The Bent Rung Ladder

Another of Indiana’s bygone industries was the Bent Rung Ladder & Manufacturing Company.  It was said that at one time the products of the Company were sold extensively throughout the United States and were exported to England, Scotland, South Africa, South America, Puerto Rico and Hawaii.  The patented bent rung ladder was the invention of Edward Rowe, who organized the company in 1891.  The ladder was described as “constructed on different principles from any heretofore”

“There are no holes bored in the side pieces to weaken; there are no wedges driven into the ends of the rungs to split the sides; the side pieces are not made three times as heavy as necessary to overcome the weakness produced by the holdes…

In the center of the sides is a groove three-sixteenths of an inch and the exact width of a rung, into which groove the rung fits nicely.  Wrought iron nails hold the rungs securely clinched.”

The ends of each rung, made of either hickory or ash, were split or “bent” two ways when inserted into the groove – hence the name “Bent Rung Ladder.”

When the company was organized, those listed as partners were: R.D. Hetrick, D.A. Hetrick, W.T. Wilson, Dr. N.F. Ehrenfeld, E.A. Pennington, A.M. Hammers, John Switzer, W.F. Wettling, and Rowe.  They began in a rented an old furniture factory on Water Street, producing only ladders at first.

In 1892, the partners moved to South and Eighth streets and erected a building 50 by 80 feet.  Despite a financial depression, which followed the 1893 panic, the business continued to grow, however some of the partners dropped out at various times.

In 1897, Rowe sold his interest to J.H. Young.  In 1899, John P. Elkin purchased Young’s interest and became president of the company, which was incorporated at that time.  In 1904, when Elkin was elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, he sold his holdings and was succeeded as president by C.R. Smith.  W.F. Wettling, the only original remaining partners, was secretary and general manager.

In 1906, the company began to make porch swings and the Larkin Soap Co. had placed an order for 600 swings to be given as premiums.  By 1907, the company had a large plant covering approximately three acres and comprised of main factories, store houses, sheds and yards connected by switches with the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  The company’s output in 1907 was 50,000 ladders and 10,000 porch swings a year.

The Company also produced step ladders, folding camp furniture, Army stretchers, sleds and the “Handy Floss Cabinet” in which silk floss “is stretched over a spring-forked holder, preventing tangling, matting or soiling and keeping all colors separate.”

In February 1908, the company purchased the plant of the Everett Manufacturing Company in Everett, Washington.

Tragedy struck on May 11, 1910, when the main factory building was destroyed by fire, but the setback was only temporary.  The building was rebuilt and manufacturing resumed.  As new modern machinery was quickly purchased and installed.  The new factory was opened shortly after the fire.

By 1914, there were as many as 50 operatives employed, but for unknown reasons, the business went into a slow decline until it closed in 1916.

The Indiana Foundries

There existed in Indiana, an industry known as a foundry, as memorialized in the name of Foundry Avenue.  There were three iron foundries in operation in Indiana at different times over a period of nearly 100 years from 1851 to 1948.  A foundry uses ingots made at another location and remelts them to make castings for things such as stove parts.  A common example in Indiana are pot-bellied stoves, or the covers to storm drains which bear the marking “Indiana Foundry Co.”

In 1851, the first foundry in Indiana was erected by William H. Choeman and Samuel George.  An advertisement appeared on June 4, 1851 that announced “Indiana Foundry is in Blast” advertising for sale cooking stoves, cannon and egg stoves, and ploughs such as Wyatt’s pattern and Caledonia’s self-sharpening.  They also announced that “all casting that may be called for will be made to order on the shortest notice.” 

The 1856 Peelor map shows the foundry on the north side of Philadelphia Street between Second and Third streets.

In June 1852, Mitchell & Boyle announced they had purchased the interest of Thomas Jacobs “in the New Foundry in Indiana Borough.”  By 1859, the East End foundry was still operating with a horse-powered fan.  It is not known how long the foundry continued, but it appears to have declined slowly and closed some time before 1880 when an item appeared in the Indiana Progress stating, “The old East End foundry presents a falling appearance.”

