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La Belle Iron Works 70th Anniversary


- from the Wheeling Register, Sunday, Feb. 5, 1922, sec. 4, p. 1


Strongest and Biggest Unit of Wheeling Steel Corporation Survives Three Wars, Panics and Bitter Competition of Early Days and Now Finds Itself Unique as an Enterprise Which Has Preserved Its Identity Unchanged Nearly Three-quarters of a Century.

Descendants of Founders Still Largely Concerned in Control of Industry — First Company a Partnership Made Up of Skilled Iron Workers Thrown Out of Work as Result of Disastrous Pittsburgh Fire — Old Articles of Agreement Still Extant and Will be Photographed and Framed to Adorn Walls of Present Organization

SEVENTY years ago yesterday, on February 4, 1852, a little group of iron workers opened an enterprise in Wheeling which was destined, as an industrial unit and as an active representative of the world's greatest industry to do more for this community than any one other factor of business. Most of these men had been thrown out of employment by a destructive fire in Pittsburgh which consumed the Schoenberger Iron mills there. They decided to launch out for themselves, and naturally selected the business with which they were familiar. They exercised a canny foresight characteristic of all successful men, by choosing Wheeling as the location of their plant. Not because it was Wheeling, perhaps, but because they saw into the future, recognized the transportation possibilities of the river and the proximity of the coal required in their work. Accordingly two generations ago, iron and nails were first made at Bailey, Woodward & Co.'s plant, known today as the mother plant of the La Belle Iron Works. The name La Belle has always been associated with this concern. It was a pretty and fanciful appellation selected for the original mill. Now it stands for one of the great iron and steel enterprises which have made this section of the United States known all over the earth.

Those old iron men had imagination. They knew the Baltimore & Ohio railroad company was projecting its lines through this territory, and it was no accident that both the Belmont mill and later the La Belle were constructed on the right of way of this trunk line. The Belmont was the first plant opened. That was in 1849, the firm name being Norton, Bailey & Co. Three years later Messrs. Bailey and Woodward withdrew and started the La Belle mill, drawing into their organization a score of friends, all expert in the mechanical end of such an institution. There were no capitalists in this partnership. The articles of partnership, drawn up by Mr. Woodward in beautiful script, are extant, and in celebration of the plant's seventieth year, are being illuminated and photographed. Later pictures of this document will adorn the offices of the company as well as those of the Wheeling Steel Corporation, of which the La Belle is now an integral.

Grows to Be Giant

This iron infant of 1852, born into a rather inconspicuous industrial family (for the iron and steel age as it is known today had not arrived then) pursued a placid and prosperous existence under the original agreement till December 3, 1875. By that time many of the partners had died, disposed of their interests or had scattered to other parts of the country. The bookkeeping became involved. It was difficult to keep track of the multitude of heirs and assignees who had succeeded to possession of the shares of the concern. So the firm was incorporated under a new designation, the La Belle Iron Works, the fanciful and sentimental name still being preserved. It continued as such till the summer of 1920, when it entered on the third phase of its existence as a part of the great Wheeling Steel Corporation, the largest and most important member of the industrial triumvirate which composes this independent steel company.

That little company founded by Bailey, Woodward & Co. was exceeding proud when it had 50 employees on its payroll. Today the La Belle carries 4,000 scattered over miles of territory. The company has expanded marvellously in half a century. It always possessed a coal mine and the first mill was backed up against the side of a hill from which its fuel was drawn. In this way coal freights were avoided, though its nails and iron products were hauled to the railroad for shipment, the B. & O. having forced its lines through, as expected, one year after the La Belle opened for business. Then a tramway was built to newly acquired wharfage on the Ohio river, and the La Belle landing became famous from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati.

Those energetic iron workers of 70 years ago, prototypes of the powerful iron masters who have succeeded them, would be justified in rubbing their hands with gratification could they return and glance over the holdings of the little company they established. Today the La Belle owns and operates iron ore mines in Minnesota, coal mines and coke ovens in Pennsylvania, extensive coal mines near Steubenville, Ohio, the original and still active mine in Wheeling, an ore boat on the Great Lakes, a big fleet of river craft, a by-product coke plant at East Steubenville, connected by a cantilever railroad bridge with the furnaces and mills at Steubenville, and the mother plant in this city.

