Abbott and Lawrence Liberty Stove Works. Brown Street above Fourth, c. 1852 -- zoomable image.
In 1856, when Edwin T. Freedley published his Leading Pursuits and Leading Men: A Treatise on the Principal Trades and Manufactures of the United States (Philadelphia: Edward Young, 1856), he devoted most of his report on the city's emerging stove manufacturing industry to a single relatively new firm, Abbott & Lawrence's Liberty Stove Works. This may be because they had paid or otherwise encouraged him: his report was a sort of advertorial, but nonetheless worth quoting at length.
Messrs ABBOTT & LAWRENCE, Brown Street above Fourth, have one of the largest stove foundries in Philadelphia; and as they are men who deservedly occupy a leading position in this pursuit, a notice of them must suffice for all. The spacious buildings occupied by this firm were erected in 1851, and consist of a four story brick warehouse and mounting rooms, on a lot having a front of 360 feet on Brown Street. The moulding room is on the rear of the lot, and is 360 feet long and 60 feet wide, -- the largest moulding room, we believe, in the United States. The engine room, pattern rooms, &c. are in a building extending from the warehouse back 60 feet.
Although Messrs. Abbott & Lawrence have been in business but little more than four years, yet such has been the popularity of their manufactures, that they now make about 2500 tons of stoves per annum [c. 20 percent of the city total], and the demand is constantly increasing. This unusual success is, no doubt, the result of the minute knowledge of the business possessed by the members of this firm, and the attention which they give to the excellence of their castings. Both the gentlemen composing this firm are men practically versed in all the details of the stove manufacture, having been for many years connected with another well-known establishment [not named, but Warnick & Leibrandt]; and in fineness of their castings, the stoves made by this firm are not excelled by any other. In fact, their stoves may easily be mistaken for the celebrated castings of Barstow [A.C. Barstow of Providence, RI] who bestows so much labor and expense upon them; and such is their reputation wherever introduced that other manufacturers have, in many cases, been supplied with them.
Messrs. Abbott & Lawrence have every variety and style of stoves embracing about 150 different patterns. [pp. 278-9]This was the company that had chosen to mark its entry onto the field of competition, and the opening of its brand-new, purpose-built foundry, by commissioning W.H. Rease to make a fine engraving of it.
Unlike Warnick & Leibrandt's new foundries, but like Cresson's, James G. Abbott and Archilus Lawrence's was built on a city block which would become much more crowded over time. But when it was constructed there was still room around it for open-air storage of raw materials. The image shows part of the large foundry building with a smoking cupola furnace, and laborers wheeling pig iron, scrap, anthracite, and limestone up to the charging platform. The other large building was the usual combination of office, work rooms for stove finishing and assembling, and a lot of storage. The stove industry's demand was highly seasonal -- late summer and early winter were peak periods -- so companies needed to be able to pile up the year's production to be able to satisfy it. The wing projecting back towards the foundry contained the boiler and steam engine to drive the air compressors for the cupolas and the small amount of other powered machinery (tumbling barrels to clean castings, a machine shop) on the floors above. The only feature worth zooming in on is the group of stoves lined up on the pavement in front of the main building -- a step stove, an open Franklin with a decorative urn on top, and another couple of heating stoves, i.e. typical products of the kind one can see in other Rease engravings and in the 1861 Leibrandt & McDowell catalogue.
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Abbott & Lawrence's partnership began in 1851, according to a late nineteenth century history of the firm, i.e. the same year in which they built their works. James G. Abbott showed up in the 1850 directory as an iron founder, and before that as a merchant; Archilus Lawrence (b. 1819) made his first appearance in 1851 with an iron foundry at Washington Avenue above Noble, i.e. Warnick & Leibrandt's Philadelphia Stove Works, and a house at Fourth above Willow. In 1852 he was still living at the same address, but his foundry was now at Fourth and Brown, as shown in the engraving.
This is interesting, because it raises the question of what Lawrence was doing at the Stove Works, and where Abbott was working as an iron founder, beforehand (that description, like many occupational labels used in the directories, is ambivalent: it refers to both a business and a role, i.e. an iron founder could be either or both of a senior skilled supervisory or managerial employee in a foundry, or its proprietor).
The answer comes from 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. "Archie" Lawrence had been the superintendent of both the Germantown Road and the Washington Avenue foundries since at least 1847. And Abbott was one of the witnesses on Warnick & Leibrandt's Design Patents D120 in 1847, D179 and D199 in 1848, and D312 in 1850; in 1850 all four men including Lawrence jointly patented a portable furnace, D276.
What all this says is that the new firm was an offshoot of the old, which helps explain why even its architecture and layout were so similar, as were its business practices and its early products (cook stove designs D431 and 432, and the furnace D454, all in 1852), illustrated below. They even commissioned Rease to do his very similar engravings of their new works. One question to which there is probably no available answer is whether the active partners in the old firm also put up some of the capital for the new one -- common practice among proprietary Philadelphia firms at the time.
|This was the bog-standard mid-century stove type, the large-oven square cook.|
|The "Complete Cook" seems to have been a distinctive Philadelphia variant on the step stove, shorter and with a much more pronounced step. Leibrandt & McDowell were still selling them ten years later, and had been since the late 1840s.|
The way they did this was like their parent company -- by buying new designs from the city's (and other cities') pattern makers. A & L's advertisement in Freedley's book, or at least its placement, emphasizes this:
Just as they did in Freedley's advertorial text, A & L shared their advertising page with their principal designers, Garretson Smith and Henry Brown, for whom they were the main customers through the rest of the decade.
[more -- include other 1850s designs]By the time they published their first post-Civil War catalogue in 1867, their claims on their own behalf were quite explicit, though -- as usual with the stove trade -- not necessarily 100 percent true:
All of our stoves are patented, and must not be used to be cast from. Any person infringing will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.They were selling "the largest and best assortment of COOKING, PARLOR, and HEATING STOVES ever offered."
While great attention has been paid to STYLE AND BEAUTY OF DESIGN, care has been taken to combine STRENGTH and DURABILITY, and as no pains or expense have been spared, they cannot fail to give satisfaction. [pp. 4-5]
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Lawrence died in 1859 but had already left the partnership, which changed to Abbott & [Charles] Noble in 1858; Abbott retired at the end of the 1860s, and from 1870 onwards the firm was Charles Noble & Co.
|The 1852 "Complete Cook" is in the front row, third from left.|
Cook stoves at the bottom of the pile, heating stoves further up. [Link]
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For the growth and changing appearance of the Liberty Stove Works as it filled in its block, see the following pictures from the 1867 catalogue, and these Hexamer Insurance Surveys: c. 1870, 1875 (which gives 1851 as the date of the first buildings on site), and 1894.
Liberty Stove, c. 1891 -- the original buildings were the foundry at the rear, the left side of the quadrangle, and the left half of the street frontage.