The second foundry was erected in 1853 by Robert Johnston and John H. Shyrock.  It was located in West Indiana on the north side of Philadelphia Street between Ninth and Tenth streets.  They built a new facility in 1855 alongside Shyrock’s steam saw mill.  The same engine that powered the saw mill also drove a fan used in blasting.  The new plant was named “Enterprise Foundry” and began operations on June 16, 1855.  The foundry produced about 10 castings each week by the four moulders and the four hands employed.

In 1856, Johnston sold his interest to James Bailey.

An 1857 ad by Bailey & Shryock listed the following available items: cook, laundry and heating stoves, large kettles, several sizes of iron pots, waffle irons, skillets, griddles, plows and plow points, iron railing, fenders and wrenches for buggies, stove pipe dampers, stone hammers, bedstead fasteners, iron stands, porch steps and scrapers, wagon boxes, and common and ornamental grates for fireplaces.

In February 1865, Burns, Convery & Co. purchased Indiana Foundry from Bailey & Shryock.  On April 13, 1868, the partnership of Patrick H. Burns, James Convery, H.J. Crouse and N. Vinroe was dissolved and the firm became Burns & Turner (James Turner).  Major Irwin McFarland became associated with the firm, and it became known as the Indiana Manufacturing Company.  At some point Turner left the plant, and McFarland became the proprietor by 1873.  Among their products were the Champion and Dexter cook stoves, and the Champion plow.  

In 1872, Burns built another foundry and employed five men.  In 1874, his brothers were associated with him being known as “P.H. Burns & Bros.”  An 1877 advertisement for “P.H. Burns & Bros.” headed “Who Sells the Best Plow?” offering to test their plows with any others made and sold in Indiana County.  The plowing had to be done within three miles of Indiana and judged by a committee of disinterested parties.  Adverse business conditions caused Burns & Bros. to sell in 1878 to E.P. Hildebrand, Thomas Sutton, and J.H. Young who reorganized as the Chill Wheel & Plow Co.

Hildebrand served as manager and employed six men to make “chill wheels” for pit wagons or coal cars, and “Uncle Sam” and “Rival” plows.  Burns worked for the new company for a while before moving to Pittsburgh.  In 1879, the Chill Wheel & Plow Co. merged with R.A. Young’s machine shop.  Young was a brother of J.H. Young.  This merger added the “Young & Carroll Hay Elevator,” a horse-operated hay fork; the “Lytle Red Staff and Diamond Dresser,” and five-horsepower steam engines to the product line.

In 1883, Thomas Sutton and his brother, John W. Sutton, bought out the other partners and began business with Hugh M. Bell as “Sutton Bros. & Bell.”  by April of 1887, the foundry and machine shops were running at full capacity.  During this transition period, the foundry was moved to a location at Oak and Tenth Streets and Burns and Clymer Avenues.

When the new jail was built in 1887, Sutton Bros. & Bell received a $15,000 contract for all ironwork, including the boilers, steam heating, water fittings, ironwork on cells, etc.

In September 1888, a 70-horse-power boiler, said to be the largest in Indiana County, was installed at the foundry.  Afterwards an advertisement headed “Mill Supplies” claimed they could “build New Machinery and do any kind of repair work.”

In July 1889, ground was broken for a new two-story foundry building.

In the years after 1870, Irvin McFarland continued to operate a competing enterprise known as the “Indiana Foundry.”  In 1876, his foundry made a canon for the citizens of Blacklick to used during the U.S. centennial and “has proven itself able to perform its work to the entire satisfaction of all.”  By 1879, there were eight employees, and the foundry was only running at half the capacity during the preceding three years.

The Indiana Times reported on March 7, 1894 that McFarland’s foundry had been shut down during the winter of 1893-94, but resumed operation on March 5, 1894 under “Smith & McCartney.”  McFarland died on November 17, 1898, and the foundry closed at either that time or some time before.

Bell sold his interest in Sutton Bros. & Bell to Edward Sellers of Oak Hall, Pa., and the name changed to the “Indiana Foundry Company.”  Sellers served as general manager.  His designs for a cutting box and land roller were added to the other castings already a part of the product line.  The Gazette announced that the company had to turn down an order from Sears, Roebuck & Co. for 180,00 pounds of farm bells “as it was impossible to manufacturer the bells at the present time,” but an order for one car load was accepted.

