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The Riverside Iron Works, 1886

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

The Riverside Iron Works

Wheeling's Most Important Manufacturing Corporation

It is no invidious distinction to speak of the Riverside Iron Works as the leading manufactory of Wheeling and vicinity. A concern which includes in its property two well equipped blast furnaces of large capacity, a steel plant extensive enough to convert into steel the entire product of these furnaces, the largest nail factory in existence in the world, a complete bar iron mill, the finest nail plate works in the country and a few other incidental branches of importance enough to constitute separate establishments in many localities, is entitled to first rank even among the wonderful aggregation of industries of which an exposition is attempted in these pages, and of which Wheeling is composed. The plant which embraces these different great departments had is original start in 1852, when E. C. Dewey came from Cadiz, Ohio, and at the head of what is now known as Twenty-fifth street built the Eagle Wire mill, furnished with five boiling and two heating furnaces and necessary machinery for the manufacture of all the ordinary gauges of wire and of iron axles. The object of Mr. Dewey was to establish the nucleus of a vast enterprise with various ramifications, but it is doubtful if her ever had in his mind as large an idea as is embodied in the present Riverside works. In 1855 after a career of indifferent success the works suspended, and remained idle until 1858, when J. H. Pendleton & Co. leased and started up the mill, making light bar iron and railroad spikes. In 1859 the works were burned, but at once rebuilt. In 1860 they were leased to O. C. Dewey, who associated with himself J.N. Vance and W. H. Russell, under the firm name of Dewey, Vance & Co., who operated the mill as the "Wheeling Iron and Spike Works" for a while, and then as the Juniata Iron Works." The product of the mill, especially railroad spikes, was in growing demand.


The stimulated trade consequent upon the war compelled the firm to enlarge the mill several times. In 1866 it was decided to build a nail mill. N. Wilkinson, John D. Culbertson and a number of other experienced men were added to the partnership, and Chauncey Dewey,owner of the works, also entered the firm, which thus became the possessors instead of lessors of the mill.The company purchased the Eoff property, adjoining the Belmont mill on the north, and occupying a square. Twelve thousand dollars was paid for it. On the corner of Main and Twenty-fourth streets the nail factory was erected, with the rolling, heating and other departments adjoining. The work of construction was most carefully and thoroughly done, and was not finished tillDecember, 1867, when the factory went into operation with forty-eight machines. Prior to this time, Mr. William L. Hearne had come from New York and invested in the firm, which now represented $250,000 of capital. The boiling furnaces at the upper works were increased to twenty-two, and these running double turn increased the original capacity of the mill nine-fold.In 1870, forty-two nail machines were added, making 90 in all.The "Riverside" was the name given to the new nail factory, but the firm still remained Dewey, Vance & Co. They introduced several new features in nail making, one of these being the use of fifteen-inch nail plate. A member of the firm also patented valuable improvements in the arrangements for catching and shoving under nail plate. New ideas in the blueing of nails were also originated in their mill, and soon became general.The erection of a blast furnace was commenced at Benwood in 1871 and completed in 1872. By that time the capital stock had increased to over a million dollars. The facilities for doing business which had grown on their hands were from time to time added to, and the firm was making the name of Wheeling iron and nails more widely known than ever. On the first day ofJanuary, 1875, the firm of Dewey, Vance & Co. ceased to exist, and the Riverside Iron Works Company was organized and assumed control of the works, having been duly incorporated for that purpose.


The corporation still retains the title of the Riverside Iron Works Company, although iron now forms no part of its finished product. The present Board of Directors is composed of J. N. Vance, C. P. Dewey, William L. Hearne, John D. Culbertson and F. J. Hearne. Mr. J. N. Vance is President, John D. Culbertson Secretary and Treasurer, F. J. Hearne General Manager. The company's different branches are in charge of managers, who are as follows: Steel department, E. L. Wiles; Riverside furnace, William Crockard; Steubenville furnace, Frank Spearman; plate mill, ThomasMurins; nail factories, H. M. Babcock; bar mills, coal mines, etc. B. Wilkinson.The company now produces steel nails and steel spikes and bar steel. At the office of the company on Main Street anIntelligencer representative was shown a day or two ago some specimens of wrought pipe made out of Riverside steel skelp. The samples acted on were2-inch pipe, and they were bent and curved into the shape ofa figure 8 without the slightest flaw appearing in theweld. This is a crucial test, and Mr. Frank Hearne, the general manager, had them subjected to the further test of the steam hammer, and only after repeated blows fractures appeared in the solid body of the pipe, the welds remaining intact. The pieces tested were of both butt-welded andlap-welded pipe.This is but one of the numerous uses to which mild steel may be applied in addition to those in which it is now employed. In the pipe experiment, as in the first nail experiments, the Riverside has taken the lead. Mr. Hearne is confident that it will eventually take the place of Norway and Swedes iron. The more diversified the uses to which steel can be applied, the greater the advantage of Wheeling's leading position in the manufacture of the metal. Until within a short time, when several new Bessemer steel plants of large capacity have been erected in Pennsylvania and one in Illinois, Wheeling and vicinity made considerably more than half the soft steel turned out in the country, and its production is now, including the Bellaire and Laughlin and Junction steel plants, fully half of that of the United States. This state of affairs the city owes to the enterprise of the gentlemen connected with the Riverside Company more than to any other one concern.


