John W. (John Woolf) Jordan.

Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania biography : illustrated (Volume 7) online

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Stone river, during the Civil War; two
sons, William and Abel, survive. 8. Mary
Ann, married David Post, of New Eng-
land Puritan ancestry. Two daughters
survive this marriage, Katherine and Har-
riet. 9. Benjamin Franklin, the youngest
and only surviving son of William Reese
and his wife, is a resident of Bolivar,
Pennsylvania. He passed through four
years of Civil War. For forty years he
has been identified with the brick busi-
ness, both as practical worker and as part
proprietor, in brick concerns. He mar-
ried Dora Berkey, of Bolivar, Pennsyl-
vania ; one son, William, lives with his
father. Mrs. Reese died in 1914. 10.
Elizabeth, married Rev. Joel V. Stratton,
in Pittsburgh. They have two children,
Anna R. and William.

The family name, originally Rees, was
changed to Reese in Pittsburgh, Pennsyl-
vania, on account of confusion over the


mail, there being another Rees family, and
letters were frequently opened by mistake.
Isaac Reese, the eldest son of William
Reese, was the last of the family to take
kindly to the "e." His naturalization
papers were taken out Rees, and all births
and deaths in the family Bible record are
written in his own handwriting "Rees"
up to the date of the birth of his son
Benjamin, in 1862, when he adopted the
"e" for the first time.

Isaac Reese, the second child born to
William and Elizabeth (Joseph) Reese,
was the eldest son. He was born April
29, 1821, in Llannelly, Southern Wales.
He was eleven years old when the family
emigrated to America x^t the age of
seventeen he had learned the trade of
"hammering." He then had two assist-
ants under him and continued in this way
for ten years. He afterward embarked
in a blast furnace in Clarion county, but
the panic of 1849 swept him from his
feet. He returned to his trade, which was
always lucrative, and after a few years
had capital enough to embark in the coal
business with his brother, Abram. This
enterprise was soon abandoned, the finan-
cial returns not being satisfactory. Mr.
Reese was then asked to join the firm of
Johnston, Taylor & Company, in the
manufacture of fire-brick, which he did.
He devoted his time and energy to the
development of a better grade of brick,
and discovered new clay from which, by a
new process, he made better brick. Upon
this brick he stamped the distinguishing
word "Woodland." This was a fire-brick
for crucible furnaces, superior to any
which had heretofore been produced in
Pittsburgh. He saw the possibilities of
a great business, and he controlled for
many years the exclusive sale of fire-clay
brick in and around Pittsburgh for cru-
cible furnace purposes. Three years after
entering the firm he purchased all other


interests in the concern and controlled
the business for fourteen years.

Due to the panic of 1873, Mr. Reese
again failed, losing every dollar he had,
but, as he said to a friend shortly before
his death : "I have failed several times in
my life, but my credit never failed me
once. I borrowed five thousand dollars
at sixty years of age, with only forty
dollars cash in the world." This last
venture was the most successful of his
business life. It was in 1878 that he saw
the necessity of a brick which would offer
a greater resistance to intense heat, es-
pecially for the heating furnaces for steel.
He was the first to make a success of
silica brick for furnace linings in the
United States. His first experiment was
made a*t the Apollo Works just previous
to his business failure in 1873. (These
brick were still in the kiln when the plant
was shut down by the sheriff. They were
sold to a contractor and built in a pud-
dling furnace in Pittsburgh, where they
stood over two years with but few re-
pairs). When improvements were made
in the process of making high-grade steel,
there was a demand for a better fire-brick
than could be made in the United States,
and from 1863 to 1884 the fire-brick, espe-
cially for open-hearth furnaces, was
brought from Europe, at great expense.
Mr. Reese continued to improve on his
first experiment at Apollo, until in 1882
he sent his son George to Wales to learn
a more economical way of burning the
brick. On his son's return to Manorville,
Pennsylvania, he brought the benefit of
the Old World's experience, which added
to his father's experience, was instrumen-
tal in producing a brick superior to any
known silica brick. This brick stood the
test of five thousand degrees of heat,
while no other brick was known to stand
over three thousand degrees. This brick
was called the "Reese Silica Brick," and


its superiority over the European brick
was so generally recognized that it re-
placed the latter entirely in the home pro-
duct. Of uniform weight and size and
practically free from expansion and con-
traction under varying temperatures, and
giving the best satisfaction in the con-
struction and use of glass, open-hearth
steel, copper and other metallurgical fur-
naces, the "Reese Silica Brick" found a
market in every manufacturing State and
territory of the Union, especially at the
gold, silver and copper smelting works of
Colorado. By using the old fire-brick in
the cap, or arch, of the glass furnace the
slack, or drippings, would run into the
glass, while caps made of Reese Silica
Brick will make the output of the furnace
perfectly clean.

