Historical Markers
Baldwin Locomotive Works Historical Marker
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Baldwin Locomotive Works

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Franklintown Park, 19th and Hamilton Sts., Philadelphia

Dedication Date:
September 26, 2009

Behind the Marker

Mathias W. Baldwin's image is inserted above the engraving of Philadelphia, Germantown, and Norristown Railroad Depot engraving to create a Baldwin poster
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1883 poster commemorating Matthias W. Baldwin’s construction of “Old Ironsides,...
A jeweler and silversmith by trade, Matthias Baldwin recognized a commercial opportunity when he saw it, and in doing so founded an industrial enterprise of staggering proportions. A tinkerer and tradesmen with a penchant for innovation, Baldwin spent much of the 1820s producing mechanical devices of one kind or another. Bookbinder's tools, cylinders for printing, and small stationary engines all had practical applications, but it was not until 1831, when the Philadelphia Museum asked Baldwin to produce a miniature working locomotive for exhibition, that he hit on his path to industrial greatness. Encouraged by an order for a full-size steam locomotive to operate in the Philadelphia area, Baldwin built "Old Ironsides," a wood-and-iron prototype that reached a maximum speed of 30 m.p.h.

Exterior image of the entire Philadelphia works
The Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia, PA, circa 1883.
By 1840, Baldwin had manufactured more than 150 steam locomotives at his North Broad Street factory. Fifty years later, Baldwin Locomotive employed 3,000 laborers and turned out nearly 600 locomotives a year. By the 1880s, Baldwin was the nation's largest locomotive manufacturer and was shipping locomotives to Russia, Central Europe, and even Australia.

Like the railroads themselves, the great Baldwin Works on North Broad Street grew with the transportation revolution that transformed the American economy and society after the Civil War. From its cramped 200-acre site in North Philadelphia, the company moved in 1906 to a 600-acre facility in nearby Eddystone, Pennsylvania. (The company consolidated all production to the Eddystone yard in 1928.) Baldwin produced 2,660 locomotives that year, an annual capacity that doubled during the First World War. Baldwin also manufactured rifles, shells and casings, and other munitions for the Allied campaign in Europe. But the steam locomotive was Baldwin's stock and trade, and its capacity to produce engines that were more powerful and efficient became synonymous with definitions of "American progress" and industrial might.

A large locomotive sits on a track and two men pose along its side.
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A Great Northern L-class (2-6-6-2) locomotive, built by the Baldwin Locomotive...
As one might expect, the Baldwin Works was also a boon to local laborers, including newly arrived immigrants. In addition to native-born workers, successive generations of German, Irish, and then Southern- and Eastern-European workers, most of whom lacked industrial skills, found steady employment at Baldwin's huge North Broad Street and Eddystone facilities. A veritable corporate community grew up around each plant, which acted as the fulcrum of local economic and social life.

Like steel, mining, railroads, and industrial interests, Baldwin's demand for labor acted as a magnet that attracted hundreds of thousands of immigrants to Pennsylvania throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Not surprisingly, Baldwin's demand for labor fluctuated with the boom and bust cycles of America's industrial economy. Over time, Baldwin had its share of labor turmoil, a condition known to every other sector of Pennsylvania and America's industrial leviathan. The greatest labor unrest occurred between 1909 and 1911, when transit workers in Philadelphia were engaged in almost continuous job actions. The conflict, which over time engulfed 45,000 workers, led to a general transit strike and then a June 1911 job action at Baldwin, where an estimated 10,000 of 14,000 workers walked off in support of city transit workers and their own struggles to unionize.

During the golden age of railroading, Baldwin Locomotive Works was one of the proverbial "Big Three" in steam locomotive production. Virtually every rail line in America used Baldwin steam locomotives to haul freight and passenger cars across an estimated quarter-million miles of track. Prolific and profitable, Baldwin was not, however, without its corporate weaknesses.

Exterior, birds eye view
Baldwin Locomotive Works, Eddystone, PA, 1958.
Once the model of innovation, Baldwin's directors failed to adapt to the rise of diesel and electric locomotive technologies. By 1940, domestic steam locomotive sales-Baldwin's specialty-had declined from 30 percent to 2 percent of the market. Despite several mergers meant to diversity its client base, Baldwin Locomotive never made the transition. When the Great Depression leveled the domestic economy, Baldwin faltered further and was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1938. The rise of the automobile, interstate highways, and commercial air flight after the Second World War altered the American transportation system at the expense of passenger rail traffic. Diesel and electric engines became the common mode of locomotive propulsion in the years ahead.

Baldwin produced more than 70,500 locomotives in 125 years of continuous production before it suspended operations in 1956. Despite several subsequent mergers, the company, now known as Baldwin-Lima, closed permanently in 1972. An industrial behemoth and proverbial engine of progress, the great Baldwin Works typified Pennsylvania's place in the American Industrial Revolution.
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