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The Pennsylvania and Lehigh Zinc Company

from History of the Lehigh Valley (1860)

[p.235] South Bethlehem is situated in Lehigh County, and is separated from Bethlehem by the Monocacy Creek, which is part of the dividing line between Northampton and Lehigh Counties. There are two hotels in the place, besides several stores and a number of manufacturing establishments. Here are located the sash factory and planing-mill of Transue & Bros., agricultural implement manufactory of C. F. Beckel, iron foundry of Beckel & Son, barrel manufactory of the Pennsylvania and Lehigh Zinc Company, and the saw and planing-mill and woollen factory of Mr. Lewis Doster. The saw-mill was erected originally by the Moravian Society about the year 1743, and carried on by them until 1836, when it came into possession of the present proprietor, who has greatly enlarged it and added a planing-mill to it. The Monocacy woollen mills were established in 1836 by the present enterprising proprietor, Mr. L. Doster. In 1841, the buildings and machinery were entirely destroyed by the great freshet, but were rebuilt the following year. In 1850, the present site was selected, having the advantage of an excellent water power furnished by the Lehigh Canal Company. This establishment was the first and most extensive woollen mill in the valley.

On the opposite side of the river from Bethlehem borough and South Bethlehem, within the triangle formed by the Lehigh Valley and North Pennsylvania Railroads, lies the town of Wetherill, or, as it is now called, the “Southern addition to the Borough of Bethlehem.” This town was laid out by Augustus Luckenbach, Esq., of Bethlehem, who called it Augusta, and several lots were sold under that name. At the present time the greatest part of the manufacturing is carried on in this portion of Bethlehem. Here are the extensive foundry and machine shops of Abbott & Cortright, who employ between forty and fifty men, and turn out a large number of coal, ore, and gravel cars; also the extensive planing-mill and sash and blind factory of Messrs. Steckel & Co., and the Zinc Metal Works of Gilbert, Wetherill, Baxter & Co., which last bid fair to do a thriving and remunerative business. This is one of the largest establishments of its kind in the country, [p.236] employing over a hundred hands. At present, the company manufacture the white zinc paint exclusively, but are making active preparations for the erection of furnaces for the manufacture of metallic zinc. The works are now under the management of Joseph Wharton, Esq., as general manager, and Mr. Nathan Bartlett, superintendent. In addition to the extensive mines owned by this company, within the last few months several new ones have been opened, a few miles from Bethlehem. As this branch of manufacture is of great importance in the Lehigh Valley, we give the following somewhat lengthy but interesting history and description of the works, &c, which, at our request, has been kindly furnished to us:—

The Pennsylvania and Lehigh Zinc Company was incorporated May 2d, 1855, “for the purpose of mining zinc ore, and other ores found in connection therewith, and of manufacturing zinc paint, metallic zinc, and other articles, from said ores in the counties of Lehigh and Northampton, and of vending the same,” with a capital of $1,000,000, divided into shares of five dollars each. All of the directors, and most of the stockholders of the company, are Philadelphians.

The zinc works of this company are substantial brick buildings, occupying a tract of four acres of land on the southern bank of the Lehigh river, opposite the town of Bethlehem, and between the Lehigh Valley and North Pennsylvania railroads.

Book plate of Zinc Works built on shore of big creek, two furnace roasting towers, large four-story factory building and others
The Pennsylvania and Lehigh Zinc Company’s Works (source)

The building of these works was commenced in the spring of 1853. In the fall of the same year they were put in operation, and they have since then been run almost continually. Many improvements and additions have, however, been made from time to time, so that the present capacity of the works is much greater than it originally was, and their total cost has largely exceeded $100,000.

At this establishment the zinc ores from the company’s mines in Saucon Valley are manufactured into white oxide of zinc, superior in quality to any other made in America, and nearly approaching in excellence to the best imported.

The several patent-rights under which the company works, have cost them large sums of money, and form, with the heavy outlay required for mines and factories, a barrier to the starting of rival enterprises.

The entire process of manufacture practised here consists, in effect, of the following operations, viz: The ore, pulverized and mixed with coal, is strongly heated in furnaces which are fully supplied with air; the metallic zinc which is thereby extracted in the form of vapor, is instantly oxidized, and the oxide of zinc thus formed, being an exceedingly light powder, is carried immediately from the furnaces by a strong artificial draft, together with large quantities of gases, and such ashes, &c, as are light enough to float in a current of air. These ashes are taken first and separated and deposited with the coarser particles of zinc oxide in rooms provided for the purpose; a part of the pure zinc oxide is afterwards caught in chambers, and finally the gases are all strained out by an immense apparatus of flannel and muslin bags, to the inner surface of which the last and finest of the zinc oxide adheres, whence it is removed at proper intervals.

[p.237] The zinc oxide which is thus collected in the chambers and bags, is in the form of a very white, fine, and flocculent powder, which is compressed by proper apparatus into much smaller bulk, and is then carefully packed into strong, tight, paperlined casks.

The process is on the whole a remarkably simple one in theory, and is conducted with very little manual labor; but of course to produce an article of the excellent and uniform quality made by the Pennsylvania and Lehigh Zinc Company, requires constant care and a complete knowledge of the business.