Indiana Foundry Co. stoves were adopted by the Pennsylvania, Lake Erie, and Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh railroads for their stations and shops.  Pit wagons, frogs, switches, turnouts and car wheels were manufactured for use in the coal mines.  Other casting listed in the 1904 Gazette ad were cast iron stable mangers, ash pit and oven doors, hitch weights, sash weights, cast washers, farm bells, coal chutes, dumbbells and quoits.

In 1906, the Indiana Foundry Co. obtained a five-year contract to make sand dryers for Fox Bros. of New York City.

A account published in 1913 showed the business had increased in volume since 1900 and sand dryers were being exported to England, Europe, the West Indies, South America, and Japan.  Other produced included: boil grate bars, windlasses, cranes, tire benders, and emery stands.

In 1918, the Indiana Foundry Co. was incorporated.

During World War II, their entiere capacity was devoted to the war effort.  This included the manufacture of thousands of dirt tampers, winches and sand dryers.  In September 1942, unfortunately all the patterns were destroyed in a fire.

Production at the Indiana Foundry ceased in 1948, but orders were filled by the Cowanesque Valley Iron Works in Cowanesque, Tioga County until the plant was sold to A.J. Stahura in August 1957, and converted into “Handy Andy’s” supermarket.

The G.C. Murphy Co.

Last week we explored the beginnings of the J.G. McCrory 5 & 10 store.  This week is a branch off from that story, with the focus being on the Murphy Company and John Sephus Mack.

Our story begins with George Clinton Murphy.  Mr. Murphy was born in 1868 in Indiana County, first working for his cousin – John G. McCrory.  After working for McCrory at the Jamestown, New York Store, Murphy went out on his own opening 5 & 10 cent stores.  The first 5 & 10 cent store was opened in the McKeesport area around 1900 and was built into a chain of 14 stores, which Murphy sold to Woolworth in 1904, promising that he would not open any more 5 & 10 cent stores.  However, that promise did not include opening 5, 10 and 25 cent stores; so in 1906 Murphy went back into business under G.C. Murphy Co.

Tragedy struck in April 1909, when Murphy suffered a burst appendix and died.  At the time of his death,, he had a chain of 12 variety stores doing $210,000 in sales.  His will directed that his investments – including the 388 shares of the G.C. Murphy Co. – be sold to provide yearly annuities for his family, but a public auction found no takers.  In the hands of court-appointed receivers, the company foundered.  

So enter, John G. McCrory (owner of J.G. McCrory 5 & 10 stores) and John Sephus Mack.  John was born on March 9, 1880 and served as the president of the Murphy Company.  He was the son of John M. Mack, a farmer, and Sarah Ellen Murphy, and educated in the Indiana County public schools and attended business college in Johnstown.  Mack’s career began as a stock room clerk at the McCrory Store in Johnstown (which was owned by his cousin John G. McCrory) with a weekly salary of $5.  Mack worked his way through the McCrory Company, becoming general manager in 1908.  When McCrory learned of the sale of G.C. Murphy Co. he sent Mack to McKeesport to see if Murphy’s company was worth saving.

John Sephus Mack

Mack reported back that he believed G.C. Murphy Co. should be acquired as soon as possible.  McCrory responded: “Young man, I make the decisions around here.”  Mack and Walter C. Shaw resigned from McCrory and put together their savings purchased G.C. Murphy Co. out of McKeesport, PA in 1911.  This purchase caused a rift between Mack and McCrory, and McCrory refused to speak to Mack for many years.

Mack became president and chairman of the board in 1912, and turned the failing company around and began to expand it.  The Murphy Company thrived during the Great Depression, and from 1929 to 1934 sales increased from $15.7 million to $28 million.  By 1934, there were 181 Murphy Co. stores in eleven states and Washington, D.C.

Mack and Shaw made a really good team, with Mack being known as “the architect” and Shaw “the engineer.”  The Murphy store policies also set them apart, such as the “price ceiling.”  The Murphy stores contained a second floor which featured all goods priced 25 cents to a dollar, while down below was the normal 5-to-10 cent price point.  After many years of moving back-and-forth on this policy, the company moved everything to the main floor.

