Historical Markers
Lackawanna Iron Historical Marker
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Lackawanna Iron

Poconos / Endless Mountains


Marker Location:
Cedar Ave. near Lackawanna Ave., Scranton

Dedication Date:
December 4, 1947

Behind the Marker

Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company's Blast Furnaces at Scranton, 1892.
Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company Blast Furnaces, Scranton, PA, 1892.
The Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company in Scranton was one of the nation's leading producers of iron rails. It was in the vanguard of Pennsylvania iron companies that integrated anthracite furnaces with rolling mills to meet the burgeoning demand for iron rails. By 1850 six Pennsylvania companies had coupled rolling mills with anthracite or bituminous-coke furnaces to make rails, including this firm and the markerBrady's Bend Works.Wrought iron was the preferred material for rails between 1830 and 1870. Rails had to absorb shock, be resilient, and possess tensile strength, and wrought iron was the best material available.

Illustration depicting the details of T-Rail.
Rollers for producing railroad T-rails, 1900.
At first railroads laid wrought-iron straps, known as bar rails, on wooden rails, but the bar rails came loose and their ends curled up to form "snakes" heads" that sometimes punctured the floors of passing railroad cars. In 1844 the Mount Savage Rolling Mill in Maryland rolled the first "T" rail in America. The "T" shape and heavier weight of this rail represented advances over earlier bar rails, and "T" rails soon dominated rail production. In 1856 rails totaled more than one-third of the nation's wrought-iron consumption, and Pennsylvania companies led the nation, making 58 percent of wrought-iron rails manufactured nationwide.

Image of the grounds with the workers posing for the picture standing by the "lokies" and the buildings. The Bessemer steel plant can be seen in the background.
Lackawanna Iron and Coal rail yard, Scranton, PA, circa 1875.
The Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company went through years of difficulties before it switched to producing rails. Members of the Scranton family were the core group of investors who formed the firm that later became the Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company. Brothers Seldon and George Scranton, their cousins Joseph and Erastus Scranton, and several other investors joined to form Scrantons, Grant and Company in 1840. This firm built an anthracite-iron furnace, but initial attempts to put the furnace into blast failed. However, under the direction of George Scranton as the on-site manager and a Welsh ironmaker John F. Davis, the furnace began operating successfully in 1842. Despite this technical success, heavy debt, difficulties collecting from customers, and low prices for iron plagued the company.

The workers in this image are guttermen, who were responsible for tapping their furnace, laying out the pig beds, and loading the solidified pigs onto rail cars.
Casting house floor, Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company, Scranton, PA, circa 1880....
To lift themselves out of these problems, the Scrantons decided to branch into nail manufacturing. In 1843 they constructed a rolling mill and nail works, and also reorganized the company to add investors and funding to the enterprise. The rolling mill and nail works went into operation by mid-1844, but still could not turn a profit.

In 1845-1846 the Scrantons developed a strategy that proved to be their financial salvation. George Scranton journeyed to New York to learn more about the market for iron rails. He wrote back to his brother Seldon in Scranton, "The tremendous Rail Road Mania continues to increase and from present appearances the orders for Rail Road Iron will more than keep pace with the manufacture–Stop your Nail Machines and Commence making R. R. Iron as soon as you can."

George Scranton secured a large contract to produce rail for the New York and Erie Railroad. In addition, the Scrantons reorganized the company to increase capitalization. With contract and funding in hand, the firm began producing rails in 1846.
Domestic educator in the home of a worker.
Domestic educator in the home of a worker, Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company,...

Rails became their principal product and a growing money-maker that financed expansion. The company constructed three more anthracite furnaces between 1848 and 1852. When the company reorganized as the Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company in 1853, its assets included four anthracite furnaces, rolling mill, foundry, ore and coal mines, and other holdings. In 1857 the company constructed a fifth anthracite furnace with the furnaces linked or "ganged" so that they could share the same hot blast machinery. In 1865 the iron works reached an annual productive capacity of 60,000 tons of rails, the second largest in the United States.

Rail manufacturing continued to evolve at the company. In 1875 the firm rolled its first steel rails, which soon became its main product. Railroad companies found steel rails stronger and more durable. In 1883 William Scranton left the Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company after a dispute with other board members, and with his brother Walter formed the Scranton Steel Company, which built a steel mill nearby. The Scranton Steel Company soon became a major competitor, but the two companies merged in 1891, creating the Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company.

The new firm did not stay long in Scranton. In 1902 Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company moved to Buffalo, New York, to be closer to the rich Mesabi iron-ore range and to steel markets that were shifting to the Midwest. In 1903 the company sold its abandoned Scranton plant, which was demolished except for four furnaces. In the late 1960s the Commonwealth acquired the furnaces, and in 1971 the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission began administering and interpreting the site. The four furnaces, among the few anthracite furnaces remaining in Pennsylvania, are a reminder of the huge iron-rail plant that once stood there.
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