Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Allentown underwent rapid development in the 1850’s. Population grew at the rate of 116 percent from 3,779 in 1850 to 8,025 in 1860. This expansion in population was matched by territorial growth in 1852 as a sizable section of land to the east of the original borough – the land lying between the Jordan and Lehigh rivers – was annexed. The economic basis for this development was provided by the erection and expansion of anthracite iron furnaces and rolling mills in Allentown and such nearby villages as Hokendauqua and Catasauqua, the construction of railroads providing improved transpor­tation, and the installation of the telegraph providing much more rapid communication. Population and in­dustrial growth were accompanied by social change. While Allentown remained predominantly a German-speaking community, the Fifties witnessed an increased use of English in church life, the growth of public schools in which English was the language of instruction, and the appearance of a new wave of non-German immigrants, the Irish. The decade also witnessed the continued mi­gration into the town of Pennsylvania German farmers as permanent settlers.



While Allentown had been founded in 1762, its first great forward thrust had occurred in a three-year period, 1811-1814. During this period the town was incorporated as a borough, was made the seat of government for the new county of Lehigh, and was serviced by the first bridge constructed across the Lehigh River, by its first bank, and by two weekly newspapers. The second important period of growth occurred in the 1830’s following the construction of the Lehigh Canal. Allentown became an important station along its route. An artificial harbor was built to handle a growing volume of river traffic in anthracite coal, lumber and lumber products, and farm crops.

The Forties, however, were a time of troubles. In 1841, the first bridge across the Lehigh was swept away by a flood; in 1843, the first and only bank (the Northampton Bank) failed; and in 1848, the central business district was devastated by fire-a loss for which property owners had no insurance. However, recovery was quite rapid: a new bridge was built, again by a private company, in the year following the flood; a new bank was organized in 1844; and new buildings, in most instances constructed of brick, were erected to replace those destroyed by the fire.

The significance of David Thomas’ success in making the Lehigh Crane Iron Company, located in Catasauqua two miles north of Allentown, a commercially successful ven­ture was not lost upon Allentown businessmen. Early in 1846 a public meeting was held to take steps toward the organization of an anthracite iron company. However, the initiative was taken by Philadelphia financiers who in 1846 constructed an iron furnace along the Lehigh River at a place which, in 1852, became part of the borough. Samuel Lewis, who had recommended the Allentown lo­cation, was brought in to build and manage this enter­prise just as David Thomas had been imported by Lehigh Crane for the same purpose. Additional furnaces were built in 1847, 1853, 1854 and 1872. The business was organized as a corporation in 1851 and four Allentonians, including Lewis, were elected to the board of directors though con­trol appears to have remained with Philadelphians. The founding and growth of this firm laid the basis for the development of Allentown as a metals products center in the nineteenth century.


The 1850s: Railroads

The first railroad to be constructed was the Lehigh Valley, which was opened between Easton and Mauch Chunk in 1855. Regular passenger service between Allen­town and Easton began in June of that year. Inasmuch as the railroad was constructed on the west bank of the Lehigh River, it had direct access to Allentown. At Easton-Phillipsburg, a connection was made with the Central Railroad of New Jersey, which carried traffic to New York City, and with the Belvidere-Delaware, which ran to Trenton.

The completion of the Lehigh Valley Railroad enabled Allentown shippers to take advantage of the North Penn­sylvania Railroad, which reached South Bethlehem from Philadelphia and which was linked with the Lehigh Valley in July, 1857. In that year the East Pennsylvania Rail­road was chartered and began work on the construction of a line connecting Reading and Allentown. Work was completed on May 11, 1859. A connection was provided at Allentown with the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Thus Allen­town found itself on a through route from New York City to Harrisburg with access to Pittsburgh over the Pennsylvania Railroad, and, ultimately, on a through route from New York City to Buffalo.

