Historical Markers
Simon Cameron [Iron] Historical Marker
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Simon Cameron [Iron]

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
W. High St. near Square, Maytown

Dedication Date:
June 9, 1951

Behind the Marker

Oil on canvas of Simon Cameron wearing a black suit with a vest and bowtie. Head and shoulders, facing right.
Simon Cameron, by Freeman Thorp, c.1861.
Simon Cameron was best known for his political career. A leader of the state Republican Party, he served as a Senator from Pennsylvania, Secretary of War under Abraham Lincoln, and ambassador to Russia. In the process, he garnered a reputation for corruption, becoming a very wealthy man through numerous business investments, including an iron plantation and later a large iron-rail mill. He represented the transition of iron investors from earlier charcoal furnaces to large, heavily capitalized ironworks.

Cameron was born in 1799 to a poor family, and apprenticed at age fifteen to a printer. In 1820, after working at a succession of newspapers, he bought a small newspaper in Harrisburg with financial support from an uncle. His connections with state political leaders helped him win government printing contracts and state contracts to construct sections of the Pennsylvania canal system. During the 1830s he also bought real estate and invested in railroads and banks in Middletown and Harrisburg, among other enterprises.

Sepia photograph  of the Lochiel Works.
The Lochiel Iron Works, Harrisburg, PA, circa 1870.
In 1837 Cameron joined Thomas McNair and other partners in buying an iron plantation at Foundryville, near Berwick, for $15,000. Typical of iron plantations, the operation centered on a charcoal furnace, with a charcoal house, store, office, grist mill, saw mill, barns, farms, and forests nearby. Similar to practice at other iron plantations, one of the partners, McNair, resided at and managed the plantation. The furnace's most prosperous period was 1839-1841, but by then McNair was pressing Cameron for more funds to operate the furnace. McNair had debts of his own to pay, and by 1842 Cameron was either unwilling or unable to invest more money in the plantation. In 1843, creditors foreclosed on McNair, forcing a sheriff's sale of the iron furnace property to pay McNair's debts. McNair's bankruptcy ended Cameron's venture in this iron business.

In 1864, with Cameron's political career in decline, he joined other capitalists to invest in an ironworks very different from the Foundryville plantation. Since the 1830s Cameron had worked to make Harrisburg a major railroad hub. He concluded that railroads would provide a growing market for iron rails and helped found the Lochiel Iron Company to build a large plant in Harrisburg for rolling new rails and re-rolling used rails. The new facility included two huge buildings, one for heating and the other for rolling iron. The organizers of the new company expected to hire a workforce of 500 men to manufacture rails.

Aerial photograph of the works.
Central Iron/Lochiel aerial, ca. 1940.
Cameron and fellow shareholders initially invested $250,000 in the Lochiel Iron Company, far more money than the purchase price for the Foundryville plantation. They were like a growing number of post-1840 iron-industry capitalists who invested greater sums of money than had earlier charcoal-furnace ironmasters. They also formed a corporation, providing investors limited liability, which meant that if the enterprise failed, investors would lose only their investment and no other property or capital.
Oil on canvas painting of Simon Cameron, dressed in a dark suit is seated a desk and is holding a quill pen.
Pennsylvania Senator Simon Cameron, by John Dabour, 1871.

Like a growing number of other mid-century ironworks, the Lochiel Iron Company operation was situated in an urban center. The growing scale of ironworks and the integration of furnaces with rolling mills required larger iron-ore and coal resources and bigger workforces. By the 1860s, railroads connected urban centers, including Harrisburg, to iron ore deposits and anthracite coal or bituminous coal beds. Urban centers also provided the needed workers. In addition, urban ironworks generally used steam engines, freeing them from rural locations along flowing streams. Thus, after 1840, investors more often located ironworks in larger towns and cities, such as Harrisburg.

Like many other post-Civil War ironmasters, the management of the Lochiel Iron Company tried to increase worker productivity and thwart unions. Cameron and most of his fellow shareholders did not actively manage the ironworks or interact with employees. They wanted managers to generate greater profits from the plant and workers. Employees at the company increasingly saw their interests in opposition to management. Puddlers formed Labor Union No. 6 at the ironworks to represent their interests. In 1871 management tried to increase puddlers" output and fired a puddler who refused to do so. Some 300 workers either threatened to strike or went out on strike. The company responded by closing the plant. When the ironworks reopened, Labor Union No. 6 no longer existed.

The Lochiel Iron Company also ceased operations shortly after the plant shut down. The firm had been deeply in debt before the closure and faced stiff competition from the nearby Pennsylvania Steel Company, which had begun manufacturing steel rails in 1867. Soon after the closure new owners, not including Cameron, purchased the ironworks and formed the Lochiel Rolling Mill Company. Cameron's political career had resurged, and he began serving a third stint in the U.S. Senate in 1867. By the time he resigned from the Senate in 1877, he had become a millionaire who had profited from many investments. He died a controversial man, lauded for his political and business accomplishments, but also derided for corruptly mixing politics and financial gain.

To learn more about Cameron's political career, click markerhere.
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