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Sunday, January 21, 2018

North, Harrison & Chase, later Sharpe & Thomson -- Philadelphia Stovemakers, 4

In 1867 Edwin Freedley wrote up the company whose plant was illustrated in the above full-page engraving in these terms
Probably the largest establishment engaged in the casting of stoves in the city is that of  Sharpe Thomson, successors to North, Chase & North, who were prominent Stove Founders in the city for twenty years. This firm have in connection with their works six acres of land, located between Second Street and Moyamensing avenue and Mifflin and McKean streets. The buildings are of brick, and include two of immense size. The Moulding Room, which, it is supposed, is the largest in the United States, has a front of one hundred and one feet on Second street, and a depth of three hundred and five feet on Mifflin street, containing over thirty thousand square feet. In this are two cupola furnaces, capable of melting eighty tons of iron per day. The Finishing Department and Wareroom occupy another extensive building two hundred and sixty-eight feet long, and sixty-eight feet wide. Besides these immense structures, there is a building seventy-one by eighteen feet, in which the offices connected with the foundry are located, a Pattern Store Room, one hundred by eighteen feet, and numerous auxiliary buildings necessary to the successful prosecution of the business on an extensive scale. There is an Artesian well on the premises, which supplies water for the engine and boilers. Almost three hundred men are employed, and twenty-five hundred tons of No. 1 American iron are converted into Stoves annually.
Besides Stoves, Messrs. Sharpe Thomson manufacture Tinned and Enamelled Hollow-ware of a fine quality, as has elsewhere been stated, and, in addition to their manufactories, the firm have a large five story store, at 209 North Second street, which is one hundred and fifty feet in length, and filled with samples of their various productions, presenting an assortment of unsurpassed attractions. The salesrooms are in charge of Mr. Charles Sharpe, while the Manufacturing Department is under the supervision of Mr. Edgar L. Thomson, an experienced founder.

What was the firm's history?

Simeon Harrison and Gibson North set up as stovemakers with premises at 390 High (Market) Street in 1845, and as North, Harrison & Co. remained there until 1851.  They are reported to have owned a foundry in Wilmington, Delaware, which was said to be the source of their castings, but I can find no trace of it in city directories and local histories, so I assume that they may simply have had a stake in or contracts with one of the smaller local foundries, most likely James Rice's.  (The other three, Betts & Seal, Bush & Lobdell, later the Lobdell Car Wheel Co., and Evan Stotsenburg's have left records and/or descriptions of their business which are silent about any such contract, and their reported products did not include stoves.  Betts & Seal and Stotsenburg were jobbing or semi-specialized machinery foundries; Bush & Lobdell were already specialist chilled iron car wheel manufacturers).  

In 1848 they gained a third partner, Pliny Earle Chase, b. 1820, a Harvard-trained mathematician, scientist, and private-school teacher, and friend of Edward Everett HaleWilliam Ellery Channing, and other Yankee luminaries, who had been advised by his doctors to find a new field of employment better for his diseased lungs, and allowing "more outdoor air and exercise."  Curiously, he chose stove-making.  [Garrett, "Memoir of Pliny Earle Chase," (1887), p. 289.]  Friends wondered at this, but he explained that he had to make a living.  [Green, "Pliny Earle Chase," (1887), p. 318.]  

Gibson's brother Asa joined them in the partnership, briefly renamed Norths, Harrison and Chase, in 1851, having already been involved in the business: he and Chase were both witnesses to North's first patent, No. 6943, "Making Tin Boilers ... with Cast-Iron Bottoms," in 1849, a way of constructing a cooking utensil with a cheap, durable but also rust-proofed (via a tin, zinc, or enamel coating) bottom and sheet-metal sides and top soldered to it.  

The firm also received a substantial injection of capital: John Edgar Thomson, b. 1808, chief engineer and, from 1852, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company became their special partner in 1850 (this meant he could invest and share any profits, but his liability was limited to the amount he had invested, provided he did not participate in management).  This may have enabled them to bring castings production back to Philadelphia rather than continuing to rely on a less convenient, because harder to supervise, source of supply in Wilmington thirty miles away (Chase and Thomson were both birthright Quakers; it would not be surprising if this partnership was rooted in that local religious community, but I cannot find out anything more about Harrison and the Norths, so this must remain speculative unless there is something in Chase's biographical notes, available, though not easily to me, on microfilm -- p. 5 of catalogue, Box 1, Folder 8.) 

In 1852 Harrison died and the partnership changed its name again to North, Chase, and North.  The North brothers also altered their occupational and business descriptions: they were now iron founders, with a small foundry at 145 North Second Street, almost opposite James Yocom's on Drinker's Alley.  That was where they were when Gibson took out his second patent, again suggesting that his principal expertise was still in metal plating.  This one, No. 9948, was for an enamel lining for cooking stove and range oven doors, intended and claimed to "prevent the escape of heat" and, by "retaining and equalizing the heat of the oven," render it "a more uniform, economical, and efficient baker."  Once again Chase witnessed the patent, together with Anson Atwood, b. 1810, an experienced stove inventor from Troy, New York, where he had owned and run the Empire Foundry between 1841 and 1846, and taken out seven patents between 1838 and 1850.  It is possible that Atwood may have been lending his expertise to the partners as they learnt the ropes of the stove manufacturing business.  

One reason that North did not need to design his own stoves like Cresson and Warnick, who had preceded him in entering the foundry trade, is that by the early 1850s there was a small group of specialized pattern makers emerging in the city who would do the job for foundrymen.  The partnership of Garretson Smith and Henry Brown became the most productive and influential among this group -- and North, Harrison, and Chase gave them their first Design Patent contract, in 1852.