These works are now capable of turning out about 2500 tons of zinc oxide per annum, and the production can be extended as the demand increases, without very much enlarging the present building, to nearly double that quantity.

It is not so generally known as it should be, that a large proportion of the so-called “French zinc paint” sold in this country is made of the zinc oxide produced at this establishment, by grinding it carefully with good oil, and with little or no adulteration, while a large part of the lower grades of zinc paint, such as are sold under various fancy names, and are supposed by consumers to be the best Lehigh zinc, or the best American zinc, are made of this same zinc oxide, with different degrees of adulteration, and more or less carefully ground.

The casks and barrels used for packing the zinc oxide are made by the company at their barrel-works, on the north bank of the Lehigh, with machinery driven by the water-power of the Lehigh Canal; the company also own a paint-mill, which is on the same premises with their barrel-works.

The company’s zinc mines are believed to be practically inexhaustible, and to be surpassed by very few in the known world. They are situated near the village of Friedensville, in Saucon Valley, four miles south of Bethlehem, on the main road to Philadelphia, and close to the southern foot of the southernmost spur of the Lehigh Mountain.

At this place the company own, in fee simple, about 160 acres of land, besides the mineral right of other lots adjoining, embracing, altogether, the entire range, from the top of the mountain to the village of Friedensville; the great deposit of calamine known as the “Ueberroth Zinc Mine,” lies nearly in the centre of the company’s land.

The deposit of zinc ore was first discovered by Mr. T. H. Roepper, of Bethlehem, about the year 1845; but several years elapsed before it attracted much attention, and no considerable mining was carried on there until within the last six years; in that period about 40,000 tons of zinc ore have been taken out, and the mine now exhibits to a practised eye, greater resources than at any previous time.

About one acre has been uncovered, and worked out to an average depth of 35 feet, but shafts sunk from the surface around this opening prove that a much greater area is underlaid with ore, and borings now being made in the bottom of the mine, which have reached the depth of over 110 feet, show that the zinc ore extends at least to that depth.

Geological observations and comparison with old European mines indicate that the ore continues, in all probability, to a depth of several hundred feet.

The ore found here is mostly silicate of zinc, though great masses of carbonate of zinc also occur, both of most excellent quality. It exists in masses varying from thousands of tons to small veins mingled with clay, filling the large cavities and interstices of the dolomite or magnesian limestone, which is here the prevailing rock; a sort of schist or slate appears in some places near the zinc ore, particularly near its southern limit. Some persons of intelligence suppose that the [p.238] primitive rocks of the mountain already mentioned, will be found to underlie the dolomite and zinc ore, at the depth of some hundreds of feet.

At this mine the company have efficient washing and pumping machinery, driven by steam, together with substantial and appropriate engine house, workshops, &c. All their land not actually required for mining purposes is in a high state of cultivation as a farm, and is provided with all suitable buildings and apparatus for that purpose.

Numerous and expensive explorations have been made in all directions, for miles around the “Ueberroth Mine,” but all, with a very few exceptions, have failed to develop a particle of zinc ore. It has been very pertinaciously asserted of some of these trial shafts (especially in the vicinity of Allentown,) that they cut through abundance of zinc ore. But competent examination of the spots, and analysis of authentic specimens have disproved the existence of zinc, except in the few places above alluded to. Some of these have yielded good specimens of zinc ore, and two have even been worked to some extent; but none has yet proved to be more than an outlying pocket or deposit, subordinate to the central mass in the Ueberroth Mine, just as similar streaks and pockets occur in the neighborhood of the principal European zinc mines.

It may be proper to remark that the early career of the Pennsylvania and Lehigh Zinc Company was very injuriously affected by the unsound manner in which its operations were commenced, by a party of New York speculators, who were ignorant of the business, and whose arrangements looked no farther than to a speedy sale of the company’s stock, at the highest possible prices. Now, however, that the concern has passed into the hands of men of sufficient means and business ability, who have established it under a charter from the State of Pennsylvania, and have worked through the principal difficulties incurred by its originators, it seems to stand on a solid basis, especially when it is considered that in regard to the important matters of cheap mining, cheap coal, and short lines of transportation to the markets of New York and Philadelphia, no zinc mine could be better situated in the United States, than the Ueberroth Mine, while all now known to exist are very far inferior to it.

In estimating the value of the Pennsylvania and Lehigh Zinc Company’s operations to the valley of the Lehigh, it must be borne in mind that the $300,000 worth of merchandise which it can produce annually, is made exclusively from the natural productions of that valley, and it is past doubt that the importance of the zinc interest in this region will be vastly increased when the manufacture of spelter or metallic zinc is added to that of zinc oxide. This will surely be done before long, since it is certain that no locality in the world has greater natural advantages for spelter-making (unless cheapness of skilled labor can be so called), and recent experiments by the Pennsylvania and Lehigh Zinc Company, and by other parties, have actually produced considerable quantities of spelter of most excellent quality, at a cost low enough to demonstrate that no difficulties exist in the way of making it to a profit, except such as can be overcome by perseverance and further study of the business.

Image colorized by Webmaster with assistance from Text and original b/w image from Matthew Schropp Henry, History of the Lehigh Valley (1860), 235-238. (source)

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

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