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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Isaac A. Sheppard & Co. -- Philadelphia Stovemakers, 6

Advertisement in Freedley, Philadelphia and Its Manufactures (1867 ed.), p. 460. [For full citations, see at end.  The links all worked, as of 27 Jan. 2018] Freedley notes:
The "Excelsior Stove Works," on Girard avenue and Marshall street, of which Messrs. ISAAC A. SHEPPARD & Co are proprietors, are fitted up with a full assortment of modern patterns and appliances for the manufacture of Stoves, Heaters, Ranges, and Hollow Ware.  They employ from seventy to eighty men, and melt from twelve to fifteen hundred tons of iron per year. The gentlemen in charge of these works are men of large experience in iron founding, and as a result of their experience, they have found they can produce castings of greater strength and tenacity from a proper mixture of brands of American Iron, than from Scotch Iron, and consequently they use only American Iron of the best brand. Besides Stoves, etc., Messrs. Sheppard & Co make castings for Plumbers, in fact all kinds of light and fine castings 

Isaac A. Sheppard & Co. was the last of the big Philadelphia stove foundries to be established, in 1860, and one of the most successful, its growing business requiring the opening in 1866 of a smaller branch plant in Baltimore to meet the anticipated demands of the postwar market in the ex-Confederacy, and the building of an entirely new Philadelphia plant on a larger site in 1872-3.  Most of its history therefore lies outside of the antebellum period on which I have concentrated in the other posts in this batch of essays on the Philadelphia stove business, but its creators' careers were firmly rooted within that young industry, so they belong here too. 

From Scharf, History of Baltimore City and County, p. 428.  Sheppard divided his time about 2/3 Philadelphia, 1/3 Baltimore during the branch plant's first 5-6 years, and by 1881 it employed about 150 hands and melted 40 tons of iron a day.  This factory covered the whole block between Eastern and Canton Avenues (now Fleet Street), and Chester and Castle Streets.  The company closed in 1933, but the building survived in recognizable form until at least 1980.  The site has since been entirely cleared and is now occupied by a Burger King and a Royal Farms Gas Station and their car parks.  Scharf also has, opp. p. 428, a fine engraving of a rather younger Sheppard than the photograph below shows.

Another version of the same view in an 1880s billhead -- resolution is poor, but it's more or less legible.  Only three of Sheppard's old partners were still alive, and his college-educated son Franklin had joined the firm.

(A) The Sheppard Firm: The Principal and His Partners.

Unlike the other entrepreneurs we have encountered so far, Isaac Allin Sheppard and his colleagues all came up from the foundry floor.  Sheppard and his partners -- Jonathan A. Biddle, James C. Horn, John Sheeler, and William B. Walton, joined by Daniel Weaver and Thomas Wallwork in 1862 -- were all working men.  The three of them who showed up in the 1860 and 1861 directories all gave their occupations as moulder or stove moulder; Weaver was foundry foreman at Leibrandt & McDowell, and Wallwork was a machinist at another stove foundry, probably Cox, Whiteman & Cox's Penn Stove Works, successors to Charles Warnick in his second [Sixth and Germantown Avenue] foundry.  As an 1891 history of the firm put it, they relied "on their intelligence and labor to supply the place of capital in the rivalry they had commenced with the wealthier and long-established houses who, in order to drive them out of the market, sold their own goods below cost."  

But they must have had some access to capital, in order to be able to establish their original foundry at the south-west corner of Marshall and Girard Avenue, on the site of an omnibus stable in the Poplar district of the city's Northern Liberties and just round the corner from Sheppard's row home.  The most probable explanation is that they -- particularly Sheppard himself -- had just saved it.

