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Phoenix Iron Company records

1879-1985, 4 linear feet


This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Summary Information

Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area
Phoenix Iron Company
Phoenix Iron Company records
Date [inclusive]:
Call Number:
4 Linear feet
Established in 1790 and incorporated in 1855, the Phoenix "works" produced nails, railroad rails, Civil War cannons, and structural steel. Among its well known products were the Griffen Gun, 1861, and the Phoenix Column, 1862. In the 1860s the Phoenix Bridge Company was created as a separate division. The Phoenix works closed in 1987. The Phoenix Iron Company records, 1879-1985, include employee records, utility usage readings, stockholder minutes, correspondence, specifications and work orders, financial papers, contracts, shipping postcards, annual reports, and various other company records.
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"The Phoenix Steel Company began in the late 18th century as a manufacturer of cut nails. It later became a major producer of railroad rails and iron and steel structural members. It remained a specialty producer and did not engage in backward or forward integration around the turn of the century like the larger steel companies.

"The operation at Phoenixville began in 1790 when Benjamin Longstreth built the first nail factory in the United States at this site. In 1813 he sold it, and Lewis Wernwag (1769-1843), a pioneer bridge builder in the United States, acquired a part interest and named it the Phoenix Iron Works. Wernwag was responsible for the invention and improvement of nail making machinery. In 1821 Jonah and George Thompson, Philadelphia merchants, bought the plant. By 1825 it had become the largest nail factory in the United States. In 1827 Benjamin Reeves (1779-1844) and his brother David (1793-1871), nail manufacturers in New Jersey, purchased the plant and formed the partnership of Reeves & Whitaker with Joseph Whitaker (1789-1870), James Whitaker and Francis Leaming. In 1840 the company built its first blast furnace to use anthracite, and in 1846 first produced railroad rails.

"In 1846 Reeves formed a second partnership, Reeves, Abbott & Company, which constructed a large rolling mill at Safe Harbor, Pa. on the Susquehanna River. Together, the two plants produced one-eighth of all iron rolled in Pennsylvania. Both John Griffen and John Fritz received their early training at Safe Harbor. It was incorporated as the Safe Harbor Iron Works on May 5, 1855. During the Civil War, the plant manufactured Dahlgren guns, but the works were badly damaged by a flood in 1865. They were operated on a reduced scale from 1877 to 1894, when they were abandoned.

"Reeves & Whitaker dissolved upon the withdrawal of Whitaker in 1847; the new firm of Reeves, Buck & Co. was formed, with Robert S. Buck as partner. In 1855 it was incorporated as the Phoenix Iron Co., with David Reeves as president and his son Samuel J. Reeves (1818-1878) as vice president. David Reeves started the first structural shape mill in the United States in 1855 and began the fabrication and design for bridges. In 1861 the company commenced manufacture of a cannon invented by John Griffen (1812-1884), who was for many years superintendent of the Phoenix Iron Works; this gun was an important weapon during the Civil War. In 1862 Samuel J. Reeves invented the Phoenix column, the first hollow wrought iron column to be patented; it became widely used in buildings and bridges throughout the country and was one of the company's best known products. [The company created a new division, Phoenix Bridge Company, in the 1860s.]

"In 1871 Samuel J. Reeves succeeded his father as president and in the same year began erection of the largest rolling mill in the world; this building served as a model for the Centennial Exhibition building erected in Philadelphia in 1876. However, the huge works lay idle during much of the depression of 1873-1879. Samuel J. Reeves died in 1878 and was succeeded by his son David (1852-1923), who secured large contracts for structural shapes for the New York City elevated railroads. In 1884 the company began its transition to steel and started rolling steel shapes for naval cruisers; in 1889 the first steel was poured. In 1901 it installed the first fully electrically operated rolling mill traveling tilting table in its structural mill. David Reeves was succeeded as president in 1923 by his son Samuel J. Reeves (1880-1944).

"After the younger Reeves' death in 1944, the plant changed hands several times and became engaged in types of steel manufacture other than the structural shapes for which its mills were originally designed. In 1949 it was completely shut down and then acquired by the Barium Steel Corp. It was reorganized as the Phoenix Iron & Steel Company on September 6, 1949, and reopened on January 14, 1950. In 1955 it absorbed two other Barium subsidiaries, the Central Iron & Steel Company of Harrisburg and Chester Blast Furnace, Inc. The Barium Steel Corporation was sold to Stanley Kirk in 1959 and broken up. The Phoenix operation was reorganized as The Phoenix Steel Corporation.

"Phoenix could not survive the crisis that hit the American steel industry in the 1970s and the entire plant shut down in 1987. In 1988 the Phoenix Pipe & Tube Company was organized to operate the seamless pipe mill set up in 1956. The remainder of the site was cleared for development in 1989-90."


Quoted text from: Finding aid for "Phoenix Steel Corporation Records, 1827-1963 (bulk 1856-1949)." Hagley Museum & Library, collection 0916. Accessed October 3, 2013.

Scope and Contents

This collection includes: time books, job descriptions, and a collective bargaining agreement; utility usage readings, such as gas, electric, water, and sewerage; stockholder minutes; correspondence; specifications and work orders; financial papers, including accounts ledgers, contracts, shipping postcards, annual reports, materials from related and subsidiary companies; and various other records of the Phoenix Iron Company.

Some additional materials from the Phoenix Iron Company are stored with the subject files.

Items from this collection have been inventoried in a database available on-site.

Administrative Information

Publication Information

Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area

Finding Aid Author

Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Faith Charlton through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories


This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Access Restrictions

Contact Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area for information about accessing this collection.

Processing Information Note

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2012-2014 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area directly for more information.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials Note

Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area: Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area subject files.

Hagley Museum & Library: Phoenix Steel Corporation Records, 1827-1963 (bulk 1856-1949), collection 0916.

Hagley Museum & Library: Phoenix Bridge Company records, Accessions 916 and 1179.

National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum: Phoenix Iron Company technical drawings, 1855-1985.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)
  • Phoenix Iron Company
  • Phoenix Iron Works (Phoenixville, Pa.)
Geographic Name(s)
  • Chester County (Pa.)
  • Philadelphia (Pa.)
  • Phoenixville (Pa.)
  • Iron founding
  • Iron industry and trade
  • Iron, Structural
  • Steel industry and trade
  • Steel, Structural

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