Another point where Murphy seemed to succeed was establishing their stores in the industrial towns of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, while their competition tended to establish coverage in the major markets like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston.  Despite the Great Depression, Murphy pulled through, with an average per store sales and profits being much higher than Woolworth’s.

When Mack passed away in 1940, the chairmanship passed to his cousin Edgar Mack.  Upon Edgar’s death in 1946, the job went to Walter Shaw, Mack’s original partner in the business.  In 1951, G.C. Murphy acquired the Morris 5 & 10 cent Stores, a Bluffton, Indiana-based chain of 71 stores.  Leadership changed again in 1953, when Jim Mack, son of John Seph Mack, took over.  After 1970, G.C. Murphy Co. shifted its emphasis away from its variety stores and toward the new Murphy’s Marts, modeled after Kmart.  By April 1985, Rocky Hill of the Connecticut-based Ames Department Stores bought out Murphy’s shares and Murphys was no longer.

John Sephus Mack is a well-known name in Indiana County, with the J.S. Mack Community Park.  He became a philanthropist and community booster.  He donated the Ralph Gibson McGill Library to Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA.  He bought local homes in disrepair and fixed them to rent out.  He set up a fund for the upkeep of the local cemetery.  In 1935, he established the Mack Memorial Trust Fund to Indiana Hospital as a memorial to his parents.  He directed that the income from the fund, which amounted to more than $300,000 in 1939, be devoted to the payment of hospitalization for needy residents of Brush Valley Township.  He further stipulated that the income be extended in 1941 to the remainder of Indiana County for hospitalization of the needy. 

On September 21, 1939, Mack dedicated a four-floor addition to the Indiana Hospital, which cost $115,000, and was known as the Mack Memorial Wing, also presented as a memorial to his parents.  One floor of the addition was designated for Brush Valley Township residents.  The other three floors were to be utilized as a maternity section. funded the Brush Valley Maternity Hospital, which was done in memory of his parents.  He also stocked some of his own 1700 acres with deer and buffalo.  His family farm was known as Old Home Manor.

Mack was a devout Presbyterian and decorated the main assembly room of the Murphy Company with Bible verses.  While serving on the organizing committee for a 1927 revival campaign in McKeesport, Mack met Bob Jones, Sr. the founder of Bob Jones College (now Bob Jones University).  Mack was very impressed with Jones and donated money to the college; he even told Jones to “construct your buildings and send me the bill.”  Mack received an honorary degree from the college and named the library in his honor.

Mack died on September 27, 1940 at his home in Brush Valley, and was interred at the Greenwood Cemetery in Indiana, PA.

McCrory’s Five and Dime Store

A Facebook post last month about the McCrory Mansion located in Brushvalley Township, sparked some interest with questions about the owner, location, and history behind the house.  That interest has led to this series of blog posts regarding the McCrory and Mack families.

For those who have lived in or have knowledge of Indiana prior to the 1970s, you may recall the McCrory 5 & 10 cent store, this chain of stores was the creation of John Graham McCrory.  

John Graham McCrory Biography

Mr. McCrory was born in West Wheatfield Township on October 11, 1860 to James McCrory and Mary A. Murphy.  He was educated in the schools in the Brush Valley neighborhood and an academy designed for orphans of soldiers, as his father was killed in the Civil War.  During his vacations from school, he worked on local farms and as a country store clerk.  

Around the time McCrory turned 18, his father’s 88-acre farm was sold for $1,200 – which was divided three ways between himself, his mother and sister, Jennie.  Shortly thereafter he found employment in the mills of the Cambria Steel Company in Johnstown, PA.  He was soon given a position in their large general store, conducting business under the name Wood, Morrell & Company.  He worked here for approximately two years, saving his money and adding it to the profit from the sale of his father’s farm.  This began his career as a merchant.

John Graham McCrory

Mr. McCrory was also interested in churches and the cause of religion.  He was a liberal contributor, not only to church in his local community, but in other localities.  He also generously gave to the YMCA.