Sheppard was born on the family homestead in Back Neck, Cumberland County, New Jersey, in 1827, in the marshes south of the Cohansey River between Bridgeton and the Delaware, where his ancestors had first settled in 1683.  His parents moved to Fairfield in the north of the state when he was 10, and young Isaac stayed behind and had to start work.  He took farming jobs with old neighbors in Sayre's Neck and Cedarville, NJ, 150 miles away from his parents, and only went to stay with them during the three winter months when work dried up and the schools were open -- almost the only full-time, formal education he ever received.  

His parents moved to Philadelphia in 1839 to improve their children's chances of getting an education and getting on in life, and Isaac did get one term of school.  But his father quickly fell ill, lingering until he died in 1848, so Isaac was "thrown almost wholly upon his own resources" aged 12, having to work to support the family, and when his mother died in 1842 the household broke up. [p. 566]  Isaac took whatever unskilled, poorly paid jobs he could find -- errand boy in a shoe store, cabin boy on a coasting vessel, packing boy in a cracker factory, and others -- chasing opportunity and more money, and eventually got a break: an apprenticeship as a molder in a brass and iron foundry in summer 1843.  But within six months his master died, the foundry closed, and he had to start again in January 1844, fortunately for him in Charles Warnick's stove foundry at Sixth and Germantown Avenue, a business with a future.  

Stove molding may have appealed to him as a familiar as well as a growing craft: Cumberland County was a center of the stove furnace business when he was a child.  Warnick also provided him with a good apprenticeship, i.e. not just an excuse for cheap labor (for an example of a degraded, exploitative apprenticeship, see this case involving the Cox, Whiteman, and Cox stove foundry in 1863): he was required to spend two evenings a week on writing and arithmetic, and two on reading and general improvement.  As an obituary reported, "being studiously inclined he made the best of the opportunities presented by a residence in a large city" too, including joining musical societies ["Stove Trade Notes: Isaac A. Sheppard," The Metal Worker 12 Mar. 1898, p. 49.]  His devotion to self-improvement, and Warnick's support, meant that he acquired the education and cultural awareness he had missed out on, and as  result "he was enabled to stand well with men who had received much better educational advantages."  He carried on with this habit of self-improvement even after his apprenticeship was finished and he was his own man.  [p. 567

By 1847, when Warnick was having to staff his new foundry on the Delaware waterfront, Isaac was a qualified journeyman, trusted and respected by his employers, including, most probably, Warnick's foundry superintendent Archilus Lawrence: Isaac's first surviving son Franklin, born 1852, was given Lawrence as his middle name.  He was "assured that he could have employment as long as they had work for anyone." [p. 567]  His obituary explained why: "As a molder he enjoyed the enviable reputation of being the best in the land.  Some of the feats of work he performed when a young man are to this day considered remarkable."  He worked with his head as well as his hands: one of the fullest as well as, probably, the earliest biographies of him, and a source for the others, spells out that "By paying careful attention to the peculiarities of material used in his business, [he] made himself thoroughly familiar with the nature, strength and qualities required to produce the best results.  His proficiency in these respects was noted by his employers." [p. 36

Sheppard did not just believe in individual  improvement, but in collective effort: he was a tireless joiner, particularly of fraternal organizations.  His first was the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, via a new lodge of which he was a charter member, in 1847; the role of secretary, for which his evening studies as an apprentice qualified him, gave him book-keeping and administrative  experience.  Next, he brought his habit of saving -- another biography says he always intended to go into business eventually -- together with some of his friends, founding a savings and loan association requiring them to save at least a dollar a month until they had acquired $200, enough for a house.  (It was only the second in the city; Sheppard had read about long-established British building societies, and they were his model.)  Sheppard reached his goal by 1849, bought a small lot, and built the house at 989 Sixth Street in the Northern Liberties district of the city where he lived for the remainder of his long life.  In 1850 he married the daughter of English immigrants, and within almost exactly nine months the first of their sixth children was born, only to become a few weeks later the first of three to die.  

