Historical Markers
Valley Furnace Historical Marker
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Valley Furnace

Valleys of the Susquehanna


Marker Location:
US 209 just East of New Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
October 20, 1948

Behind the Marker

Frederick Wilbono Geissenhainer (1771-1838) was a German-born Lutheran minister who arrived in the United States in 1793. He was extraordinarily well educated, proficient in Latin, Greek, and the mechanical sciences. Geissenhainer led various congregations in Pennsylvania and New York until his death in 1838.
Image of Frederick Wilbono Geissenhainer
Frederick Wilbono Geissenhainer

Driven by his wide-ranging intellect, Geissenhainer attempted in the early 1830s to develop a process that would allow the use of anthracite coal as fuel in iron making. He had been interested in iron production since at least 1811, when he was involved in a project in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.

The problem with using anthracite as fuel was that it required such high heat to burn that it proved impractical as an energy source for nineteenth-century manufacturers. They believed that if this obstacle could only be overcome, then the high carbon content of anthracite promised cheaper fuel than charcoal. Subsequently, both public and private enterprises bankrolled engineers and iron masters in various attempts to solve the problem.

Geissenhainer built a small furnace in New York in 1831 and soon conceived a method for smelting or reducing iron with heated anthracite. In December 1833, he patented his procedure, calling it "a new and useful improvement in the manufacture of iron and steel by the application of anthracite coal." He then applied his ideas in Pottsville with the construction of the Valley Furnace in 1836.

Although Geissenhainer's efforts preceded those of markerDavid Thomas, the man known as "Father of the anthracite iron industry," the inventive minister did not have the corporate backing of the markerCrane Iron Works, as his rival did, and he died before achieving commercial success. Still, the legacy of Geissenhainer's work, his patent purchased by George Crane in Wales, and his ideas used by Burd Patterson at his Pioneer Furnace a year after his death, justify recognizing Geissenhainer as a founder of the anthracite iron industry.
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