The William B. Pollock Company: Advancements in the Art of Iron and Steel

 

The William B. Pollock Company: Advancements in the Art of Iron and Steel

By Kayla Metzger and John Liana, PhD

Over a span of 120 years (1863-1983), the William B. Pollock Company of Youngstown, Ohio earned a reputation for its innovative design and reconstruction of blast furnaces, ladles, and rail cars, its advancement over economic and industrial challenges over time, and its dedication to maintaining a high standard of excellence as a global supplier of steel products.

Pollock in the Mahoning Valley
(William B. Pollock Company, 1939)
In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, the Mahoning Boiler Works was established in the Mahoning Valley by founder William Browning Pollock. Later renamed the William B. Pollock Company, the establishment occupied a niche in the capital-goods marketplace as a supplier of specialized equipment to increase the efficiency of smelting and intra-plant transportation of molten steel and byproducts in various stages of the steel production process. The first plant was constructed on Basin Street in downtown Youngstown, along the Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal which opened for operation in 1840. The growth of the company elicited several moves as it approached the turn of the century: First to the corner of Market and Front Streets in 1881, followed by a move east in 1901 to its final home on what would become Andrews Avenue.

William B. Pollock Company main office on Market Street, ca. 1902
(William B. Pollock Company, 1939)

The Pollock Company prospered under continuous family management as William Pollock was succeeded by his son, Porter Pollock in 1911 and grandson, William B. Pollock II in 1931, who continued the legacy of innovation in the iron and steel industry by navigating through economic turns, changing business conditions, and industry demands over the twentieth century. The Pollocks established their name in the Mahoning Valley community, supporting local charities like the Community Corporation and endowing their own charitable foundations: The William B. Pollock II & Kathryn Challis Pollock Foundation and the William B. Pollock Company Foundation. Porter Pollock married Mary Wick, a member of one of Youngstown’s founding families, in 1897 and resided on Youngstown’s “Millionaire’s Row” along Wick Avenue. The home was designed by noted Youngstown architect Charles Owsley and constructed in 1893 for Margaret Wick, widow of Paul Wick. Owsley enlarged the original mansion to accommodate the newlyweds, whom resided there until 1949 when Mary Wick Pollock passed away. The home was then donated to Youngstown State University by the Pollock family in 1950.

Innovation and Evolution in Manufacturing
Pollock earned a reputation as an innovative pioneer in the iron and steel industry in part by its redesign and reconstruction of blast furnaces, replacing old stone stack furnaces with large iron plate furnaces to increase capacity, efficiency, and output. A blast furnace produces pig iron from iron ore for subsequent processing into steel, and its name comes from the “blast” of hot air blown into the lower part of the furnace at a temperature as high as 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. The Pollock Company engineered their first iron plate blast furnace for Youngstown’s Himrod Furnace Company in 1887, and subsequently built an additional 74 iron plate furnaces for global use within its first 75 years. The company also played a role in rebuilding and remodeling existing blast furnaces to create capacity and output improvements, and tackled a staggering 450 furnaces by 1938, when it took over the remodel of the Trumbull Cliffs Furnace of Republic Steel Corporation. This rebuild resulted in the largest blast furnace in the world, breaking a world record in 1943 at the height of World War II for iron produced within a 24-hour period.

Republic Steel Corporation’s Trumbull Cliffs Furnace (YHCIL Collections)

The company was also recognized for its innovative solutions to challenges in the transportation of molten steel to its destination at the steel works; it was much more efficient to keep metal in a molten state rather than allowing it to cool off, necessitating re-smelting at the steel plant once it arrived from the cast house. One such innovation was the hot metal ladle car, first conceptualized in 1892 through a series of design changes to rail car patents purchased by the Pollock Company. Pollock used the patents to modify the type and capacity of ladles and rail cars as well as the mechanisms by which their contents were dumped. There are several types of transfer cars that vary by their function and mechanism of discharging their contents. Some rail cars carried open-top ladles which were tilted by chain hoists from overhead cranes, as illustrated by W.W. McKelvey’s 1911 patent, pictured below. “Kling” and “short pour” style cars were covered to retain heat, and were typically discharged by steam from a locomotive or by electricity from a diesel engine. Pollock also engineered mixer-type cars such as the “Pugh bottle car” and “torpedo car” that enabled iron to be poured directly into the car and made mixing and transportation operations simultaneous.
1911-Hot-Metal-Car-page-001.jpgHot metal ladle car 1911 patent (YHCIL Collections)

Hot metal ladle car manufactured by the Pollock Company, ca. 1910s (YHCIL Collections)

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, with the increasing integration of iron-making and steel production, the Pollock Company worked to find solutions to handling the large quantities of molten slag byproduct. In 1899, Pollock introduced its first cinder car to transport slag from the blast furnaces, open hearths, and Bessemer converters. Long trains of cinder cars became common at plants as they transferred the ever-increasing amount of byproduct from the steel works to the slag dumps.

Pollock employee standing by a manually-operated cinder car, ca. 1910s (YHCIL Collections)

The End of an Era
By the 1970s the large steel mills, which Pollock had supplied for over a century, were losing domestic market share to imports and mini-mills. A wave of steel mill closings began taking effect across the Mahoning Valley, starting with what became known as “Black Monday” on September 19, 1977, when it was announced that a large portion of the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company would close. This announcement elicited a ripple effect in the area, impacting ancillary industries like the William B. Pollock Company, which merged with GATX (a transportation conglomerate) in 1969 and shipped its final product at the end of 1983.

The Pollock family and their company legacy are showcased in the upcoming exhibition, The William B. Pollock Company: Advancements in the Art of Iron and Steel, opening soon at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor in the Bitonte Family Welcome Lobby. This exhibition was made possible through the generosity of the William B. Pollock Company Foundation and Roberta Hannay. A virtual component will accompany the physical exhibit and can be found along with opening information at www.youngstownohiosteelmuseum.org.

Posted July 6, 2021
Topics: Industry & LaborTransportation

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