The Isaac Sheppard House today.
Biographies of Sheppard mostly skip over the 1850s, simply described as the period when he was accumulating the capital with which, in 1860, he could buy the lot on which he and his partners would build their foundry, and the big story of his life could begin.  But in fact they were full of plenty of action.  

Warnick's foundry was the birthplace of labor militancy in the Philadelphia molders' trade, as well as being a training-ground for skilled workmen and future entrepreneurs.  Stove foundries were labor-intensive workplaces.  The principal ways for employers to increase production and reduce costs were by extending the work day, cutting the rates paid for every casting successfully completed, maintaining constant pressure, reorganizing work to make tasks simpler and more repetitive, and diluting skilled workers with cheaper assistants.  According to Joseph A. Barford's "Reminiscences of the Early Days of Stove Plate Molding and the Union," Iron Molders' Journal 38:3 (March 1902): 179-82, there were three rate cuts, two of 10 percent and one of 15 percent, between September 1847, when he started at Warnick's, and early May 1855, forcing him to increase his output to maintain his wages.  "The burden had become unbearable and the worm at length turned.  Smarting under a sense of the injustice done me one day, I threw my rammer into the sandheap, and with a terrible oath swore I would not make another mold at their prices."  [p. 181] 

Barford turned first to his work mate (molders often worked in pairs, helping one another out with heavy lifting), James C. Horn -- later one of Sheppard's original partners -- and asked if he was with him.  Horn agreed, and they went around the shop, gaining the backing of all but two men, then organized a meeting to which the molders in other city stove foundries were invited, and which Horn chaired.  The sense of grievance was general, but molders had few resources apart from their solidarity.  "We dared to come out and demand our rights and stayed out until we got them.  It was a hard battle, though, for the men were very poor, as they had been out of work all the previous winter." [p. 181]  

They got their union  organized by 16 June [or July? -- accounts differ] 1855, after a month of almost nightly meetings, with Isaac Sheppard as President and Horn as Secretary, and embarked on a ten-week strike involving all of the city's stove and hollow ware molders apart from Stuart & Peterson's, whose employers promised they would match any deal the strikers finally achieved -- a reversal of the last rate cut, and maintenance of 1854's rates.  Among the other early activists Barford recalled were two more of Sheppard's future partners, John Sheeler [whom he calls Shuler] and William B. Walton.  

The Stove and Hollow Ware Molders Union of Philadelphia, aiming to enlist all "practical molders" as members (i.e. not limiting themselves to time-served journeymen?) and to elevate the position and maintain the interests of the craft, announced its presence with a proclamation as well as a strike.  "'Wealth is power' ... and practical experience proves that its possessors ... oppress and degrade the daily labourers.  In the present organization of society, labourers single handed are powerless ... but combined there is no power of wrong they may not openly defy."  [Grossman, William Sylvis, Pioneer of American Labor, p. 23.]  Its objectives were straightforward -- establishing a $10 a week minimum for day work, and giving union members first preference in getting jobs -- as were its methods: vigorous picketing, and assessing members in order to pay strike benefits and to help and encourage strikers to leave the city and travel to work somewhere else.  

The 1855 strike was followed by another, less successful, in 1857, but also by similar eruptions in other major stove manufacturing centers -- Baltimore, MD; Reading, PA; Jersey City, NJ; Troy, Albany, Utica, Buffalo, Peekskill, and Port Chester, NY; Stamford, CT; Providence, RI; Worcester, MA; and, over the mountains, Cincinnati and Dayton, OH, Louisville, KY, and St Louis, MO.  Philadelphia molders, with Sheppard still their president and William Sylvis as their corresponding secretary, headed the movement for a national union, which alone could increase the chances that local struggles would achieve lasting benefits, and that they could reverse the fresh wage cuts that the depression of 1857 had forced their employers to impose, and them to accept.  Finally, on Independence Day in 1859, the first national convention met in Philadelphia, with representatives of local unions claiming more than 4,000 members represented.  