The Riverside blast furnaces, at Benwood, made the first cast of iron February 14, 1872. It is 75 feet high by 16 feet in diameter at top of bosh, has four Player iron pipe stoves, ten boilers 52 feet long by 40 inches in diameter, two blowing engines, one 84 inch stroke by 90 inches diameter and the other 72 inch stroke by 84 inches diameter, and its average weekly product is 1,000 tons of Bessemer pig iron, all of which is consumed in the company's steel plant.The blast furnace formerly operated by the Steubenville Furnace Company was sold last year at public sale to the Riverside Company which at once remodeled it throughout and put it in blast March 3, 1886. It has an average capacity of 850 tons per week of Bessemer pig iron, all consumed by the company in the manufacture of steel. The company's purchase at Steubenville included beside the furnace 37 acres of ground and 200 acres of coal, all lying within the corporate limits of Steubenville and immediately at the intersection of the C. & P. and P., C. & St. L. Railroads. This furnace is 75 feet high by 15 feet in diameter at top of bosh. It has three iron pipe stoves, 9 boilers, 44 feet long by 44 inches in diameter; two blowing engines, 48 inch stroke by 72 inches diameter.


Located on property adjoining the blast furnace at Benwood is the Riverside steel plant, which made its first blow June 11, '84. It was the second steel plant erected in the vicinity, and the Bellaire plant had only been in operation seven weeks when this one was started. It ran smoothly from the start and have never succeeded in supplying the company with steel for its other works and filling the orders which came pouring in, and so has never had an idle day except when necessary to make repairs, and the necessary repairs have been few and far apart. This steel plant has a capacity of 1,500 tons a week of steel blooms,billets and slabs. Of this product more than one-half is consumed by the company in its other works, the rest being sold and widely distributed through the country for all the different purposes to which mild steel may be applied.The erection of this plant was commenced August 6, 1883, and it made the first blow of steel June 11, 1884. This plant was designed by competent engineers after a careful study of existing Bessemer works, and every means brought to bear to render it perfect in all its details. It is equipped with the best machinery obtainable, and all labor-saving appliances. The foundations were carefully constructed with a view to permanence and strength, and the buildings are fire-proof wherever exposed to danger.


The steel plant proper consists of cupola house, converting works, blooming mill, blowing engine house, boiler house and water-works. The raw materials of every description are conveniently delivered by railroad cars on tracks and trestles in close proximity to to the different departments of the plant, though it is intended ultimately ton convey the hot metal direct from the blast furnace to the converters. The three cupolas are eight feet in diameter by fifty-six feet high. From these the steel is poured into a ladle, which is transported by a crane to the casting pit. The steel is cast into moulds which form it into ingots, fifty-four inches long by twelve inches thick and 17 inches wide. The molds are placed in the pit and stripped from the ingot by an ingot hydraulic crane. This crane also lifts the ingots from the pit and deposits them on the scale for weighing. The heating furnaces are charged and drawn with the aid of another hydraulic crane. The ingots, after proper heating, are taken from the furnaces by this crane and placed on the table in front of the blooming mill. The driven rollers of the table are put in operation and the ingot passed back and forth through the rolls of the reversing blooming mill until reduced to a slab 3 x 15 inches cross-section. This slab is then conveyed by means of tables supplied with driven rollers to a very powerful vertical shear, where it is cut into blooms 3 x 15 x 15 inches long.