Mr. Reese established a large plant in
Manorville, Pennsylvania, and later an-
other plant in Cowanshannock, in the
same county. These mills were called the
Phoenix Fire-Brick Works, and Mr. Reese
was the sole owner. He also made brick
called "Phoenix" and "Globe," especially
adapted for rolling-mill uses, and also for
blast furnaces. In order to meet the great
demand for his brick, he added two other
plants at Retort, Pennsylvania, in Centre
county, these plants being known as the
"Retort Works." When his sons became
of age, in about 1896, he took them into
partnership with him. These sons were
George W., Benjamin F. and Walter L.
Reese, the firm name being then changed
to Isaac Reese & Sons, and later still to
Isaac Reese & Sons Company. In 1900
the business was incorporated under the
latter name with Isaac Reese as president
and general manager. This relation con-
tinued until 1902, when the firm sold out
to the brick trust, but retained stock in
the same. There were thirty-four brick
plants merged into the trust known as the
Harbison Walker Refractories Company,
into which the Reese plants entered. The

Reese plants were the only ones to pre-
serve their individuality and to retain
their own offices and the firm name of
Isaac Reese & Sons Company.

The men to whom Isaac Reese owed
the most in his last business venture, and
to whom his gratitude was unbounded,
were : Mr. Joseph S. Seaman, Mr. Joseph
Sleeth and Mr. J. B. Young, for their
financial backing; to Dr. C. G. Hussey
for building the first furnace without
other guaranty than Mr. Reese's own
word that the brick would stand the
proper requirements ; and to Mr. William
Johns and Mr. David Harris for practical
suggestions and faithful oversight of the
furnaces personally alrnost day and night.

Isaac Reese said to a friend one day :
"I have done two men's work from
the time I was eighteen years old up
almost to the time of my retirement at
eighty-two years of age. I never took a
vacation until I was seventy years old.
i shall not live to my father's great age,
and neither will Jacob or Abram." Jacob
Reese was working on an alphabet for
the deaf and dumb at the time of his
death, at eighty-four years of age. Abram
was working on plans for a flying-ma-
chine at seventy-eight years of age. They
died in the full possession of their facul-
ties. Dr. Rees says in his preface to his
Cyclopaedia, that he had not worked in
fragments of time, but whole days of
twelve to fourteen hours each for twenty
years on this work. He died at eighty-
two years of age. His father preached
for seventy years, and died at ninety years
of age. They died in full possession of
their faculties.

A man of action rather than words,
Isaac Reese demonstrated his public spirit
by actual achievements which advanced
the prosperity and wealth of the commu-
nity. He was noted for his clarity
of thought, great resourcefulness, large
knowledge of men, quickness of percep-



tion and accuracy of judgment, and
was often consulted in regard to public
measures and improvements. Justice and
benevolence were dominant traits in his
character. As a consequence he possessed
to the close of his life the respect and con-
fidence of his workmen, and it was one of
his proud boasts that he never had a
"strike" in his works.

Mr. Orr Buffington, Mr. Reese's friend
and attorney, who had a thorough insight
into the industry and the history of Mr.
Reese's efforts to put his brick upon the
market writes of him :

Without capital other than that which one or
two of his friends recognizing his integrity and
abihty, supplied, Isaac Reese ventured to make
and marlcet a new and untried line of refractory
brick for furnace linings. He came a stranger
into Armstrong county for this purpose. To
appreciate the gravity of the undertaking it must
be realized that these bricks, designed for use in
costly furnaces, with their more costly contents
to be fluxed, must prove the most perfect success,
otherwise the entire proposition became a total
loss to the purchaser. The bricks were produced
as designed, but the customers had to be con-
vinced. This involved untold patience and per-
sistency through a series of years, against the
strong and bitter opposition of wealthy competi-
tors. The excellence and uniform character of
this product and his fair dealing overcame the
obstacles in his path, and not many years before
his death, his competitors were compelled to buy
his interests at his own figure. The instances are
few of record where at sixty years, when most
workers are preparing to lay aside life's work and
rest, a man, alone and apparently defeated in life's
struggle, grapples a new and great problem and
in spite of his years and adversity compels success
to surrender.

