Norway Iron and Steel: An Experiment that Failed
In 1894 William S. Patterson took his plans for a rolling mill to the Guelph Board of Trade. The following year, several of Guelph’s astute business entrepreneurs got together to form a new company. This was Guelph Norway Iron and Steel. The stated intent was:
"To manufacture iron and steel from ores and from scrap iron and scrap steel and to manufacture iron and steel into any products of iron and steel and to deal in and sell the same and to acquire land and erect buildings for the purposes thereof and to make all necessary and proper contracts with persons or corporations in connection therewith."
The first Board of Directors – a directorate of men of wealth, enterprise and energy,” consisted of several investors including:
- Christian Kloepfer
- F. Dowler
- A. R. Woodyatt
- J. E. McElderry
Of them all, Augustus R. Woodyatt had the most experience in the metal industries, although Kloepfer engaged in the manufacture of carriages.
By March 30 – except for around $5,000, all the stock for the company has been subscribed therefore allowing for the construction of the building on leased Forbes property. Norway Iron & Steel had obtained a ten-year lease with an option to purchase it. They were also to lease the old Allan’s Mills Offices a year later.
Construction began in July 1895 on Duke Street near the CPR tracks between Lane (Alice) and Clark streets on four acres of land. It did not begin fortuitously. On July 20, high winds blew down the recently constructed structures. Three people were “seriously injured.” They were:
- Wm Tuck (Arthur) – concussion
- Joseph Donahy (Guelph) – scalp wound and badly shaken
- David Nelson (Guelph) - cut up
It took until September 4, before the facilities were completed. The Guelph Mercury described it as an “expansive building in what was heretofore a goose pasture.” The article continues to describe in detail this “industry that bids fair to be soon one of the most important and prosperous in the bustling city of Guelph.”
The building was 100’ by 128’. The machinery was stated as being among the most modern in Canada. It consisted of the following pieces of equipment – listed in the order in which they were used and compiled from the Guelph Mercury and Metal and Hardware Articles of 1896:
• Cutter: Capable of severing steel 4.5” square
• Double muck bar shear: It chopped metal into small hand-sized pieces
• Furnace: small metal pieces were thrown in to be “knobbled” or mixed with charcoal, etc.
• “Carriage” or truck: Red hot metal is placed on it and carried a short distance
• Drop hammer: could unleash 15-ton weight. It pounded the metal into a block “generally a rough, oblong shape” around 5” thick
• Tongs: These pick up the red-hot steel and, using a chain pulley system, slide it across to the next stage
• Roughening Rollers: The first set of rollers take the semi-molten metal and roll it between them like a close ringer. These “succession of rolls, each lengthening and thinning it till it emerges a heavy, round bar, about 6 feet long and 2 ½ or 3 inches thick.” These produce iron stock
• Cutter: The stock is cut into convenient lengths e.g., 2” for creating billets
• Lauth Furnace: It can manage up to 15 tons of metal per day. It produces even heat and results in little wastage. It is identical to the one employed by the Krupp gun works in Germany
• Rolls: The removed metal is placed, white hot, into rolls to produce round or flat; wide or narrow metal
Other equipment includes:
- Boilers: 1 Cahall boiler from the US, 2 Goldie & McCulloch boilers. The Cahall boiler looked like a gigantic brick chimney. It used all the heat produced by the Lauth furnace to generate steam for driving the machinery.
- Engine: One Killey & Becket compound engine with a capacity of 350 hp made in Hamilton and one made by the Copp Bros., Hamilton with 100 hp
According to The Iron Age, “The plant was to a large extent imported when prices were low from the United States.”
Working at Norway Iron and Steel
The Rolling Mills never employed more than 60 employees at one time. They were a mixture of Guelphites (35) and skilled men from America and elsewhere. Some, such as Mr. Barrett, an American who attended the furnace, had 40 years of experience. James Taylor, the foreman, had worked with GWR as well as C. Kloepfer. He is described as “an expert judge of the different types of iron.” W. S. Patterson, the company’s mechanical engineer, “a man who is second to none in his chosen vocation in the Dominion,” had 28 years of experience – initially with the Eureka Iron & Steel Co, Wyandotte, MI and later with the Illinois Michigan Steel Co. W. J. Scott had the difficult task of attending to the Lauth furnace.
