1963. Activities at the Iron Works gradually ended over the next eight years. Noel Poux, Titusville industrialist, purchased and subdivided part of the old Iron Works facility, May, 1964.

Present - day occupants of the historic complex are Day’s Home Furnishings & Appliances, Ellwood Titusville Machine Company (part of Ellwood City Forge Company / Ellwood National Forge Company), Buffalo Structural Steel Corporation and Charter Plastics, Inc. The plant buildings stand between South Franklin and Monroe Streets, Titusville.

Most of the old buildings, especially those with overhead crane capacity, are still standing. Four have been wholly or partially demolished; a fifth (the old foundry storehouse / plant maintenance building and carpenter shop / garage) was destroyed by fire, 1987.

The Warren plant of Struthers Wells Corporation was closed, 1993. Two of that facility’s remaining buildings are now occupied by Ellwood City Forge Company / Ellwood National Forge Company and Grand Valley Manufacturing Company (the latter firm owned / occupied the present Ellwood Titusville Machine plant in the former Titusville Iron Works complex, 1968 - 2007). GVM is currently renovating part of the old Titusville Forge plant into a heavy capacity contract (job) machine shop.

The Titusville Iron Works boiler patents were sold to Cleaver - Brooks Company (Milwaukee, WI and Lebanon, PA), 1963. Colonial Machine Company, Pleasantville, PA later acquired the repair parts manufacturing rights for the Titusville boilers. Some of these old relics remain in use heating schools, hospitals and industrial plants throughout the United States. Drake Well Museum has had a Titusville Iron Works heating boiler in operation since the 1960s (it will soon be replaced).

A Titusville Iron Works Olin Gas Engine, rated at 20 H.P., can be seen (and heard) operating the Oil Lease (Central Power - Compressor House) Exhibit at Drake Well Park and Museum.