Iron Industry in Buffalo, NY

The text below is an excerpt (pages 12-14) from

The Beginnings of Buffalo Industry
By Robert Holder
(online August 2013)

The first ironworker to come to Buffalo was David Reese who was sent by the U.S. Government in 1803 to be blacksmith for the Indian settlement. In 1808 he bought a lot and built a shop at the corner of Washington and Seneca Streets to serve the growing village as well as the Seneca Reservation. This was one of the two wooden buildings not burmed when the British attacked Buffalo in 1813.

Plow-irons and small castings were made in Buffalo by Edward Root as early as 1826. By 1864 there were twenty foundries and machine shops which filled orders for iron products.

The first rolling mill, a factory where metal is rolled into sheets and bars, was constructed in Buffalo in 1846 by a group of men from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The business began as the Buffalo Iron and Nail Works. Some years later, Pratt and Company - iron and hardware dealers - took    over the company. The manufacturing plant changed hands several times in the next twenty years, but it continued to employ from 500 to 800 men. This enterprise helped to build up a section of Buffalo that otherwise might not have expanded.

The Pratt and Letchworth Company was a pioneer in the open-hearth steel process in Buffalo. This company, formed in 1850 and composed of Samuel F. Pratt, Pascal Paoli Pratt, and William Pryor Letchworth, turned out steel castings as early as 1888.

Pascal Paoli Pratt was only in his early forties when he rose to local fame as one of Buffalo's leading captains of industry. William Pryor Letchworth sold his interest in the company to his brother, Josiah Letchworth, in 1873 and devoted the rest of his days to public affairs. This company, nationally famous for its saddlery hardware, founded the Buffalo Malleable Iron Works on Tonawanda Street in 1860. As the iron works expanded, they moved into the manufacture of products for the driving wheels and frames of some of the largest United States and foreign locomotives.

Iron ore smelting started in Buffalo about 1860. Its growth was assisted by the opening of the Erie Canal and by railroad communications with the coal fields of Pennsylvania. The smelting industry was further aided by the discovery of unlimited iron ore deposits in Northern Michigan. The Civil War also stimulated iron and steel production by the use of a new blast furnace, built in 1860, the first on the Niagara Frontier.

Four men, Messers Palmer, Wadsworth, Warren, and Thompson, joined their manufacturing efforts in the Union Iron Works. They signed the contracts of agreement in 1862 to consolidate their blast furnaces and to add a rolling mill. But in 1871 the project failed. A new Union Iron Company was organized, but the financial panic of 1873 brought depression to the country and ruin to the company. It was not until 1890 that the plant was re-opened. Frank B. Baird, after rebuilding the plant, started business under the name of Buffalo Furnace Company.

In 1878, William F. Wendt organized the Buffalo Forge Company to manufacture a portble blacksmith forge. In the beginning, parts were produced by outside jobbers and were assembled and shipped by the Buffalo Forge as ordered. In 1880 the company moved from its original location at the corner of Washington and Perry Streets to its present site at Mortimer and Broadway. As the business expanded, it absorbed the plants of the George L. Squier Manufacturing Company - in 1902 -    and the Buffalo Steam Pump Company in 1904.

Buffalo was soon to enter the Age of Steel. In 1900, the Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company of Scranton, Pennsylvania started construction of a huge mill in Buffalo. At first the company planned a plant to produce 800,000 tons a year. However, before completion of this mjll, it was apparent that the need would be greater and it was enlarged to produce 1 1/4 million tons of steel a year. The current capacity of the Lackawanna plant of Bethlehem Steel exceeds 6 million ingot tons. The first steel rolled in this new Buffalo mill in 1903. This was a year after the discovery of rich iron deposits in Minnesota's Mesabi range. Economical lake transportation of ore to Buffalo helped change the city's prime source of income from commerce to manufacturing.


Pratt & Letchworth
"A History of Buffalo : Delineating the Evolution of the City, Vol 11." 
By J. N. Larned, 1911
(online July 2017)

Mr. William Pryor Letchworth came to Buffalo in 1848  from New York City, where he had been engaged for a time, in the interest of Peter Hayden, of Columbus, Ohio, establishing the sale and manufacture of saddlery hardware in that section.

At Buffalo he formed a partnership with the brothers Samuel F. and Pascal P. Pratt, under the name of Pratt & Letchworth, opening a store at No. 165 Main Street, as importers and wholesale and retail dealers in and manufacturers of saddlery hardware.

The firm was the first in our vicinity to engage in the manufacture of this branch of hardware, and its establishment was soon recognized as headquarters, in a measure, for general supplies to dealers in its department of trade, from both American and foreign makers, as well as from its own works.

The limits of the original store were outgrown by the business in a few years, and it was removed to The Terrace, at No. 52, where its principal offices were located for two decades or more. Railroads as well as steamboats on the great rivers were now enlarging the sphere of trade from the Lakes with extraordinary rapidity, and the firm of Pratt & Letchworth won its full share of the consequent gain.

In 1856 Mr. Letchworth's health had become somewhat impaired by his application to business, and he made an extended pleasure tour in Europe, leaving much of the detail of the business to a younger brother. It was not many years after his return that he bought the beautiful estate on the Genesee River, near Portage, which he named Glen Iris, and which, augmented to a thousand acres by later purchases, was presented by him to the State of New York in 1907. Under the name of Letchworth Park, and under the immediate care of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, this noble public park will preserve for all time the three falls of the upper Genesee and their beautiful surroundings.

In 1860 Pratt & Letchworth bought property at Black Rock and located their manufactory there, adding to it the manufacture of malleable iron, which they used in their business largely. Subsequently they added the production of open hearth steel. Scientific study applied to these castings has produced a superior quality, and the products of the Pratt & Letchworth Works are now used for the driving wheels and frames of some of the finest and largest locomotives on American and foreign railways. The products of the firm are to be met with in almost every quarter of the globe.

In 1873 William Pryor Letchworth sold his entire interest in the business to his brother Josiah, who had been an active member of the firm for some years. The retirement of the former from business was not to give himself wholly to the attractions and cares of Glen Iris; for he accepted, in 1873, an appointment as one of the commissioners of the State Board of Charities, becoming its president and its hardest working member for many years. It is by his labor in that important office, especially as it was directed to the better care of the insane, and to the separation of children from county poorhouses, that the name of William Pryor Letchworth, LL.D., has been made one of historic fame. His death, in his eighty-eighth year, occurred but recently, on the ist day of December, 1910.

On the death of Samuel F. Pratt, in 1873, his interest in the Pratt & Letchworth business was bought by the junior partner, Josiah Letchworth. The interest of Pascal P. Pratt remained in the business until 1896, when it was sold, and the business was incorporated under the name of Pratt & Letchworth Company, Ogden Pearl Letchworth being chosen its president and personal manager. From this time the business became greatly enlarged in the making of steel castings on the open hearth principle for railroad work. The quality of the P. & L. castings is unsurpassed.

The branch of the business which comprises the manufacture of wood and iron hames, in connection with New England manufacturers, was organized separately, under the name of the U. S. Hame Company, with Ogden P. Letchworth in the presidency. New styles of these goods found a ready market, in South as well as North America, and much larger forces of workmen have been required for the manufacture of the goods.

Page by Chuck LaChiusa in 2009
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