I knew Mr. Reese intimately during these nearly
thirty years, and in all these years saw no change
in the man himself ; the same genial nature, the
same patience, the same absence of personal pride,
the same fairness in his methods of business, the
same extreme care for his family, his friends, and
his church, bespoke his manliness and goodness
of heart.

When abundant results rewarded his work there
was perhaps the usual elation always present in
man, but it did not take the form of boastfulness,

but rather only added to his pleasure in seeing
those around whom his interest centered enjoy the
fruits of his victory. Many quiet unknown gifts to
those who had aided him were bestowed. His
was essentially an honest and trusting nature.
Once his confidence was won it remained un-
shaken, and once lost could never be regained.
His mind was wholly constructive — he was a
builder; his work was a public service — he made
the world better and his memory deserves per-

Isaac Reese married Elizabeth Bebb
Jones, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May
24. 1844. She was born in Llanbrynmair,
NorthernWales, February 21, 1824. Eliza-
beth Bebb Jones was the daughter of
Robert and Mary (Bebb) Jones, who emi-
grated to America with their two chil-
dren, Elizabeth and John, in 1841 ; the
older two, Thomas and Mary, having
come over the year previous with Dr.
Chidlaw, a personal friend of the Jones
family. The Jones and Bebb families
figure in the parish history of Llanbryn-
mair as far back as 1663, as vicars, church
wardens and overseers of the poor, and in
the churchyard of the "Old Independent
Chapel" is the tomb of Edward Bebb,
Quaker, died April 23, 1740, the ancestor
of Mary (Bebb) Jones and her brother,
Edward Bebb. She was related to Jo-
siah Jones {nom de plume Brynmair) the
old Welsh bard and religious writer of
Wales. Judge William Bebb, the four-
teenth governor of Ohio, was a cousin of
Mrs. Reese. He tutored the children of
old General Harrison (of "Tippecanoe and
Tyler too" fame), when he was twenty
years of age, in mathematics, Latin,
French, and German, living in the Harri-
son family one year. He afterwards start-
ed an academy at South Bend, Indiana,
and through the influence of General Har-
rison the leading families of Cincinnati
sent their children to this institution. He
then studied law, became judge and later
governor of Ohio, through the appoint-
ment of the President, and according to


history he was the first governor to take
the stump against slavery. He afterwards
held other offices under the United States
government. He was the intimate friend
of Thomas Corwin, and their portraits in
the Statehouse at Columbus, Ohio, are
called the "David and Jonathan" of the
Ohio bar.

On the Jones side of the house the
family is a branch of the ancient house of
"Esgair Evan." The great-grandson of
Robert Jones, Reese Olver Snowden, has
named his ranch in Lancaster, California,
"Esgair," in honor of his Welsh forbears.
In Llanbrynmair Mrs. Reese's people
were staunch supporters of disestablish-
ment. History says Llanbrynmair was
the Piedmont of Wales in the seventeenth
century, and that next to Palestine, no
other name in the principality is so re-
vered as Llanbrynmair. The house is still
standing there where during the religious
persecutions of the seventeenth century,
Mrs. Reese's people kept the Covenant
for sixty-four years, before they dared
build the "Old Independent Chapel," in
1739. Mrs. Reese was related to Rev.
John Roberts as well as connected by
close marriage ties. John Roberts and his
two sons held the pulpit of the "Old Inde-
pendent Chapel" for sixty years. Their
names are honored wherever the Welsh
language is spoken. "God had sifted
three kingdoms to find the wheat for this
planting." (Longfellow.) Dr. Abraham
Rees and Rev. Samuel Roberts (the most
noted of the Roberts trio of preachers)
were both born in the "Old Independent
Chapel-house" of Llanbrynmair. A tablet
above the pulpit commemorates the events.
Mrs. Reese was baptized, nursed and
nourished in the faith of the "Old Inde-
pendent Chapel" of Llanbrynmair until
her emigration to America, as was her
mother and her grandmother, Mary
Roberts, who had been a member of the
"Old Independent Chapel" for seventy-

four years after her first communion.
Mrs. Reese was a faithful and respected
member of the First Congregational
Church of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for
fifty-four years at the time of her death,
June 2, 1898. Her life from childhood
had been a consecrated life. She had been
a tower of strength to her husband in the
dark days of his business life and a most
loving, devoted mother. "Her children
rise up and call her blessed " She was a
loyal friend in the hour of adversity, and
her sister, Mrs. William Hopkins, was a
faithful and respected member of the First
Congregational Church of Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania, for sixty years. They were
both worthy of their high ancestry

