John W. (John Woolf) Jordan.

Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania biography : illustrated (Volume 3) online

. (page 1 of 58)
Online LibraryJohn W. (John Woolf) JordanEncyclopedia of Pennsylvania biography : illustrated (Volume 3) → online text (page 1 of 58)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

I '

OV 'i 't 'I '. ' 1 ' .

iMl: ■

Mm s/'.v*i'

'.It ViJI'MiVii' • I 1,

W f;^" -M ,

I »> |V ('1(1 '<,* L I <|








3 1833 01145 2585





J^Hi^.^ J>^AytZ

Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania




Librarian Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Author of "Colonial Families

of Philadelphia;" "Revolutionary History of Bethlehem,"

and various other works.










FRITZ, John,

Mechanical and Metallurgical Engineer.

(By Rossiter W. Raymond, New York, N. Y., and
Henry Sturgis Drinker, South Bethlehem, Pa.)

John Fritz, one of the most distinguished
mechanical and metallurgical engineers, was
born August 21, 1822, in Londonderry,
Chester county, Pennsylvania. His father,
George Fritz, a native of Hesse Cassel, was
brought to this country by his parents in
1802, with three brothers and a sister, to
whom were subsequently added three
daughters born in America. The family
settled in Pennsylvania. George Fritz mar-
ried the native-born daughter of a Scotch
Irish Presbyterian immigrant of 1787, and
they had four girls and three boys, of
whom John was the first. He was named
after his grandfather, the foreign form,
Johannes Fritzius, being Americanized into
John Fritz. Thus he was descended from
stanch and sturdy stock on both sides. His
ancestors came here when faith in the new
Republic and the future development of its
domain under free institutions, brought to
its shores the bravest and most enterprising
of pioneers. It was the era of dauntless,
independent individualism, and it produced
among us a generation of strong men, whose
personal gifts and ambitions could be de-
veloped freely in the stimulating atmosphere
of liberty and opportunity.

The "Autobiography of John Fritz," pub-
lished in 191 1, bears unconscious testimony
to the efTect of this environment upon in-
nate genius. His father, a millwright and
mechanic, could not be content with farm-
ing, but repeatedly followed the call of the
trade which he loved better; and the sons,
inheriting his talent and his predilection.

after dutifully following the plough in their
youth, abandoned it for mechanical engi-
neering, in which, educating themselves
without the aid of technical schooling, they
all achieved high position. Another in-
fluence, not to be overlooked, was that of
the large family, with its necessary de-
velopment of mutual affection and happi-
ness. It was a sad thing for John Fritz,
brought up in such an atmosphere, that to
him and his beloved wife, during their
long life together, only one child was given
■ — a daugliter, who died at the age of seven ;
but it may be fairly imagined that this ex-
perience had something to do with the
fatherly and brotherly affection which he
lavished upon the sons of others. If he had
had, like his father, many children of his
own, perhaps there would not now be so
many to call him gratefully "Uncle John
Fritz !" It should be added that both his
ancestry and his early life endowed him
with splendid health and strength. Finally,
we cannot omit to mention (what John Fritz
was wont, on all occasions, to emphasize)
the moral influence of his God-fearing
father and mother upon his whole life.
Under that influence, added to all the rest,
he became the strong, gently, simple-
hearted, high-souled man we knew and
loved, combining with his own inborn genius
the warm Irish heart, the steady German
head, and the American courage and elastic-
ity of endeavor.

Like other American boys, he had the
benefit of some schooling; but his own epi-
grammatic summary, "Five days in the
week, for three months in the year, is too
short a time for the study of Bennett's
Arithmetic," tells the whole story. In 1838,
at the age of sixteen, he became an ap-



prentice in the trades of blacksmith and
machinist — the latter comprising repairs of
agricultural and manufacturing machinery,
including the simple blast-furnaces of that
day. At the end of his apprenticeship he
returned to work for a time on the paternal
farm, with his mind made up to engage
somehow in the manufacture of iron, with
special relation to its use on railroads. This
early decision was illustriously justified by
his subsequent career.

