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.