Where was Sheppard in all of this?  In the thick of Philadelphia Local No. 1's work as its president, and the national union's first treasurer.  But I do not know how long he held this office, or whether organizing and presiding over the grand dinner at the end of the founding convention may have been his last major service to a working-class movement he was soon to leave.  [Grossman, pp. 23-29; Sylvis, The Life, Speeches, Labors, and Essays of William H. Sylvispp. 26-29; "National Convention of Iron Moulders," Philadelphia Press 8 July 1859, p. 2.  Henry E. Hoagland's "The Rise of the Iron Molders' International Union: A Study in American Trade Unionism," American Economic Review 3:2 (June 1913): 296-313, p. 307, makes the interesting point that Philadelphia Local 1 had invested its surplus funds in Pennsylvania Railroad stock and was receiving an income from them, hoping thereby to avoid the necessity for dues.  This sounds like Sheppard's idea to me.]

Because, at the same time, Sheppard's career was taking a new course.  According to another late nineteenth-century biography, he stayed with Warnick's until Charles W. Warnick died at the end of 1857 and the old firm was dissolved (in fact, the partnership had already changed to Leibrandt & McDowell in 185#).  He was still working as a moulder, but he was beginning to branch out.  In 1858 he was elected to the Pennsylvania State Legislature representing the victorious People's Party (the local predecessor to what became the Republicans), whose high-tariff program he endorsed ["Protective Tariff Meeting at National Hall," Philadelphia Press 16 June 1858, p. 2 -- Sheppard and Daniel Weaver, a fellow-molder at Warnick's and his future partner, were appointed vice-presidents under the president, Henry Carey, and alongside leading manufacturers].  

For the next three years, involving two more successful annual elections, he was an influential legislator as well as a labor activist, and then an entrepreneur beginning to realize his intention of becoming a businessman rather than just a skilled employee.  At Harrisburg, Sheppard's first major achievement was a law to regulate building and loan associations, institutions so central to improving the life-chances of skilled men like himself, but he soon got swept up in charting the state's course through the crisis of Secession, serving as chair of important committees and eventually as Speaker pro tem. before the end of his last term.  Alongside these commitments he and his partners were buying a site, building a foundry, and getting it established through the economic disruption of the early Civil War years and against his established rivals' strenuous competition.  As one of his biographers explains, 
From the beginning of its career the firm encountered the most determined opposition from the older establishments, which, to drive their young rivals' products from the markets, in many instances sold their own wares below cost.  Mr. Sheppard had been too well schooled in trials and adversity in his earlier years to be overcome or even intimidated by those he now encountered.  A born manager, as well as a thorough workman, he persevered despite the bitterest opposition, and although he was obliged to compete at ruinous prices with much wealthier firms and combinations avowedly seeking to destroy his business at its inception, he persevered without flinching, and by the close of the third year [1863] had the pleasure of finding that his tactics had prevailed, that opposition had been conquered, and that his business was at last firmly established on its merits. During the critical period of the Civil War and the years immediately following, Mr. Sheppard's energetic management sustained his business through many and severe trials. [p. 37]
And about all of this, as opposed to Sheppard's busy 1850s, and his continuing public life as a Republican political activist, community benefactor, director of other companies (gas works, banks, petroleum exploration), and leading member of fraternal and religious organizations, there is almost no public record.  There are, for example, 96 newspaper articles dealing with these aspects of his life in the Philadelphia press in the database of Pennsylvania newspapers in the Civil War Era.  None mention his principal business.  What we have instead is just the sort of documentation I have used elsewhere to provide some information about other Philadelphia stove foundries, all of which are almost equally unremembered.

(B) The Foundries:

The First Excelsior Stove Works, 7th St. and W. Girard Avenue,
c. 1860-1873:

The arrow points to Sheppard's home, a few minutes round the corner.  From the 1875 G.M. Hopkins Philadelphia Atlas -- see Map Viewer

The Excelsior Stove Works, c. 1870.  The online version permits enlargement and easier legibility.  There does not seem to have been any raw material storage space on site.  The main molding floor is 144 x 49 feet, with a c. 20 x 50 annex, total c. 8,000 square feet. 