It was not until 1844 that he succeeded in
making an entrance upon this career, by
getting employment in a rolling-mill at Nor-
ristown, Pennsylvania, then in process of
erection. He was put in charge of all the
machinery, and soon discovered many weak
spots in design and construction which he
afterwards remedied either by his own in-
ventions or by those which he adopted and
introduced. Among these were the two-
high rolls and their cog-gearing, which he
determined to abolish, if he ever got a
chance. Meanwhile he seized the oppor-
tunity to master thoroughly the thing near-
est to him, outside of his immediate task.
This happened to be the puddling-furnace.
John Fritz worked through a long day at his
job as superintendent and repairer of
machinery, and then spent the evening in the
exhausting work of a common puddler,
studying, while he rabbled or drew the glow-
ing charge, the apparatus and the process.
Months of such toil and thought made him
at last not only a master-puddler, but also
an expert, qualified to improve the old con-
struction and practice. This accomplish-
ment, however, he merely stored for the
time when he should be able to use it, and
meanwhile, turned his attention to the
heating, rolling, and finishing departments
of the mill, with each of which, by the same
method of actual practice at night, he ac-
quired a similarly thorough familiarity.

Having learned what was to be learned
in that particular business, he accepted in
1849, with the sympathetic approval of
Moore & Hooven, his employers at Norris-

town, a position in a new rail-mill and blast-
furnace at Safe Harbor, Pennsylvania, by
Reeves, Abbott & Co. The salary was
smaller ($650 a year, instead of $1,000!);
but he wanted to learn all about blast-furn-
ace practice and the manufacture of rails.
His strenuous and successful work at Safe
Harbor was cut short after a few months
by an attack of fever and ague. During this
interval, he made a trip to Lake Superior,
and saw the great Cleveland and Jackson
iron-ore deposits in the Marquette district.
After his return, he tried in vain to interest
Pennsylvania capitalists in Lake Superior
iron-mines, as a source of supply even for
Pennsylvania. He was told that he might
as well dream of bringing Iron-ore from
Kamschatka as from Marquette — to which
he replied that, within ten years (this was
in 1852), iron-ore from Lake Superior
would be sold in Philadelphia. One-half
the Jackson mine could have been bought
then for $25,000!

But if his friends and former employers
could not trust him as a prophet, they ap-
preciated him as a mechanical engineer ;
and he was engaged in 1852 to superintend
the rebuilding of the Kunzie-blast-furnace,
on the Schuylkill, about twelve miles from
Philadelphia. This involved the new
method of manufacturing pig-iron with an-
thracite, instead of charcoal or coke, as fuel
— a scheme which had just been proved
practicable by David Thomas and William
Firmstone in the Lehigh Valley. Mr. Fritz,
though not the designer of the new furnace,
was called upon to remedy defects in the
original design, and managed to the satis-
faction of the proprietors, and without
losing the friendship of the engineer whose
opinion he had contradicted. After the
furnace had been put in blast, his desire to
learn all about operation as well as con-
struction, led him to pursue his old habit
of prowling about at odd times, day and
night ; and in this way he discovered one
of the most important principles of modern
blast- furnace practice, namely, that of the



"closed front," replacing the old fore-hearth
and those frequent interruptions of the blast
for cleaning out the crucible, known as
"working" the furnace — a revolutionary
change of practice. The principle was
afterwards embodied and made more effec-
tive by the water-cooled cinder-notch
patented by Liirmann. But, while Mr. Fritz
cannot be said to have anticipated that in-
vention, he was apparently the first, in this
country at least, to recognize the importance
of that purpose, and to carry it out in
another way. When Liirmann's agent was
trying to introduce his improvement in this
country, the favorable opinion of John
Fritz was one of the strongest arguments at
his command.

In 1853, having got the Kunzie furnace
machinery into good running order, Mr.
Fritz joined with his brother George and
others in building at Catasauqua a foundry
and machine-shop to supply blast-furnaces
and rolling-mills. In the following year he
was invited, through David Reeves, to go to
the Cambria Iron Works, Johnstown, Penn-
sylvania, as general superintendent. This
was the turning-point of his career. His
preparation for it had occupied sixteen
years, during which he had mastered every
part of the manufacture of iron into com-
mercial forms, while he had also learned the
higher art of commanding the enthusiastic
loyalty of workmen, and the highest art
of all. perhaps — that of securing the
confidence of employers. All these
patiently acquired qualifications were de-
manded and tested in his new position,
and the lack of any one of them would
have been probably fatal to his success.
The Cambria Iron Company was in a bad
way administratively, financially, mechani-
cally, and metallurgically, although, to his
hopeful vision, "Cambria was destined to
be the greatest rail-plant in the world." He
met successively the problems of technical
authority and responsibility, temporary re-
pair and reform of an old plant, improve-
ment in quality of product, and the procure-

