Iron Leaders

Jacob Shelor

Most small business models are known to be more friendly and family oriented, while factories and corporations are seen to be, although impersonal and distant, very efficient in their quantity of production. In the 19th Century, the Lehigh Valley iron industries went through a shift between smaller and larger business models. The smaller businesses were run by families or kinship groups, whereas the larger businesses were working under a factory-production format. The census data showed a large proportion of management positions were filled by workers who were originally teamsters (cart drivers working on transporting the iron). The larger business model gathered management from outside the local population to lead the work force, which led to a limited social interaction between management and laborers, with a limited range of movement for those who worked as labor. This created an inflexible hierarchy with the educated elite, who socialize together at the top and thereby, restricting the economic and occupational mobility of the workers.
In the nineteenth century, the Lehigh Valley was a prominent source of iron for the country. The Iron Furnaces began as family owned businesses, such as the Balliet’s East Penn and Lehigh Furnaces, but soon changed hands to larger corporate models when a new type of fuel was introduced. Anthracite furnaces were built closer to the cities, since they required less land and more people to operate them. Anthracite furnaces also got their fuel through the canal system and later through the railroads, thereby negating the need for large amounts of land surrounding them, while the charcoal furnaces were in the wilderness because they did not have those transport needs as long as they were surrounded by the raw materials for their fuel. Both furnaces created iron, the difference between them is that the anthracite furnace created the iron at a lower cost. These two types of furnaces had differing leadership styles, including how they gathered their workforce and where they hired their management from. The teamsters seemed to have a unique level of trust built between themselves and the management since they were using their own teams of horses during work hours, and had the benefits of working at an iron furnace to aid in upkeep of their vehicle. This use of their own carts during company hours helped give them freedom to move items to and from work to their houses without the worry of having to come back immediately afterwards. The teamsters would work to move not only the raw materials, but also the completed pig iron to storehouses and even market (Kotlensky 2009: 50, 62).

Figure 1. Map showing location of households. See Figure 2 for names of teamsters. 


Figure 2. Composed census data of teamsters. 


The map is a list of all the houses we could uncover, while the list is a composite list of charcoal furnace leaders and teamsters from East Penn and Lehigh furnaces.

Through the use of United States Census data from 1860, 1870, & 1880 and map above (a compilation of other physical maps), we collected the information about many differing people’s lives, where they lived and who they lived with. Once compiled together, this information was instrumental in noticing the correlation between the teamsters and the management positions in the Iron industry that a number of them would later fill. The list and map above shows that the teamsters, although integral to the transportation of items to and from the furnace, did not mostly live near the furnace, whereas the management lived closer if not on the furnace grounds. This added to the information with their occupation and locations in later census show on the map about when they would have changed occupations.

In opposition to the Charcoal furnace management (who hire their laborers from the local area), the Anthracite furnace management was more likely to hire the immigrant laborers. Some of the occupational roles filled through the census were the Irish (as they were on their way to America to flee the Potato Famine) as well as some English and Welsh managers. This created a cultural difference between the leaders in the large scale furnaces that did not exist as clearly in the smaller furnaces, which employed a majority from local workers (de Costa Nunes 2002:12).

These conclusions, paired with the fact that some of these teamsters were later given larger roles of trust within the company, suggest the power of direct supervision at the small furnace operations allowed their work performance to be noticed and rewarded with positions that raised their socio-economic status. Some notable teamsters from the charcoal furnaces, such as Aaron Neff and Peter Bowman, support the trend of upward mobility, Peter becoming the furnace keeper only a few years later, and Aaron Neff becoming superintendent and gaining a large amount of favor with the Balliet family. The Anthracite furnace, without the direct supervision, had the advantage involving the larger numbers that they could produce while using less skilled, migrant labor to decrease the cost of the final product. The work done by colliers was multi-faceted, requiring them to perform other jobs as well as their own sometimes, while the anthracite workers knew what they would be doing each day with little variability. This use of immigrant work limits the growth of current employees within the company as does racial/social tensions between Americans and Irish immigrants at the time mentioned in de Costa Nunes’s study of the Pennsylvania miners (2002:11), leaving the higher managerial positions for “experts” gathered from England and Wales, but traditionally not the Irish immigrants. This separation between the labor force and the management limits the relationships created between the two groups and the reciprocity that could have been shown there. It becomes an us and them mentality, both groups setting the others as an Other, marking themselves as different (de Costa Nunes 2002: 12). This separation marks a difference between the two leading styles of iron production, one that uses and adds the social capital to the product’s price and one that does not.

Works Cited:

da Costa Nunes, Jadviga M. 2002 Pennsylvania’s Anthracite Mines and Miners: A Portrait of the Industry in America Art, C. 1860-1940. IA. The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology 28(1): 11–32.
Kotlensky, T. Arron 2009 From Forest and Mine to Foundry and Cannons: An Archaeological Study of the Blast Furnace at the West Point Foundry. IA. The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology 35(1/2): 49–72.