The Second Excelsior Stove Works, Berks St. and Third, c. 1873-. 

The new Excelsior Stove Works, from the 1875 G.M. Hopkins Philadelphia Atlas -- see Map Viewer.  The site's great advantage, apart from its size, was its direct railroad access.  It had previously been a railroad depot.   See also this zoomable 1874 map

1873 Hexamer Insurance survey -- zoomable version.  The new foundry was 350 x 65 feet, c. 24,000 square feet, i.e. three times as large as the old, with two cupola furnaces.  The legend to the plan says that there was an 1859 building on the site (the old railroad depot) when he bought it in 1871, and he built his additions in 1872-1873.  He and his partners employed 250 people, two-thirds men, the rest boys, suggesting that these ex-union activists were not averse to diluting skilled labor with cheaper employees.  Six men worked in his on-site pattern shop.  All power came from a 30 h.p. steam engine.  

The Excelsior Works, ten years later (1882) -- by which time the proportion of boys had declined to a quarter, though there were still only 250 employees.  See zoomable version for more detail and legibility.

Principal recent changes were (a) extension of buildings 2-3-4-5 fronting on Montgomery Avenue, and (b) new cupolas, with pollution-controlling cowls, and an overhead rope system for carrying anthracite and pig iron to them; or is it a rope drive from the engine house to the blowers and freight elevators serving each cupola?

There is a good online copy of a lively 1876 engraving of the plant which gives more detail, including the ?rope drive, but not the cowls; instead, it shows why they were needed, probably as spark- and dust-arresters.  It truncates the long buildings to the rear of the front block, probably to suit the dimensions of the print better.  I can't reproduce it here because there is a fee.  But there are no such restrictions on the above, less clear version, which is almost as serviceable.

The Excelsior Stove Works, from the 1895 G.W. Bromley Philadelphia Atlas -- see Map Viewer.  The principal changes in twenty years were the transformation of the Reading Railroad corridor along American Street into a packed industrial district.
The Excelsior Stove Works in 1900, viewed from the south-west corner (Fourth and Montgomery).  From Moses King, Philadelphia and Notable Philadelphians (New York, 1902), p. 161.    

All that is left of the site today -- basically, the street grid, and not even all of that -- the stretch of Montgomery south of the plant is now grassed over.

Apart from his old home, there is precious little sign of Sheppard's life and work left in Philadelphia now -- the Central and Northeast Manual Training Schools, which he did so much to establish and encourage, have been demolished, the latter as recently as 2013.  But there remains, for the moment, the Isaac A. Sheppard Elementary School, a small, struggling, and vulnerable school for the inner-city poor.  It was named after him in 1908 when it was new, probably because the original Northeast Manual Training School at Girard Avenue and Howard Street, which he had paid to have built, and which was renamed in his honour after his death, was replaced then with the fine building that finally died five years ago.  When it is finally closed and demolished too, almost all trace of Isaac Sheppard will have been erased the city for which he did so much.

The Sheppard School, from this page -- does the plaque over the door memorialize Isaac himself?  I hope so!  See also this image of the other side of the building, and this, in its prime.

(C) The Products:

I have neither seen, nor even seen any references to, surviving early Sheppard catalogues in public collections, though they certainly exist in private hands, and much more research would be needed to discover the patents the firm may have bought.  So here, as a stand-by, are Sheppard's own early patents, as examples:

Isaac Sheppard & Julius Holzer, Cook Stove ("The Monumental"), Design Patent 2098, 1865.  A "square cook" (standard 4-boiler stove) with very conventional sunburst patterns on the panels.  Sheppard & Holzer took the cheap and easy option the Patent & Trademark Office permitted after the mid-1850s of submitting photographs of the plates made to their designs rather than drawings which reproduce better in the PTO online copy, so they are usually not worth showing here.  Sheppard's partners Horn and Biddle witnessed the pictures.  Holzer is in the 1865 Directory as a carver, living at 1215 Jefferson.