Management Handed Down

Another interesting feature of the La Belle is that its management still is in the hands of descendants of the founders, many of the officials and directors being connected by blood or marriage with the intrepid adventurers of two generations ago. Of them, A. H. Woodward, vice chairman of the directors of the Wheeling Steel Corporation, is a grandson of the original S. H. Woodward whose name appears second on the old and faded agreement. So Wright Hugus, chief counsel for the Wheeling Steel, is a grandson of that John Wright who helped found the little La Belle so many years ago.

Alexander Glass, chairman of the boat of directors of the Wheeling Steel Corporation, is a son of that Andrew Glass who seventy years ago, put his savings in the La Belle Mill.

No more striking example of the evolution of the steel business in America and the astonishing growth of the La Belle can be found than in a comparison of the duties and salaries paid then and now. The agreement as written by Mr. Woodward, and subscribed to by 21 of his associates, sets out the amount to be invested by each, ranging from $500 up to as much as $6,000.

A modest investment of this kind would not go far in setting up an iron or steel plant in these days of gigantic corporations and mills covering miles of land. Mr. Woodward, being considered something of a business man in those days, better qualified than his associates to meet the outside world, the agreement contained an article authorizing his selection as a "business partner." Perhaps this designation was to distinguish him from the working partners, the puddlers and skilled workers who took care of the raw material and made the saleable product.

Of him it is written in this ancient document: "S. H. Woodward shall be the business partner with a salary for the first year of $600. His duties shall be to make contracts and purchases and sell the products of the establishment and attend to the finances, and the company shall furnish a competent clerk who shall assist him in his duties and keep the books of the firm."

Thus was Mr. Woodward created the whole business end of the concern, for which he was paid $50 a month. Hardly enough, it will be admitted, to tempt the modern Carnegies, Fricks and Schwabs to engage in the iron and steel game. Mr. Woodward remained with the company for a long time, but in his declining years he gave up the management and spent his time between Wheeling and southern resorts. In the meantime his son took up the burden where the founder had laid it down.

Though the ink used for drafting the articles of agreement is much faded, as might be expected after 70 years, most of the names are clear. Some of them were set down by hands more used to the puddler's rod than the quill, which Mr. Woodward used to write his articles, but names show the boldness of spirit which animated these sturdy and far-sighted industrial pioneers. The signatures run as follows:

William Bailey John McClinton
S. H. Woodward William Dean
Henry Wallace John Wright
R. S. Irwin Dennis D. McCoy
William Ray Isaac Friese
Andrew Glass Robert L. Caswell
C. Spaulding Wm R. E. Elliott
William P. Remick William E. Bailey
Holsten Harden William Linch 
Joseph Hersey C. B. Doty


Progress Always Forward

Through the most trying periods of American history, the La Belle has followed an undeviating course of prosperity. It has weathered three wars -- the Civil, the Spanish-American and the World war -- all the direful financial panics which so frequently afflicted the nation in years past, all the desperate industrial conflicts with rival concerns. Not for a moment has the La Belle's flag ceased flying and not once has there been a sign of retreat before business foes in this long span. The company stands as one of the relatively few examples of what can be accomplished when honesty of purpose is coupled with dogged perseverence, conservatism and elasticy of policy which permits modifications to meet changed conditions in the industrial world.

The La Belle's seventieth anniversary is arousing considerable comment in the world of iron and steel. Few if any institutions have a record of continuous successful operation extending over such a long period of time. Another noteworthy circumstance in connection with this venerable concern is the fact that it has never lost its identity in the shifting fortunes of the nation's affairs, and has remained steadily in control of families related to the founders. A large number of the descendants of those old adventurers into the industrial field still are represented among the stockholders, the directors and the executives of the La Belle Iron Works.

The above reproduction is a picture [the microfilm picture was not worth scanning - ed.] of the founders of the La Belle Iron Works, taken about 1857, possibly in the neighborhood of 64 years ago. This interesting group of men, whose posterity reside in this community, furnish food for thought to both the older and the younger generation in this city. Many of them migrated from New England, to be more exact, Massachusetts, and formed the nucleus of what has been, and will be in years to come, the greatest iron and steel corporation in the United States.

