Union Foundry and Machine Company

Historic Walking Tours > Industrial Walking Tours > Union Foundry and Machine Company

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 Company 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 Lukoil 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. Fritz who had been woking at various furnaces and mills along the Schuylkill and Susquehanna Riverrs, joined his relatives here to create this foundry and machine shop, which 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 (see picture of letterhead on invoice for items sold to Crane Iron).  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. (CMCo). In 1869, Thomas sold the Union Foundry business to Oliver Williams, David Williams (his brother), and William P. Hopkins who enlarged the business.  Cast iron columns and bases on whch they were mounted were produced in substantial quantities for use in thh construction of buildings and other structures.  A spur railroad track crossed Front Street onto the premises bringing in pig iron and other raw materials and out-loading of product shipments.  Williams also built a horseshoe factory on the site:  shown in the 1885 Sanborn map and listed in the 1885 directory as Bryden Forged Horse Shoe Works, Pine ab Front, having acquired the Bryden patent .  He later moved this operation across Front St above Chapel, creating the Bryden Horseshoe Company.  The Bryden bought raw material from the foundry and CMC.  An 1887 directory of the borough also showed Star Rivet Company operating on this site - maker of boiler and tank rivets.  The foundry and CMCo continued to produce structural iron components, while many other new iron works in the state focused on rail and steel making.

Oliver Williams and his nephew J. Arthur Williams incorporated the foundry after the death of David Williams.  It is suspected that David Williams committed suicide over concerns about the plant, which like many iron businesses of the time went through large swings of booms and busts.  John Williams took over as general manger and with another large surge in the economy and orders, moved the firm onto a 7 acre site along Race St. between the canal and river. Oliver Williams died in 1904.  At that time, the works had taken on debt with its expansion, was sued by a debtor, and ended up in receivership.  A private sale agreement among the debtors failed, and at a public sale, it was purchased by Leonard Peckitt (1904-1905).

A new operation started there in 1907, 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.
The Catasauqua Scrap Yard occupies part of the site along Race.

In 1909, the Majestic Theater was built at the early site of the foundry at Front & Pine.  The Edgar Building and Moose buildings also were built on this site.

Oliver Williams built the Tudor-style home at the NW corner of Second and Pine, catty-corner to his friend David Thomas.  Williams became a close friend of John Fritz and helped plan the party held at the Bethlehem Opera House honoring Fritz upon his 80th birthday.