Isaac Sheppard, Front Plates of a Range, Design Patent 2099, 1865.  A standard "portable range" decorated with Romanesque arches filled with latticework on its front panels.

Isaac Sheppard, Columbia Cook Stove, Design Patent 2196, 1865.  Another square cook.

Isaac Sheppard, Myrtle Heating Stove, Design Patent 2673, 1867.  A tall, cylindrical heating stove with a cast base, top, and door, the remainder wrought iron.

Isaac Sheppard, Stove Plate or Door, Design Patent 2790, 1867.  A banner with a pseudo-heraldic device -- see below.

Isaac Sheppard, Stove Door, Design Patent 3583, 1867.

Isaac Sheppard, Stove Ornament, Design Patent 3945, 1870.  Less unoriginal than the previous designs.  Sheppard and partners had called their business the Excelsior Stove Works -- whether in imitation of Giles Filley's famous St. Louis enterprise, or simply inspired by the famous Longfellow poem.  What he produced here was the key image from that poem, not just the "banner with a strange device" -- "the figure of a man ascending a rocky hill, and carrying a flag bearing the word 'Excelsior,' ... cast in relief."  Highly decorated, figurative stoves like this were all the fashion in the 1870s.  Sheppard was establishing a brand identity and trademark with this design.

Isaac Sheppard, Plates and Door of a Cook Stove, Design Patent 4319, 1870.  Another square cook, with a floral motif.

Isaac Sheppard, Plates and Door of a Cook Stove, Design Patent 7803, 1874.  Rather fine photo, so worth reproducing here.

Isaac Sheppard, Range, Design Patent 11815, 1880.  A rather old-fashioned 5-boiler "portable range," with its name, The "Magic," emblazoned across its oven door.

What do these design patents show?  Mostly that Sheppard's designs were competent from the beginning, and entirely conventional, as one would expect.  He produced what the market required and contemporary taste demanded, and did so very successfully.  So did his sons Franklin (b. 1852) and Howard (b. 1865), who joined him in management of the business almost as soon as they graduated from college, and kept it going and adapting well into the twentieth century.  (See e.g. their Perfect Cooking [1890], a clever, consumer-focused range catalogue, claiming 75,000 range sales in Philadelphia alone, and Hints About Heating [1892, with an Architects' Edition in 1897], a similar plug for their furnaces.)  They replaced his original partners as the old men died off (Sheeler in 1878, Biddle in 1882, Walton in 1883, and Horn in 1886) and Isaac bought back their shares from their estates, under the terms of their original agreement.  As his sons' roles grew with their experience, they were able to lift the burden of business from his shoulders and leave him free to pursue a career of public service until the end of his life.


Sources, in chronological order:


  1. I have an Issac A Sheppard & Co. Number 20 parlor stove patented in 1865. It is a single burner and very ornamental.

  2. I have a Excelsior Pot belly stove no. 116
    The Sheppard Stove Co
    Baltimore, MD

    My mother acquired it from an old farm house in/near Baltimore & Howard Counties Maryland.

    I wish I knew more

  3. Mr. Harris, I recently acquired a Marvel 10-20 brooder made by Liberty Stove company. Im having a heck of a time finding any information on this item. Can you steer me in the right direction? Any information would be greatly appreciated. I wish I could post some pictures on here so you could see it.

    Thank you, Mark M

  4. Im not sure what i have but i found one of these stoves burried deep in the mountains in Virginia, very random i was to get some more information, can someone point me in the right direction- Richard

  5. Just trying to get some info on it sir. I dont know anything about it.

  6. Any info really, i can send some 0hotos of the pieces i have.