Eleven children were born to Isaac and
Elizabeth (Jones) Reese, six of whom
died in childhood and early youth. The
five who lived to maturity are :

I. George W. Reese, eldest son of Isaac
and Elizabeth (Jones) Reese, was born
in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 13,
1858. He was educated in the public
schools of Pittsburgh and in the Iron City
Business College. He was his father's
ablest assistant in the manufacture of Sil-
ica and Phoenix fire-brick, and the son
whom Isaac Reese said "Could smell clay
through a mountain," through his finding
mines in the most inaccessible and hith-
erto unknown clay localities. After the
Reese firm entered the Harbison Walker
Refractories Company he retained his
stock and is on the board of directors.
After the death of his brother, Benjamin,
he was president and manager of the
Plate Glass Company of Kittanning, and
still is a stockholder and director in the
same. In February, 191 1, he organized
the Fort Pitt Powder Company of which
he is president. In 1877 Mr. Reese was
married to Mary M. Donnelly, of Pitts-
burgh. One child, Margaret, was born of
this union. The second marriage of Mr.
Reese was to Juanita Truby, daughter of



Simon Truby, a descendant of Colonel
Christopher Truby, a distinguished pi-
oneer and patriot who served as colonel
in the Revolution. One child born of this
union, George, is deceased.

2. Benjamin F. Reese, second son of
Isaac and Elizabeth (Jones) Reese, was
born in Pittsburgh, February i6, 1862.
He attended the public schools of Pitts-
burgh until he was fifteen years old, when
his father's business failure impressed
him with the necessity of doing some-
thing toward the family's support. Ac-
cordingly, without saying a word to any
one, he started out in search of work and
found it in the steel works of Miller, Barr
& Parkin. (It is a significant fact that his
great-grandfather, left an orphan at ten
years of age, and the eldest of several
sisters and brothers, had started out on
a similar quest and found work in a blast-
furnace at Brecon. This is the first known
instance of a member of the Rees family
engaging as an iron worker.) Benjamin
remained with Miller, Barr & Parkin until
his father had the works started at Alan-
orville, when he became foreman. The
bent of his mind lay in gas and oil fields,
and had he lived to these days of vast ex-
ploiting in those field, the germ would
doubtless have fructified and borne large
fruit. His business career though brief
was highly successful, and gave promise
of great results. His clear perception, his
quick mental grasp of a business proposi-
tion and his broad-mindedness and daring
bore early fruit, and his generous and
manly treatment of his business associ-
ates gained their confidence and esteem.
He was one of the founders and heavy
stockholders in the Kittanning Plate
Glass Company. He valued his word
above his bond. "Your Benjamin's word
stands the same as his bond in Butler
county," said an oil producer to Mr. Reese
one day in Butler. "It stands the same
in Allegheny county and Armstrong


county, wherever he is known," said the
pleased father. He married Eleanor Ma-
thias, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. David
Alathias, of Chicago, Illinois. He died
without issue, October 4, 1904.

3. Walter Lawrence Reese, the youngest
son of Isaac and Elizabeth (Jones) Reese,
was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
September 26, 1868. He married Tirzah.
daughter of Mr. and Mrs. David Thomas,
of Greensburg, Pennsylvania. They re-
side in Pittsburgh.

4. Elvira, eldest of the family living, re-
sides in Pittsburgh. "Elvira seems to
have inherited in a marked degree the in-
tellectual and religious endowments of
both branches of the family. This she
has cultivated and developed, by wide,
discriminating and critical reading of liter-
ature in all its branches — philosophy, the-
ology, poetry, fiction, etc. One of the re-
sults of her extensive reading is the pub-
lication of a literary calendar, entitled
'Showers of Blessing.' The book contains
selections for every day in the year, culled
from the writings of all nations and all
ages. 'Showers of Blessing' was published
by the Pilgrim Press of Boston, Massa-
chusetts, whose chief reader pronounced
it the finest book of its kind on the market.
Its conception and execution reveal most
comprehensive intellectual grasp coupled
with a masterly genius for details. It
contains four hundred pages. The book
is one of the most beautiful demonstra-
tions of the doubleness of the great prob-
lem of existence — the spiritual and ma-
terial, the Divine and Human, the Fi-
nite and Infinite. 'Everything that is is
double.' " — G. S. Richards, Pastor First
Congregational Church, of Pittsburgh,

5. Emma, second daughter, married F.
L. Snowden, of Allegheny City, Pennsyl-
vania (now Northside, Pittsburgh) Sep-
tember 27, 1876. They have two sons :
Reese Olver Snowden, now a resident


Zemn Biilm^^tv.