The work was difficult, dirty and dangerous. Workers perspired so much that “little rivulets trickling down their faces and partially obliterating grime and dust, giving them a rather grotesque appearance.” According to one Mercury reporter, the “fierce white heat from the furnace… brings up visions of Dante’s Inferno.”
The pay for skilled workers, however, was said to be good. It would depend on what was considered or defined as “good.” Of course, this description did not consider the risks workers risked.
Several accidents occurred between when the Mills first opened and when it shut its doors for good. The first ones occurred in February 1896. William Sallows had the second finger of his right hand crushed by the big shear. Later that month, the same happened to Mr. Lehman.
In the following month, two accidents also occurred. J. Cook fell into an ash pit. He dislocated his shoulder. The second one that month happened around March 10 to Maurice O’Brien. His hand was caught by a roll of iron. It was mangled. The local newspaper cheerfully commented that he was up and about by March 30.
One was in October 1896. Mike Dobroskie was working with the iron shears when a piece of metal flew up and broke his jaw. The last accidents happened early the following year in February. On February 12, Peter Carpenter had his fingers crushed by steam honners. A day later, Thomas Hemmings suffered injuries when a piece of iron struck his ankle.
Founders and Management
As to be expected, the major founders and stockholders did not work in the Rolling Mills except in a supervisory position. In December 1895, the officers of the company were:
- James Watt, president
- J. E. McElderry, vice-president
- James Naismith, secretary and treasurer
- J. S. Patterson, mechanical superintendent
Kloepfer and Woodyatt were joined on the Board by Frank Dowler. The general manager of the plant was Patterson (The initials J. S. or W. S. are used in the paper and trade journals), although James Taylor was the foreman. Thomas D. Beddoe, the former superintendent of the Calumet lron & Steel Company of Chicago, was the sales agent.
Trouble at the Rolling Mill
Business for this new and innovative company varied throughout its stay in Guelph. After opening in late 1895, the business was receiving orders for several carloads in January. This euphoric start ended in May when it was forced to shut down. It reopened but was in dire need of capital. The General Meeting of the directors in July cited a “general depression” as the reason behind its deficient performance. The poor economic conditions were responsible for the low demand for the product and resulted in too much stock on the premises.
To counteract this problem, it was decided to address the situation by selling more stock. Shortly after this decision, it began “to issue $25,000 of first preference stock, the company to guarantee six per cent, interest thereon.” The preferential stock was taken up. The Rolling Mills was once again up and running. By September 1896, the company was running “full blast” with a “large number of orders ahead
Yet, this influx of cash and even orders was not to last. The company was unable to convert this into a sustained, successful operation. In June 1897, Norway Iron and Steel shut down for inventory. On August 6, the plant was in liquidation
The Legacy of the Norway Iron and Steel Company
For the stockholders, the death of the Rolling Mills meant losing everything. The creditors received only eighty-five cents on the dollar. At the time, many prominent Guelphites were stockholders including:
- Thomas Holiday
- M. W. Burr
- W. Kelly
- J. C. Keleher
- John Kennedy
- R. Stewart
- T. P. Coffee
- John Mitchell
- John McAteer
- T. H. Gemmell
- D. Tolton
The property was sold for only $9,700 to a former member of the company – John Taylor. He would later join forces with his brothers to take over Woodyatt’s, becoming a founding member of Taylor-Forbes.
The company was renamed the Guelph Rolling Mills. Under the direction of Mr. John White (although, C. Kloepfer was still involved at some level), it began producing the same product. In 1900, the wages of employees were cut by 12% as prices in the iron market had decreased. Whether the company reversed the decision in 1901 is unknown. At that time, the company received increased orders and expanded the plant. Additions were also made, and the older furnaces were replaced by new ones in January. By March, the company was running day-and-night shifts with plenty of orders in hand.
However, in 1902, plans once again changed. The Guelph Rolling Mills, now owned by the London Rolling Mills Company was removing to London. In August of that year, around a dozen men were taking out the machinery and dismantling the building when it caught fire. One of its three smokestacks fell and the roof caved in. This was a grave misfortune for the London Rolling Mills Company. It had allowed the insurance policy to lapse on the building 2 months ago. They had to absorb the total loss. By then, Kloepfer and other local stockholders had already withdrawn from the company.
In 1913, the R. Laidlaw Lumber Co., of Toronto, built a branch planing mill and sash and door factory on the site. It became the Guelph Lumber Mill which, in turn, was taken over by Beaver Lumber and moved