On April 26, 1893, McCrory married Lillie May Peters, and she died on April 16, 1902.  On December 8, 1904, McCrory married Carrie May McGill.

John G. McCrory passed away on November 20, 1943 at the age of 83 at his home in Brush Valley and is interred in the family mausoleum in the Grandview Cemetery, in Cambria County, PA.

The Beginning of J.G. McCrory Co.

 McCrory started his first 5 & 10 store in Scottdale, near Greensburg, PA, using his and Jennie’s savings along with some borrowed funds.  The store primarily sold practical, everyday pieces of merchandise which kept customers coming back, but McCrory also had some higher-priced items in the store’s inventory.  This was the humble beginning of the McCrory 5 & 10 store.

The idea for this type of store appealed to the local residents, and through the hard work of his employees, McCrory was able to keep his expenses within limits and by 1883 he was able to obtain enough capital to open a second store in DuBois, Clearfield County.  This second store was started with little to no debt, which subsequent operations were likely profitable because of this policy.  Shortly after opening the second store in DuBois, McCrory disposed of the store in Scottdale, but he reestablished a store there on December 15, 1910 – likely showing sentiment and respect for the first store.  The DuBois store was also discontinued in 1892, but it reopened on September 9, 1912.

Throughout the first ten years of McCrory’s operation, many stores were opened and closed.  His game plan was to open two or three stores each year as well as close out that many.  His goal was to make money both times.  His plan also called for having eight to twelve stores in operation at all times.  He took advantage of decreases from high to low prices on some lines of goods, but the time came when there was less of an opportunity to buy low and throw out bargains with profit.  A desire to control more stores made it necessary to discontinue handling the higher priced goods, as the chance to lose by leakage on perishable and seasonable goods became greater each time an additional store was acquired.

The business had a record of unbroken prosperity and as McCrory established a number of his stores in Pennsylvania, he found opportunity to expand into neighboring states.

In 1912, the J.G. McCrory Co. was incorporated with Mr. McCrory serving as president.  By May 1913, there were 112 stores with an annual business revenue of $8,000,000. (This would be equal to $210,414,545 today.)

Throughout the 1910s and 20s, the stores continued to grow, and by 1931 there were 280 stores in operation around the country all bearing the name of the Indiana County native.  At the time of his death, there were 203 stores open for business.

The first J.G. McCrory store in Indiana County opened on July 1, 1937, located at Seventh and Philadelphia Streets in Indiana and closed for business in January 1974.  An ad in the Indiana Evening Gazette on July 1, 1937 proudly announced: “Keep Cool In Indiana County’s Only Air-Conditioned Store McCrory’s 5-10-25 cent Store.”  This full page ad goes on to inform the public that the entire store was air conditioned for the shopper’s comfort.  And to show how much the store cared for their patrons, they stated they had installed the “latest and best equipment that money can buy.”  All the work was performed by Lightcap Electric Co., of Indiana.  They finished the ad by stating, “This daring move of ours was made because we believe in Indiana and know that the people of this entire district will be in to take advantage of McCrory’s Quality merchandise at always-low prices in a healthfully pleasant modern 5-10-25 cent store.”

Mr. McCrory was also active in real estate, and he discovered early on in his career of the close relationship between inside (or best) real estate and the up-to-date retail store and came to know that in order to locate retail stores and make each a success; he would have to acquire a correct knowledge of the city’s real estate and actual value.

Sometime in the early 1940s, McCrory dissolved his company and formed the McCrory Holding Co., which rented his properties to other stores.

McCrory’s legacy lived on through his estate in Brushvalley Township, which he and his family used as a summer home until his retirement in 1931.  After his retirement, the property was used as their full-time residence.  The estate itself expanded to 1200 acres, which was all left to McCrory’s second wife, Carrie May McGill, when he passed away.

McCrory Mansion

In 1945, Mrs. McGill opened a large portion of the property to the West Indies Mission as a rest home and headquarters, with the house being leased to the Mission in 1947.  Upon Mrs. McGill’s death, 865 acres of the property was sold to the Mission.  Unfortunately, the McCrory Mansion was destroyed by fire in August 1986.