ment of means for new and needed con-
struction. When these problems had been
so far solved that the mill was running well,
and making some money, the property was
attached under judgments upon former
claims. Fritz persuaded all parties to allow
the work to go on, and he was the only man
upon whom all parties could agree as an
agent to protect the rights of all. Under his
management operations went on under the
shadow of impending bankruptcy, until a
reorganization with adequate capital was de-
cided upon. This was not easily eflfected,
under the circumstances, and confidence in
the technical ability, good judgment, integ-
rity, and loyalty of John Fritz, on the part
of capitalists who knew him and his record,
was the influence which turned the scale in
favor of the enterprise. The capital Wcis
subscribed, and operations were resumed.
He determined to put into the works a
three-high roll-train, in accordance with his
prophetic vision of earlier years ; and this
plan was opposed by many of the stock-
holders, who were supported in their posi-
tion by the opinions of leading iron-masters
in all parts of the country, and the declara-
tions of the laboring "heaters" and "rollers,"
and it was by sheer force of personal
character that he secured authority for the
execution of his plan. Against the denun-
ciation of critics and the warning of friends,
he introduced the three-high rolls into the
Cambria Company's mill, laying thereby the
foundation not only of unexampled pros-
perity for that establishment, but also of
an improvement which was rapidly adopted
throughout this country and the world, and
has been justly called the last great step of
progress in iron-manufacture preceding the
Bessemer process.

But this triumph was followed by further
trials. The day after the success of the
three-high rolls had been demonstrated in
the Cambria mill, the mill itself was de-
stroyed by fire. Fortunately, the demon-
stration had been conclusive, so that, if the
fire was the work of an enemy, it came too



late to defeat the new invention. Fritz was
equal to the emergency. Inside of thirty
days he had the mill running again, though
without a roof to cover it ; and it was one of
the proudest recollections of his after-life
that he subsequently erected a building i,-
ooo feet long by lOO feet wide, with trussed
and slated roof — the finest rolling-mill
building, at that time, in the United States
— without interrupting the running of the
mill which it covered, and without injury to
a single person. In the progressive recon-
struction of the Cambria works, Fritz in-
troduced many improvements which he had
conceived in previous years — improvements
in puddling-furnaces, gearing, boilers, etc.
One of his most characteristic and radical
measures was the abandonment, in connec-
tion with the roll-trains, of light coupling-
boxes and spindles, and a special "breaking-
box," holding the rolls in place — all of
which were intended to break under special
strain, so as to save the rolls from fracture.
The structures and machines designed by
him have been occasionally criticized, as
unnecessarily costly at the outset ; but none
of them ever failed in service. His trusses
are still standing ; his engines are still run-
ning ; and perhaps his abundant '"margins of
safety" have proved to be worth more than
they cost.

After six years with the Cambria Iron
Company, Mr. Fritz accepted in July, i860,
the position of general superintendent and
chief engineer of the Bethlehem Iron Com-
pany. The works of this company, de-
signed and erected by Mr. Fritz, were so far
completed by September, 1863, as to begin
the rolling of rails made from the product
of its own blast and puddling furnaces.
The first of his improvements was the in-
troduction of high-pressure blast in the iron
blast-furnace. The iron-masters of the Le-
high Valley region were startled, when they
learned that Fritz was blowing air at 12 lb.
per sq. in. into his furnaces, and was pre-
pared even to blow at 16 lb. in an emer-
gency. This method of overcoming the in-

ternal difficulties which had previously been
treated with so much old-fashioned skill,
was the beginning of the new blast-furnace
practice, in which rapid running, immense
product and high blast, while creating fresh
problems of blast-furnace management,
have superseded many of the old ones.
Fritz's horizontal blowing-engines were
much criticized at the time, but they have
run continuously, day and night, for more
than thirty years, blowing at from 10 to 12
lb. pressure, and frequently more. He was
so well satisfied with the result of his in-
novations in blast-furnace practice that he
designed a larger furnace, with an engine
that would supply a 20 to 30 lb. blast. But,
to his great regret, the directors of the com-
pany were too conservative to authorize this