^qWW^^^^X^^ \


of Lancaster, California. He married
Minerva Burke, of Pittsburgh, Pennsyl-
vania. F. Laird Snowden, second son,
married Cora Thomas, daughter of Mr.
and Mrs. David Thomas, of Greensburg,

The loyalty of his disposition was in
nothing more strikingly manifested than
in Mr. Reese's strong and lasting friend-
ships. The fraternal relations of Mr.
Reese were with the Masons. Politically
he was a staunch Republican.

The death of Isaac Reese, which oc-
curred January i, 1908, was a loss well-
nigh irreparable. Strong in his convic-
tions, quiet, firm and decisive in negotia-
tion, possessing a clear mind and excel-
lent memory, regular in his habits and
liberal in his charities, he represented a
type of man who has helped to make
Pittsburgh one of the dominant cities of
the United States and of the world at
large. Such a man leaves the world better
than he found it and such a man was
Isaac Reese. The testimonials of respect
to his memory and the outpouring of
friends gave evidence to the high esteem
in which he had been held.

Note. — (Much of the history of the Reese
sketch was contributed by Miss Elvira Reese —
some of the material taken from translations of
Welsh letters, some from family traditions, and
much from a copy of a history given to her
mother many years ago. when in Wales, by her
cousin, the author of it, Richard Williams, a
Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.)

REESE, Jacob,

Manufacturer, Inventor.

Among the prominent men of Pitts-
burgh of the past was the late Jacob
Reese, the inventor of the essential con-
ditions of the basic Bessemer and the
basic open-hearth process for steel mak-
ing, which revolutionized the industry in
the United States.

Jacob Reese was born in Llannelly,
Wales, July 14, 1825, the son of William


and Elizabeth (Joseph) Reese. A full
account of the Reese family is to be found
in the biography of Isaac Reese on pre-
ceding pages of this work. William
Reese, the father, constructed the first
sand-bottom furnace as applied to pud-
dling in the United States, at Bellefonte,
Pennsylvania, and his son Jacob, a mere
lad, assisted in making the first "bloom"
under the "boiling'' process. Jacob
Reese built and was general manager of
the first iron works in Sharon, Pennsyl-
vania. He erected and was the first
superintendent of the Cambria Iron
Works in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, an-
tedating John Fritz, a recent recipient of
the Bessemer gold medal of the British
Iron and Steel Institute. He built and
operated the Fort Pitt Iron Works in
Pittsburgh, of which he was part owner,
and during the Civil War made iron
armor plate of one-inch thickness for the
United States government. He brought
the earliest shipments of ore from the
lake regions, which ore was used as a
'Tix" for the "boiling" furnaces which had
superseded the puddling furnace, and
before there was a blast furnace in Alle-
gheny county. Prior to the erection of
the Fort Pitt Iron Works ("known famil-
iarly as the Reese & Graff mill), Mr.
Reese, with the same partners, owned
and operated the Petrolite Oil Refiner\%
of Pittsburgh, the largest oil refinery in
the State.

During his lifetime Jacob Reese took
out about one hundred and seventy-five
patents in the United States, and has a
record of over five hundred inventions
and discoveries. He discovered that
basic slag from basic Bessemer process,
when properly ground, is a good fer-
tilizer, and worked up an industry in
this. Jacob Reese was eminent as a
metallurgist and scientist. His long legal
contest over his patent claims for the
open-hearth process of steel-making made


his name known the world over among
capitalists and men of science. In prac-
tical demonstration he was foremost as
an engineer and worker.

He was a stockholder in many con-
cerns of magnitude. He was a resident
of Pittsburgh for over fifty years. He
moved to Philadelphia in 1892, where he
died on March 25, 1907, from paralysis.
At the time of his death he was working
on a system of language for deaf mutes.
Jacob Reese was a fellow of the Ameri-
can Association for the Advancement of
Science ; a member of Franklin Institute,
and the Philadelphia Academy, Philadel-

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