David Thomas (3 November
1794 – 20 June 1882) was a native of Wales who was
influential in the birth of the Industrial Revolution.
Development of the hot blast
Thomas was born in Cadoxton, near Neath.
He went to
school at nearby Alltwen and at
Neath, and worked on his father's farm before going into the iron
adult, he was widely regarded as one of the foremost ironmasters in
Kingdom. It was while employed at the Yniscedwyn
Works, in Ystradgynlais in the Swansea Valley, that he devised the process which would advance
On February 5, 1837, Thomas used a hot blast
to smelt iron
and anthracite coal
result was an easy method to produce anthracite iron
, which revolutionized
industry in the Swansea Valley. This type of iron had been patented by Edward
Martin of Morriston, Wales in 1804.
In 1839 he
relocated to Pennsylvania, where the owners of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation
Company in Lehigh County wanted Thomas to build a furnace for the production
of anthracite iron.
region, being rich in both anthracite coal and iron ore,
was the perfect setting for Thomas's creation.
Emigration to Pennsylvania
his son, Samuel, walked into the infant community of Catasauqua,
Pennsylvania on the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company's towpath
on July 9, 1839.
Less than one year later, on July 4, 1840,
the first successful anthracite iron furnace in the United States
began operation, and the Industrial Revolution began.
Thomas's iron works was extremely successful, even though the iron
industry in the rest of the Lehigh Valley had begun to decline. The
company was incorporated in 1839 as the Lehigh Crane Iron Company
, and in
1872 the name was changed to the Crane Iron Company. By that time
the community was no longer known as Craneville, but as Catasauqua;
Thomas had named both his company and the town in which he founded
it after his former employer in Wales.
Iron produced at the Crane Iron Company was used in a number of
products, many of which were made elsewhere in Catasauqua. The
neighbouring company of John Fritz's Iron Foundry used Crane iron
to build the first American-made cast-iron construction columns,
while the nearby Davies and Thomas Foundry turned Crane iron into
pipes and tunnel tubes. Among the still-existing structures which
were created using Crane iron are the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels in New York
Thomas's industry helped the small town to become quite prosperous,
and he himself became a wealthy landowner.
Philanthropy and honors
Thomas's wealth and generosity with it endeared him to his
neighbors. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were known as "the father
and mother of Catasauqua", and frequently addressed as Mother and
A devout Presbyterian
, Thomas founded
the first church in the borough of Catasauqua, in which residents
still worship. He installed its first public water system, founded
its first fire company, and served as its first burgess. He
provided a number of neat, attractive homes for his employees, many
of which are still standing today.
Additional accolades were presented to "Father Thomas" for his
transformational ideas and vision. He was named the first president
of the American Society
, and was one of the founders of the American
Association of Industrial Engineers
Death and legacy
David Thomas died on June 20, 1882. He, his wife Elizabeth, and
generations of their descendants are all buried in the Thomas
family vault, a sort of underground mausoleum at Fairview Cemetery
in West Catasauqua. The Thomas family mansion, located on Second
Street in Catasauqua, is still standing, though its interior has
since been divided into apartments.
In 1898, Leonard Peckitt took the reins as president of the Crane
Iron Company. He proceeded to purchase a number of other companies
in the region, uniting them all under the incorporation of the
Empire Steel and Iron Company. Though Peckitt was a shrewd
businessman, he could not hide forever the fact that the 20th
century brought changes to the iron industry, and that the company
was beginning to lose money. The last furnace at the Crane Iron
Company ceased operation in 1921; by 1935, most of the plant had
been demolished. Little remains of the company's plant today.