Two local roads which served certain areas of Lehigh County north and west of Allentown were constructed in this decade. Both were built to carry iron ore from various open-pit mines in the county to furnaces located on the Lehigh River. The first was the Catasauqua and Fogelsville Railroad which extended ultimately from the Catasauqua Station on the Lehigh Valley Railroad to Rittenhouse Gap in Berks County. Its construction was financed by the Lehigh Crane Iron Company and the Thomas Iron Company. An even shorter road was the Ironton, which was chartered in 1859 and completed in 1860, extending from Coplay on the Lehigh Valley to the village of Ironton in North Whitehall. While neither road served Allentown, both played an important role in the local iron industry which was basic to the city’s economy at this time. Another road which was under construction during the decade was the Allentown Railroad Company, which was designed to transport anthracite from the lower Schuyl­kill basin to Allentown. When the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad acquired control of the East Pennsylvania in 1869, the project collapsed and was never revived.

A telegraph line was constructed to the city in 1854. A local firm which served the area was acquired by Western Union Telegraph Company in 1875. The expansion of transportation and communication industries firmly meshed Allentown in a network serving the middle Atlantic region. It meant an end to local isolation, speeded indus­trialization and urbanization, and contributed to Allen­town’s integration into a developing national economic system.


Anthracite Iron

The anthracite iron industry continued to grow in the county during the 1850’s and after. Stephen Balliet was responsible tor the organization of a company which became the Lehigh Valley Iron Company in 1854. Fur­nace No. 1 was constructed in 1852, a second furnace in 1862, and a third in 1867. The Thomas Iron Company, organized in 1854 and named for its guiding genius, David Thomas, proved to be comparable to Lehigh Crane in progressiveness and stability. Its expansion began early. In 1855 it built a new plant at Hokendauqua consisting of two furnaces. Two additional furnaces were erected in 1861 and 1862. In 1867, the company acquired the Lock Ridge Iron Company in Alburtis and built furnaces seven and eight in its system. A few years later, in 1872 and 1873, furnaces five and six were constructed at Hoken­dauqua. The Roberts Iron Company was organized in 1862 and built two furnaces in Allentown, which became part of the Allentown Rolling Mill Company in 1871. The Lehigh Iron Company was organized in 1867 by William Ainey and erected two furnaces directly south of Allentown – the first in 1868 and the second in 1872. An iron furnace was built in Emmaus in 1869-70 and another in Macungie in 1874. The furnaces in Lehigh County were part of a larger Lehigh Valley development: furnaces extended along the Lehigh River from Mauch Chunk to ‘South Easton. The anthracite iron companies were the first large-scale enterprises to arise in and near Allentown. But, while important, they did not convert the city into a single-industry community.

The iron industry embraced furnaces which produced pig iron, rolling mills which prepared bar and sheet iron, and foundries and machine shops which produced finished goods. In the period 1850-1865, iron furnaces were com­plemented by rolling mills and machine shops in Allen­town. In 1860, the Allentown Rolling Mill Company was organized, absorbing a plant which had been opened five years earlier. Within a decade, this company absorbed the Lehigh Rolling Mill and the Roberts Iron Company. This company became an important producer of materials for railroads: track, car axles, beams and angles, and fish­plates. Another company engaged in metal production was Barber, Kaiser and Company, originally the Saeger foundry and machine shop. In 1863, another firm was opened by William F. Mosser to produce turbine water wheels. Non-Allentonians as well as Allentonians brought capital and managerial talent to these enterprises. In 1860, Allentown had fifty-seven diversified industries including manufacturers of agricultural implements, foundries and machine shops, brick works, planing mills, carriage works, railroad spike works, shoe factories, a woolen mill, dis­tilleries and breweries, cigar factories, grist and flour mills, iron furnaces and a rolling mill. By 1860, Lehigh County had 460 manufacturing establishments which employed 3,200 workers, of whom 3,025 were males, and produced goods with a value of almost five million dollars. In all categories, substantial growth had occurred since 1850.


Other Advances

Three important banking houses were established in the period 1851-1860. The town had been without a bank since 1847, when the charter of the Lehigh Valley Bank had been repealed. Of the three new banks, the most important was the Allentown Bank, which was given a State charter in August, 1855. Under the able presidency of Jacob Dillinger, it succeeded to the leadership position previously held by the Northampton Bank. Ten years later, it surrendered its State charter and was organized as a national bank. In 1851, the banking firm of W. H. Blumer was formed; in 1863-64 Blumer organized the First National Bank. In 1860, William Ainey formed the Allentown Savings Institution, and in 1863-64 he became the first president of the Second National Bank. The First National failed in 1877 and the Allentown Savings was closed by its stockholders in 1883.

