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The Nail Industry, Wheeling, WV 1886

-from The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, Sept. 14, 1886.



No city in the world no community large or small, in America or Europe, makes as many nails as Wheeling. The manufacture of nails was begun in Wheeling in 1834 with fourteen machines. In 1847 the first mill in the West built exclusively for the manufacture of nails was erected here with forty machines. From that early beginning this branch of manufacture has grown and widened until it has not only outstripped all other local industries, but has also placed Wheeling above all competing points in this line. The following tabular statement shows the production by kegs of nails in the different States from 1881 to 1884, inclusive:

  1881 1882 1883 1884
Pennsylvania 1,914,606 1,949,406 2,430,552 2,231,676
Ohio 800,655 796,857 1,210,700 1,310,715
West Virginia 1,241,102 1,023,711 1,827,484 1,093,611
Massachusetts 522,889 592,276 677,840 557,195
Illinois 352,643 462,956 526,108 712,650
Indiana 326,496 394,687 413,380 443,234
Virginia 127,586 109,806 161,279 207,676
California ------- ------- 111,500 120,332
New Jersey 218,521 360,340 333,107 305,307
Alabama ------- ------- 20,000 100,000
Kentucky 66,000 149,882 144,686 41,522
Tennessee 94,495 171,413 212,358 120,164
Wisconsin ------ ------- -------- 162,851
Colorado ------ 16,103 62,269 55,914
Nebraska 31,667 60,100 65,000 40,000
New York 2,756 165 11,768 14,500
Maine ----- ------ 7,806 ------
Total 5,794,206 6,147,097 7,762,737 7,581,379


The only nail mills in Ohio outside of those just over the river are at Ironton, Niles and Portsmouth. Until within a year there was a nail mill at Clifton, this State, but this has been removed. In the production of Ohio in the table nine mills shared. Of these the Bellaire, Laughlin and Junction furnished at least one third. West Virginia had six mills, and Wheeling five including Benwood. It perhaps may be necessary to explain that the mills at Bellaire, Martin's Ferry and Mingo are really Wheeling concerns, controlled by Wheeling capital. The Jefferson mill, at Steubenville, the Spaulding mill, at Brilliant, and theBelfont, at Ironton, are also partially owned here. But for the purpose of the comparison it is desired to make it is just to credit Wheeling with one-third of the production of Ohio and five-sixths of that of West Virginia. She really made more. Ohio is credited with a production of 1,310,715 kegs in 1884, one third of which is 436,905; West Virginia with 1,098,611, five-sixths of which is 015,510. Thus the real product of Wheeling is seen to have been in 1874, 1,352,415, then that of any State except Pennsylvania, which has mills in eight or ten towns. The nail production of Pittsburgh does not nearly approach that of Wheeling. The factories of this city produce forty percent, approximately stated, of all the nails made west of Pittsburgh.


Below is a carefully prepared statement of the relative capacity and production of the mills located or owned in Wheeling, excluding the Jefferson, Spaulding and Belfont, referred to above:

Junction, at Mingo ---------- 126
Laughlin, at Martin's Ferry* ---------- 226
Top(Wheeling Iron and Nail Co.) ---------- 180
Riverside ---------- 224
Belmont ---------- 152
LaBelle ---------- 142
Benwood ---------- 173
Bellaire ---------- 125
Total ---------- 1,298

*When its factory, now in process of erection, is completed.

This gives an average of over 162 machines to a mill, 50 percent above the general average the country over. There is no larger nail works in existence than the Riverside, of this city. The Laughlin factory, as projected, will contain two machines more than the Riverside. These eight mills with 1,208 machines, have a daily capacity of 12,331 kegs of 100 pounds of nails each, making the possible product per week of five and a half days 67,820, or over 4,000,000 kegs in a year. The legitimate demand of the country in a year is placed by experts at a little over 5,000,000 kegs, so that it would be possible for Wheeling to make 80 percent of all the nails used in America. The estimated capacity has been proportionately exceeded here. For instance, in one week several years ago the Top mill factory cut 6,826 kegs of nails with 105 machines, a daily average of over ten kegs for each machine. Without taking a carefulness of each mill it would not be possible to give any exact figures as to the number of men employed by these mills. A conservative estimate places the number of men and boys on the pay rolls in the aggregate at 5,000.


Wheeling manufacturers were the pioneers in introducing soft steel as a material for making nails. Today iron nails are almost entirely superseded by steel. Yet it is less than four years since Mr. Frank Hearne, of the Riverside Company, and other Wheeling nail manufacturers made the first experiments in the rolling of Bessemer steel into nail plate and the cutting from it of nails. The first nail plate was rolled at Pittsburgh and cut into nails at the Riverside factory. The experiment was a distinguished success. At once a corporation representative of the leading nail mills here was formed to erect a Bessemer steel plant to supply all with metal. Some of them held back, and the scheme failed. Then Mr. McCourtney, of the Bellaire mill, commenced the erection of a steel plant. He was closely followed by the Riverside Company. Later the Messrs. Laughlin and their fellow stockholders erected one to supply the Junction.


A Pioneer Industry with an Unbroken Record of Success.