During the Civil War, the government
needed a rolling-mill somewhere in the
South, in which twisted rails could be re-
rolled. It was probably the advice of Abram
S. Hewitt, which led to the selection of Mr.
Fritz as one who could procure the neces-
sary machinery and secure the erection of
the mill with the least possible delay. He
was surprised in March, 1864, by his ap-
jx)intment to this place with almost un-
limited powers. His commission under the
War Department declared that "any ar-
rangements" he might make would be "fully
carried out" b}^ the Government. Mr.
Fritz immediately prepared the plans and
secured the necessary machinery for the
mill, which was built at Chattanooga,
Tennessee, and of which his brother Wil-
liam was made superintendent. William
Fritz had been employed at Cambria and at
Bethlehem until 1861, when he enlisted in
the Union army, and in 1864, he was on fur-
lough, recovering from a serious wound.
He ran the Chattanooga mill successfully
until the end of the war.

The part taken by John Fritz at the
Bethlehem works in the application and im-
provement of the Bessemer process in this
country was no small one. He was one of



a notable group, comprising his brother
George Fritz, then superintendent of the
Cambria Works, Robert W. Hunt, William
R. Jones, Owen F. Leibert and Alexander
L. Holley, which used to meet frequently
for the discussion of serious practical diffi-
culties not communicated to the general
public, or even to the technical societies and
journals. It is worthy of notice that these
young engineers were all railmakers ; and it
was in the manufacture of rails, more than
in any other department, that the Bessemer
process produced its widest and deepest
effect throughout the civilized world, by its
revolutionary improvement of the condi-
tions, distances, speed, and economy of
transportation. The troubles encountered
in making good steel rails would never have
been solved by chemists, physicists, and
metallurgists without the aid of the prac-
tical rail-makers, of whom John Fritz was
a leader and type.

During nearly thirty years of work with
the Bethlehem Iron Company, Mr. Fritz,
supported by the faith and courage which
he inspired in other men, made that enter-
prise one of the most famous in the world
— the Mecca of engineer-pilgrims from
abroad and the pride and pattern of Amer-
ican practice. The introduction of open-
hearth furnaces and of the Thomas basic
process; the progressive improvements of
strength, simplicity, and automatic handling
in the rolling-mills ; the adoption of the
Whitworth forging-press ; the manufacture
of armor-plate; the erection of a 125-ton
steam-hammer ; and innumerable other im-
provements in the manufacture of iron and
steel, owe their present perfection in large
degree to his inventive genius, practical re-
sourcefulness, and patient study. The
stamp of his mind may be found on almost
every detail of construction and operation
throughout a wide range of processes and

In 1892, at the age of seventy, he retired
from the responsible and arduous work at
Bethlehem, which had occupied more than

the latter half of the fifty-four years since
his apprenticeship began. For nearly
twenty years longer he lived to enjoy, as
few men have been permitted to do, the
fame and the friendships which he had
amply earned. Indeed, he had received
world-wide recognition before his retire-
ment, and that event elicited numerous pub-
lic expressions of the pre-existing fact.
This Institute, of which he had been a loyal
member since 1872, elected him its presi-
dent in 1894, and he made the following
contributions to the Transactions: "Re-
marks on the Fracture of Steel Rails,"
1875 ; Remarks on the Bessemer Pro-
cess, 1890; Early Days of the Iron Manu-
facture (Presidential Address), 1894; Re-
marks on Rail-Sections, 1899. The Amer-
ican Society of Mechanical Engineers,
which he had joined in 1882, made him an
honorary member in 1892, and president in
1895 ; the American Society of Civil En-
gineers, of which he became a member in
1893, conferred honorary membership upon
him in 1899; the Iron and Steel Institute
of Great Britain made him an honorary
member in 1893, ^nd a perpetual honorary
vice-president in 1909; and the recently or-
ganized American Iron and Steel Institute
elected him an honorary member in 1910.
Meanwhile, he had received the Bronze
Medal of the U. S. Centennial Exposition
in 1876; in 1893 the Bessemer Gold Medal
of the Iron and Steel Institute ; in 1902 the
John Fritz Medal (the fund for which was
established by subscription, to honor his
eightieth birthday, by awarding a gold
medal annually "for notable scientific or
industrial achievement" — the first medal
being bestowed with enthusiastic unanimity
upon John Fritz himself) ; in 1904 the
Bronze Medal of the Louisiana Purchase
E.xposition, in connection with which he
served as honorary expert on iron and steel ;
and in 1910, the Elliott Cresson Gold Medal
of the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia,
"for distinguished leading and directive work
in the advancement of the iron and steel in-