Advances were also made in utilities other than the railroads and telegraph. In 1855, the Northampton Water Company was taken over by the Allentown Water Com­pany, which proceeded to improve the pumping station and distribution system. In 1851, Dr. William Danowsky began the production of illuminating gas which he sold to individual subscribers. In 1853 he secured a charter for his company and enlarged his plant, and in 1860 he sold his producing plant to Blumer, Laudenslager and Com­pany. Meanwhile, service in the borough government was volunteer and part-time. Probably the most conspicuous contribution to public welfare was rendered by the four volunteer fire companies in existence by 1860.

The movement toward anglicization also was accelerated in this period. Most notably, two English-speaking con­gregations were organized by departing members of Zion Reformed and St. Paul’s Lutheran – St. John’s Lutheran in 1855 and St. John’s Reformed in 1865. In both cases the departure took place harmoniously. Moreover, in 1852, St. Paul’s called both a German and an English pastor to minister to the congregation. Two new English denominations appeared when Allentown Baptist Church opened its doors in 1858, and Grace Episcopal Church held its first services in 1862. However, German was continued as the language of worship in Immanuel Evan­gelical Church established in 1850 and St. Peter’s Lutheran founded in 1866. The first Roman Catholic parish, Immac­ulate Conception, was founded in 1857.

According to one observer, there were six weekly and four semi-monthly journals published in Allentown in 1860. Of these, six appeared in German and four in English. Only one of the new German papers was meant for the general public, Der Welt Bote, edited by Benjamin F. Trexler. The other three German papers, among which Der Jugend Freund was the most popular, were religious in orientation and were published by the Rev. Samuel K. Brobst, a leading Lutheran clergyman. Probably the most influential of the English papers was the Allentown Demo­crat, which had been founded in 1837 as the Lehigh Bulle­tin.

The year 1858 was a significant one for public education in the community. The first public-school building was erected and Allentown High School was founded. The new building removed some students from rented rooms in which classes had been held. Within a year of founding the high school, the board ordered the separation of sexes into two schools.

Another major social institution came into existence in 1852 with the formation of the Lehigh County Agricultural Society. The purpose of this association was to improve and advance agriculture and the domestic and mechanic arts. The first agriculture fair was held that same year in temporary grounds. In the next year, a per­manent location was obtained on the northern edge of the town from Liberty to Tilghman and between Fifth and Sixth streets; in 1855 the society was incorporated. Fairs were held annually with the exception of 1862 when the grounds were occupied by militia. The fairs were financially successful, but, more importantly, they apparently satisfied important social needs in linking an urban population to its rural roots.

Although industrialization had begun, the older crafts were still practiced in Allentown in 1860. Among craftsmen at work in their shops were blacksmiths, shoemakers, watchmakers, tailors, bricklayers, wheelwrights, cabinet makers and saddlers. A flourishing retail district contained grocery stores, dry goods shops, and stores specializing in hardware, hats and caps, wines and liquors, boots and shoes, stoves and tinware, and tobacco products. Hotels, restaurants, taverns, and livery stables- provided accommo­dations for travelers. At least two photographers main­tained studios. To accommodate the growing population and expanding business district of the community, 467 buildings were constructed in 1855-58 inclusive. Optimistically the Allentown Democrat reported in 1859 that:

In spite of the financial depression that raged over the country of late, between 75 and 100 buildings will be completed during the summer, new residents are added constantly to the population, new branches of trade are opening, and former ones enlarging.

As the threatening national crisis approached in 1860, Allentown was a maturing community with resources­ – a sense of identity, a growing and resourceful population, and a broadening economic base – which would serve it well during the next four years of civil war.


Dr. Mahlon H. Hellerich is Archivist of Lehigh County, Allentown.