The blooming mill is a 32-inch two-high reversing mill driven by a pair of engines with steam cylinders 28diameter by48 inch stroke. The rollers of the tables are driven by a pair of small engines. The reversing of the engines operating the tables and elevating the rolls is effected by hydraulic cylinders operated by levers conveniently arranged for the engines and rollers. The shear is driven by a vertical engine 14 x13 inch stroke. All of this machinery is unusually heavy, of the latest design, and embodying all the improvements suggested by practice in other blooming mills. The blast is supplied to the cupolas by two No. 10 Sturtevant fans, located on the second floor of the blowing engine house. The blast is supplied to the converters by two very heavy-constructed vertical blowing engines of special design, each with steam cylinders 42 x 43 inches stroke and air cylinders 54 x48 inch stroke.The hydraulic pressure for the entire plant is furnished by two pressure pumps, each with steam cylinders 24x24 inch stroke, and water cylinders 8x24 inch stroke, located in the blowing engine house. A large accumulator is placed in the converting works. The platform or pulpit for opening the blast regulators and pressure valves is located in the converting works. The water supply is furnished by two vertical plunger pumps placed near the river bank, each with steam cylinders 18x36 inch stroke, and water cylinders 12x36 inch stroke. The water is forced into three tanks located on the side of the hill near the works, and thence distributed through the plant.The steam is supplied by 12 boilers, with provision made for four additional, each 48 inches diameter and 26 feet long, with two flues 16 inches diameter. The gases from the boilers and heating furnaces are carried away by underground flues connecting with a brick stack, which is 170 feet high by 9 feet internal diameter.The intention of this design was to consolidate the workings of a Bessemer plant without crowding, and, by bringing all the parts practically under one roof, render is possible to operate a plant of moderate capacity without excessive cost, by eliminating many of the charges incurred in the larger plants for handling, trucking and tramming.


Carrying out the same idea of securing compactness and convenience of interchange of material and product, within fifty feet of the steel works the company built last year the largest and most complete nail plate mill in the country. It consists of one train of two high 24-inch rolls, and a second train of three high 24-inch rolls driven by one large and powerful engine. The mill is equipped with four patent regenerative gas furnaces for heating steel, and is otherwise thoroughly equipped with ample railroad facilities for the interchange and delivery of material between the different departments.The works are situated on the bank of the Ohio river, between the PanHandle and Ohio River railroads on the west and the Baltimore & Ohio on the east.Adjoining the Company has a field of 300 or 400 acres of valuable coal, fourteen houses for the managers and employees of its works, and seventy acres of ground. There are three miles of side tracks, and the Company's land affords ample room for extension up and down the river. Its record of enterprise and progress in the past justifies the belief that this ground will one day be occupied. It is not too much to expect that a quarter of a century from now the Riverside works will be as much of an advance of its plant of to-day as this admirable system of factories is over the one of a quarter of a century ago.


The company's bar mill is located at the head of Twenty-fifth street, on the site of the old Eagle wire mill. So vastly have the works outgrown their foundation that their smallest department is now accommodated by the original plant, while the outgrowth of a part of that plant, the old Riverside forge, lies idle beside it with its 42 puddling furnaces and two trains of 20-inch rolls, a monument to the dead past, a relic of the age of iron which passed away when steel usurped its ancient throne.The bar mill rolls all forms of bar steel and light T rails, ranging from 8 to 30 pounds to the yard. The company has won an enviable reputation for its steel rails for mine and other purposes where light rails are required. It has one 12-inch train and one 9-inch train of rolls with a united capacity of 10,000 tons of rails and bars per annum. Next the bar mill the company has operated profitably productive coal mines owning several hundred acres of valuable coal territory. How seriously the introduction of natural gas will affect this interest can only be conjectured. However completely the new fuel may supersede the old, the Riverside works will be the gainer and not the loser.At the foot of Twenty-fourth street facing the river, and on the line of the Baltimore & Ohio and Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis and Ohio River railroads, are the company's two large nail factories. One has 90 and the other 134 machines, 80 of these having been added last year. This

Next the bar mill the company has operated profitably productive coal mines owning several hundred acres of valuable coal territory. How seriously the introduction of natural gas will affect this interest can only be conjectured. However completely the new fuel may supersede the old, the Riverside works will be the gainer and not the loser.At the foot of Twenty-fourth street facing the river, and on the line of the Baltimore & Ohio and Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis and Ohio River railroads, are the company's two large nail factories. One has 90 and the other 134 machines, 80 of these having been added last year. This make the total number of machines 224, the largest number under one control in the world, and having a capacity of 12,000 kegs of nails per week.Of the Riverside steel nail nothing need be said. The name is equally famous with Wheeling's nails. The Riverside has done as much to extend and secure this fame for Wheeling as any concern engaged in the manufacture of the nails which won the city her title.In addition to all these interests the company at its large ware houses on Main street north of Fourteenth, where its general offices are also located, does a jobbing business in iron, steel and metals, probably the largest in the State in its line.The company employs, all told, nearly 1,300 men, divided as follows:

Blast furnace, steel plant and plate mill at Benwood ............. 600
Bar mill and mines ............. 125
Nail factories ............. 460
Steubenville furnace ............. 115
Total ............. 1,290

The Riverside pay-rolls aggregate $50,000 per month. Its employes represent a population of probably over 6,000, over one-sixth as many as the city contains.This company furnaces the steel for a large percentage of the wire nails made in the country. Their train of three high 21-inch rolls was put in their plate mill especially to furnish tack manufacturers a suitable supply of mill steel, and there have built up a large trade in tack plate, extending from New England to the Mississippi, where it is being generally substituted for Norway and Swedes iron.

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