dustries." And he received honoris causa
the following academic degrees : Master of
Arts, from Columbia University, in 1895;
Doctor of Science, from the University of
Pennsylvania, in 1906 ; Doctor of Engineer-
ing, from the Stevens Institute of Tech-
nology, in 1907; and Doctor of Science,
from Temple University, in 1910.

But these official distinctions could not
tell fully the story of love and praise which
pressed for the utterance which it found on
two memorable occasions — celebrations of
his seventieth and eightieth birthday anni-
versaries, in which hundreds of his friends
and professional colleagues participated.
The first took place at Bethlehem in 1892,
and the second at New York in 1902. On
the latter occasion, as has been said above,
he received the first "John Fritz medal."
The conferment of honorary degrees by in-
stitutions of learning upon this self-edu-
cated workingman was a recognition not
merely of his professional achievements, but
also of his wise and generous aid to the
cause of technical education, some account
of which may fitly close this story of his

Lehigh University was founded in 1866
by a Pennsylvanian — Asa Packer, who
knew and appreciated the great qualities of
John Fritz, and who named him as one of
the original board of trustees. This institu-
tion had in its board of control, from the
beginning, the strong common sense and the
superlative engineering ability of John
Fritz. For a wholly self-educated, self-
cultured man, he was remarkably broad in
his conceptions of education. While not
wealthy in the modern sense of the term,
Mr. Fritz, who though generous was
thrifty, had laid aside and enjoyed a com-
fortable competence in his old age; and one
day in the spring of 1909 he astonished
President Drinker of Lehigh by saying:

In my will I have left Lehigh University a
certain sum of money to be expended in your
discretion. I now intend to revoke that bequest,
and instead of leaving money for you to spend

after I am gone, I'm going to have the fun of
spending it with you and Charley Taylor (Mr.
Taylor being a co-Trustee of Lehigh with Mr.
Fritz, and an old and valued friend — a former
partner of Andrew Carnegie). I have long
watched the career of a number of Lehigh gradu-
ates, and I have been impressed by the value
of the training they have received at Lehigh.
But you need an up-to-date engineering labora-
tory, and I intend to build one for you.

Mr. Fritz acted as his own architect ; de-
signed the building (substantially on the
lines of the large shop he had built at the
Bethlehem Steel Works) ; selected, pur-
chased and installed the superb testing-
equipment ; and renewed his youth in the
task, which was a great pleasure to him.
At his death it was found that (after mak-
ing generous provision for his near rel-
atives, and for bequests to the Free Library
of the Bethlehems. to St. Luke's Hospital
at South Bethlehem, to Temple College at
Philadelphia, to the Methodist Hospital at
Philadelphia, to the American University
at Washington and to other charitable pur-
poses) he had bequeathed his residuary
estate, estimated to amount to about $150,-
000, to Lehigh University, as an endow-
ment-fund for the maintenance and opera-
tion of this Laboratory.

Mr. Fritz retained much of his vigor and
activity up to the autumn of 191 1. He took
frequent trips alone to Philadelphia and
New York, and attended many gatherings
of his old engineering friends and associ-
ates. In the spring of 191 1, he decided, at
the urgent solicitation of friends, to put into
shape the notes of incidents in his life which
he had been making for years. This was
done largely on the insistence of friends,
during the summer of 191 1, in Bethlehem.
The penciled notes in his own handwriting,
on yellow slips, was arranged chronologi-
cally by his nephew. George A. Chandler,
who as an engineer, had had a close life-
long association with Mr. Fritz ; then Dr.
Drinker, who was admitted to participation
in the task, procured a competent stenog-
rapher: and they, with Mr. N. M. Emery,



another friend, spent day after day, during
the summer vacation-season, on the task.

Online LibraryJohn W. (John Woolf) JordanEncyclopedia of Pennsylvania biography : illustrated (Volume 3) → online text (page 1 of 58)