Note the fine small drawings of the profiles of particular parts of the pattern. 

Stove design patents do not usually show a head-on view of cooking stoves, so this one is particularly welcome as well as handsome.  North, Harrison & Chase's name would have been on the panel beneath the ash box and above the two removable hatches for cleaning out the flues beneath the oven.  The flues can be seen projecting below the bottom of the stove.

Checking through Smith & Brown's 102 stove patents (38 percent of the city total of 271 between 1850 and 1873) to see which were assigned to (bought and/or commissioned by) North, Harrison & Chase and North, Chase & North will enable me to get a better sense of what they made and sold. 


Meanwhile, as a sort of placeholder, here is a nice box stove which has survived the last 150 years and is now in some lucky person's private collection:   

Small 1850s Box Stove sold by Pook & Pook, Inc., auctioneers, 2012.  One cooking hole in the top plate and a covered ash drawer in the front hearth.

* * * 

It was 1854 before Chase finally changed his recorded occupation, to stove dealer, at the old Market Street address, which highlights a problem with using city directories as a source: the information they contained was only as complete, reliable, and up-to-date as their informants supplied; presumably he was running the store while the Norths managed the foundry.  But by the end of 1856 he, too, called himself an iron founder, and the old Market Street premises had been given up.  The Second Street address was now the temporary office and warehouse, and a new foundry had been set up at Second and Mifflin in South Philadelphia -- like Savery's, Cresson's, Warnick & Leibrandt's, and Abbott & Lawrence's, on the fringes of the city center if not even further afield, and with room to spread out.  They had a whole block bounded by Mifflin to the north, Moyamensing Avenue to the west, McKean to the south, and Second (now renamed Third) to the east.  The following year they moved their downtown address to more suitable business premises a little further up the street, i.e. by the end of 1857 the company had taken possession of both of the locations where it remained even under new ownership, as shown in the 1867 illustration at the head of this essay.  The foundry is the building on the right, the "mounting room" (still marked as such on Bromley's 1895 city atlas, the first to cover this newer part of the city in detail) the long, low building to the rear.  All that seems to have happened in the forty years between building the new foundry and Bromley's survey is that a few smaller structures began to fill in the large open square between the original two wings.  

The foundry in 1891, from a slightly different angle, showing extensions and infilling.  See also this zoomable map of about the same date.

In 1858, the company's first full year in its new foundry, North took out his third and last patent, No. 22147 -- an improvement to the firebox of the "Complete" style of cooking stove, a Philadelphia favorite, or of any other kind for that matter, designed to make it burn more efficiently and economically by pre-heating the air, and also to prevent the plate between the firebox and the oven from burning out.  North was still not patenting whole stoves, but he had evidently acquired the experience and skill required to make a valuable improvement to them.

Asa North withdrew from the business in 1858, and Gibson in 1863, so Pliny Earle Chase, despite his reluctance, became its head -- by that time, thanks to the health-giving properties of his time in the company offices, sales room, and foundry, his lungs had recovered -- with new partners including J. Edgar Thomson's nephew Edgar L. who joined in 1859 or 1860, and Charles Sharpe, formerly a boot and shoe merchant, who replaced Gibson in 1863.  President Thomson married late, in 1854, and had no children, but his nephew was evidently close to him, and a member of his household; had he served a "premium apprenticeship" with North and Chase before coming into the partnership his uncle bought for him?  He already described his business as "foundry" and "stoves" in 1860 and 1861, and one of Chase's obituarists identified one of his younger partners and successors as a former employee.  But, according to Thomson's biographer, the $62,000 cost of young Edgar's partnership was only paid in 1863.   

Chase also resumed his scholarly activities part-time in 1858, alongside his proprietary and executive responsibilities, enough to win himself election to the American Antiquarian Society in 1863, and the Magellanic Gold Medal of the American Philosophical Society in 1864 for his paper on "The Numerical Relations of Gravity and Magnetism."  At the end of 1861 he once again described himself as a "school teacher," having bought a private school, but by the following year he was back to being officially, though evidently not wholeheartedly, an iron founder again.  This was during the turbulence of the Civil War, when the company turned out shot and shell for the Union forces, and endured severe difficulties with its restive unionized stove molders as a result.  

Philadelphia Press 1 June 1861, p. 3.

The fact that the mild-mannered and scholarly Chase was also devoting an increasing amount of his time to his true vocation detracted from his attention to trade, to which he was not in any case very well suited.  As his obituarist put it, "the practical business element was somewhat deficient in the head of the house, who greatly preferred intellectual pursuits, and, after suffering heavy losses" -- hard for a Philadelphia foundryman to manage during the great prosperity of the war period, but evidently not impossible for a genius like Chase -- "he finally, in 1866, after having wasted eighteen precious years in uncongenial occupations, sold out his interest in the foundry business," leaving Sharpe & Thomson running the show much more profitably than he ever had.  

Free at last of his unwanted and distracting duties, Chase was able to devote the last twenty years of his life to a much more rewarding and productive career as a faculty member at Haverford, where his younger brother Thomas taught and then served as President, and also for short periods at the University of Pennsylvania and Bryn Mawr College.  He became internationally recognized for his research and speculations in an astonishing variety of fields, but principally meteorology and physics.  And, freed at last of Chase's leadership, Sharpe and Thomson were able to take the company to the position as largest of Philadelphia's stove and hollow ware foundries where Freedley found and reported it when he updated his invaluable guide to Philadelphia and Its Manufactures to take account of the changes wrought in the decade since his first edition.


Sources, in chronological order:

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