The Benwood Nail Works and its predecessor, the Virginia mill, dates back to 1847. It was the second iron works and the first exclusive nail manufactory in Wheeling, and the first mill devoted exclusively to making nails west of the mountains. It was organized by E.M. Norton, E.W. Stevens, John Hunter, William Fleming and Robert Morrison & Co. The mill was located first on the present site of the B. & O.Company, and the mill sought a new site on the McMechen farm, four miles south of the city, between the B. & O. track and the river. The track comprises 12 acres and the coal privileges of 100 additional was acquired at the same time. Work on the new mill was commenced in 1852 and completed in 1853. The owners constituted a firm under changing titles until 1864, when the plant was sold by a decree of court, and purchased by a company which reorganized as the Benwood Iron Works.


The site of the Benwood mill was chosen with reference to facilities of transportation, and the selection proved a wise one. It originally adjoined the Baltimore & Ohio road and river. The completion of the Central Ohio road, and the construction of the Baltimore & Ohio bridge over the Ohio river, and later the extension of the Pittsburgh, Wheeling & Kentucky Railroad to that point, and the building of the Ohio River Railroad have made the position of the Benwood mill one of the most commanding in the Ohio Valley.

The Company has always maintained its office in this city. It is now located on Fourteenth street near Water, Main and South. It blast furnace at Martin's Ferry, though not of large capacity, is one of the most successfully operated in this vicinity, the output of iron being in gratifying ratio to the consumption of raw material. This furnace formerly consumed ore from the Company's own land, not far distant, but this ore was abandoned for Superior ores, not being rich enough to pay to smelt it.

When the mill was located at Benwood, that now flourishing and populous suburb of Wheeling was a farm. The company built a number of tenement houses, thus forming the nucleus of the present considerable town of Benwood. Its property steadily increased in value as the town grew, the facilities increased and the city extended in its direction. A part of its real estate was recently sold to the Wheeling Steel Company, of whose fine plant the Benwood company is a third owner, and the original projector. The plant adjoins its factory on the east.


The old Virginia mill started with forty machines, an immense equipment in those days. The Benwood Company in its early history added ten acres to its original tract, and trebled its coal territory. Mr. Norton retired in 1866. Since that time the office of President has been successively filled by the late C. Oglebay, A.W. Campbell, Alexander Laughlin, L.S. Delaplaine and the present incumbent, John G. Hoffman, Sr., Major Loring has filled the position of Secretary since the organization of the company. Mr. George Wise is Assistant Secretary.

By 1866 the capacity of the mill had been enlarged to 65 machines. In 1876 the mill was burned, but at once rebuilt on a larger scale, the new factory being of fire brick and iron throughout, and one of the most admirable mill structures in the country. The new building was 300x120 feet in dimensions, and had 124 machines. An additional factory building of the same substantial and approved character as the old, was completed last year, and the number of machines increased to 173, with daily a capacity of about 1,700 kegs of nails.

An illustration of the almost phenomenal success which has attended the manufacture of nails in Wheeling is furnished by the fact that the Benwood mill, paying, with other local factories, much larger wages than competing factories in the East, yet declared dividends in the seven years from 1866 to 1872, inclusive aggregating over 186 percent. Of these 135 percent were paid in cash and 51 in new stock. Thirty-five percent was calculated on this new stock.


The management of the Benwood has been charecterized by that even balance between enterprise and conservatism which builds the solid manufacturing structures which are Wheeling's pride. None of the Wheeling mills except the Riverside exceeds her in extent or capacity; no mill anywhere produces nails of better quality. The completion of the Wheeling Steel Plant gives her all the advantages enjoyed by any nail manufacturing concern, and she possesses certain special advantages attendant upon her location and her early start in the business. The fire of the centennial year was a blessing in disguise, being the means of giving the company an enlarged and modernized establishment in the lead in many respects in her department of industry.

The Board of Directors of the Benwood is composed of Messrs. John G. Hoffman, Sr., L.S. Delaplain, A.W. Campbell, George B. Caldwell, Jacob Wise, Jacob Berger, Louis C. Stifel and E.W. Paxton. The late Thomas Hughes was the ninth member, and the vacancy caused by his death has not since been filled.

Such a list of names identified with such an institution is a sufficient guarantee that the Benwood will maintain the high position it has taken, and add in increasing measure to the lustre of Wheeling's fame.


An Account of One of the Leading Industries of the Section

The Bellaire Nail Works manufactures Bessemer steel blooms and billets, pig iron and steel nails. This concern is one of the youngest and most lusty of Wheeling's offspring. It has always been owned and operated to a greater or less extent by Wheeling capital and brains, though not so distinctively a Wheeling industry as others separated from the city by the Ohio river. the corporators were Wheeling men - A.L. Wetherald, Thomas Harris, jr., J. Percy Harden, H.L. Beck, H. Hardenstein and George Leasure. The charter was obtained in 1866, and in the fall of that year the company completed its organization with fifty stockholders representing $157,00. Of these stockholders all but Gen. B.R. Cowen, W.G. Barnard, James McCourtney and Fred Schenck were practical operators.

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