One of the remarkable features about all of these men was, that each and every one was an employe of the company which they organized, either an engineer, nailer or a member of the clerical force.

Noah Remick, who is at the extreme right, seated, was the inventor of the "clinch" nail, and it is said had he seen fit to have it patented, would have made him an independent fortune

The La Belle Iron Works, like all small concerns of its kind, had its ups and downs through the '60's, '70's, and especially in the '80's (many will remember the famous nailer's strike which lasted a year and one-half). In the late '90's the La Belle Iron Works took on, so to speak, and from that period up until the present there is no use in telling the story of the famous corporation and its advancement.

Practically all of the gentlemen in the group above saw fit to establish themselves near their place of business, and in consequence built very substantial and good looking residences on what is now known as Thirty-first street, but then La Belle street, and later on account of the "fair sex" of that street, it was known as La Belle Avenue.

In the group above perhaps the families of the late Andrew Glass, S. H. Woodward, Henry Wallace, William Bailey and John Wright, Sr., will be remembered in this community more than any of the rest. Mr. Woodward being the father of so many daughters, found his home on La Belle Avenue a favorite rendezvous for the young men from "up town," his daughters, now Mrs. H. B. Irwin, Mrs. H. C. Franzheim and the late Mrs. H. B. Markham, usually added to the attractiveness of the scene by having a number of house guests.

Mr. Andrew Glass had three daughters, although he passed away in the prime of life, his widow and daughters, Mrs. Kate Handlan, Miss Anne, now Mrs. G. R. C. Allen, and Miss Harriet, now Mrs. J. K. List, resided in their La Belle street home for many years, along with their brother, Alexander Glass, who later married Miss Sara Whitaker.

William Bailey had three daughters. One was the first wife of the late Benjamin Fisher. Two other daughters were the wives of the late Hannibal Forbes, whose daughters are now Mrs. Mal. F. Simpson and Mrs. Earl D. Adams.

Mr. Henry Wallace had four daughters, Mrs. Joseph Chetwynd, now living at East Liverpool, the late Mrs. Andrew Hare and the Misses Hannah and Clara Wallace.

Mr. John Wright, Sr., had a beautiful home up Twenty-ninth street, at the intersection of Caldwell's run and the Left Hand run. He had five daughters, Mrs. Cecil Robinson, Mrs. T. J. Hugus, Mrs. C. H. Taylor, of Canton, Ohio, Mrs. T. W. Stewart, and Miss Elizabeth Wright.

Calvin B. Doty moved to Steubenville, as did David Spalding, and these gentlemen afterward opened and operated the Jefferson mill, at Mingo, Ohio. Mr. Doty had several daughters. Among them was the late Baroness Lagerfeldt. William Dean also moved to Mingo in connection with the Jefferson mill.

Holsten Harden was succeeded by his brother, Percival Harden, who took up his residence in the Doty home upon Mr. Doty's moving to Steubenville. Mr. Harden's house was also a popular spot for the young men, his three attractive daughters, Mrs. G. A. Aschman, the late Mrs. George Wise and the late Mrs. John Riheldaffer, proved drawing cards to the old avenue.

Noah Remick, who, as stated above, was the inventor of the clinch nail, had a residence well down Chapline street, below Thirty-third, and resided there with his wife and several attractive daughters.

Digressing from the story somewhat and in reference to the old La Belle Avenue, it might be well in conclusion to mention the home of the late John R. Handlan at the foot of the street, what is now known at 3103 Chapline street. It stands on an imminence and is yet a beautiful spot. Mr. Handlan's home was another powerful magnet for the young men of town, because he had four attractive daughters, Mrs. Thomas Walton, Mrs. P. P. McVeigh, and the late Mrs. Ed Mendel and Mrs. George Surgey.

It might be well to mention the young men of old La Belle Avenue, scions of the Glass, Woodward, Wallace and other families.

The late William H., Joseph H. and Lawrence Woodward in the early '80's migrated to Alabama, where they have founded Woodward Iron Works and earned for themselves independent fortunes.

Then there was William and Spalding K. Wallace, Wood Glass, Cassius S. Evans, Will Wright, Frank G. Evans, Will Remick, who have all passed on. Alexander Glass and David Evans still reside here, while Saul Woodward lives in Texas.

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