Bethlehem Steel Archives
Part of collection: Bethlehem Steel Corporation records (1699)
- From the Record Group: Creation: 1714-1977
Scope and Content
The records of the Bethlehem Steel Archives consist of six subseries, all of which represent synthetic collections created or assembled by the archivist.
The Vertical File is a collection of newsclippings, tear sheets, and brochures covering the history of Bethlehem Steel and its predecessors along with general historical information on various aspects of the steel and shipbuilding industries. Of particular note are ship lists for most of the Bethlehem ship yards, yard and plant histories, and articles on ships built by Bethlehem. There are broadsides for company clambakes (ca. 1910), from the 1910 Bethlehem steel strike, and work rules from Cambria Steel. Another item of note is a manuscript history of the Electric Boat Company of Bayonne, New Jersey, and Groton, Connecticut, a predecessor of General Dynamics.
The Manuscript Collection is a group of non-Bethlehem items collected by the Archives, most pertaining to the early Pennsylvania iron industry. These include journals from the New Market Forge in Lebanon County and the Warwick Furnace and Forge near Pottstown.
The most comprehensive manuscript collection is the Potts-Rutter Papers (ca. 1714-1839). These Papers are the record of five generations of one of the most successful families of ironmasters in Colonial Pennsylvania. The numerous descendants of Thomas Rutter (d. 1730) and Thomas Potts, Sr. (1660-1762) frequently intermarried and thus retained control of their business within a small family group until the decline of the charcoal iron industry in the mid-nineteenth century.
Thomas Rutter, an English blacksmith who had first settled near Germantown, established his first forge on Manatawny Creek in Berks County in 1716. Around 1720, he also constructed the Colebroo,dale Furnace on nearby Ironstone Creek. Pine Forge followed in 1725. Rutter secured the services of Thomas Potts, Sr., as ironmaster, and he had assumed the active management of the enterprises well before Rutter's death in 1730. The family alliance was cemented by the marriages of each of Potts' three sons. John (1710-1768), Thomas (1720-1762), and David (1722-1762) to Rutter's granddaughters.
Thomas Potts (1720-1762), the second son of Thomas Potts, Sr., owned shares in the Mount Pleasant Furnace and Forge on Perkiomen Creek and in the Spring Forge on Manatawny Creek.
John Potts (1710-1768) took over the leadership of the family business and greatly enlarged its scope. Thomas Potts, Jr. (1735-1785) and Thomas Rutter, III (1731-1795) handled the marketing of iron in Philadelphia. John Potts' wife, Ruth Savage, was a descendant of another pioneer ironmaster, Samuel Nutt (d. 1740). John Potts thus inherited a share in the Nutt enterprises, which included Coventry Forge (1718), the Reading Furnaces (1733 and 1736), and the Warwick Furnace (1737). All of these ironworks were located along French Creek south of the Schuylkill River. Warwick Furnace was one of the largest producers of iron in the Colonies. In the 1750s, John Potts also purchased the Mount Joy or Valley Forge (built 1742) and built the Pottsgrove Forge (1752) near the mouth of Manatawny Creek. At this last site, he laid out the town of Pottstown in 1761.
After John Potts died in 1768, the most important properties, including Warwick and Colebrookdale (now only operated for its mines), passed to his second son, Samuel (1736-1793) and his son-in-law, Thomas Rutter, III. In 1792, they added the Joanna Furnace on Hay Creek, named for Samuel's wife. Glasgow Forge, near Pottstown, was purchased from Archibald McCall in 1772. Reading Furnace was abandoned for lack of fuel, but they repurchased the property for its ore mines during the Revolutionary War, when Warwick was turning out cannon for the Continental Army.
John Potts' oldest son, Thomas, Jr. (1735-1784), operated the Coventry Forge and rebuilt the old Nutt steel furnace there, but he lived in Philadelphia where he could better attend to the merchandising side of the iron trade. With his brother, Samuel, and nephew, Nathaniel, he was the first to attempt to develop the coal deposits at the headwaters of the Schuylkill and to improve the navigation of the river. The project had made little headway when it was stopped by Thomas Potts' death. Coventry Forge and Joanna Furnace passed to his son Thomas (1777-1814), and he sold Coventry to his brother-in-law, Robert May, in 1791.
The fourth and fifth sons of John Potts, David (1741-1795), who inherited Pine Forge, and Joseph (1742-1804) who inherited Valley Forge, were also Philadelphia merchants. Pottsgrove Forge was abandoned for lack of fuel around the time of John Potts' death. Valley Forge was destroyed by a British raid in 1777, and the site was ruined for ironmaking by the subsequent American encampment. Warwick Furnace passed to Samuel's oldest son, David (d. 1834), and finally closed in 1867. David also built the Vincent Slitting Mill on French Creek in 1793, and with his brothers, John (1760-1809) and Thomas (d. 1823), he organized and operated the Pennsylvania Copper Mine Company. The latter venture was not successful and closed in 1804. Glasgow Forge passed to Samuel's youngest son, Joseph (1766-1824), and was in operation until 1847. Pine Forge was inherited by Thomas Rutter III's son, David (1766-1817), who married a niece of Samuel Potts. It remained in the Rutter family until 1843.
The Potts-Rutter Papers are typical of eighteenth-century business papers, in that they consist primarily of deeds, agreements, account books, inventories, and estate papers.
Among the most interesting pieces are records of Pine Forge during the Revolutionary War. Time books and production records include lists of workers, tasks assigned, and time taken. The work described includes ancillary activities like haymaking and slaughtering animals, and there are notes on local events and incidents of drunkenness. Some of the workers were black slaves. Other fragmentary records are available for Reading Furnace, Warwick Furnace, Glasgow Forge, and Colebrookdale Furnace, primarily containing information on production and sales. There is also the ground plan of a slitting mill, presumably the one built by David Potts on French Creek in 1793, and a few papers relating to the Pennsylvania Copper Mine Company.
Several letters to Joseph Potts from his distant cousin James May describe a visit to Italy in the late 1830s.
The third and fourth Archives series are copies of naval vessel histories prepared by the Naval History Division of the Office of Chief of Naval Operations. These were developed for public-relations purposes during World War II and generally elaborate on the combat records of the individual vessels. The histories have been divided into Bethlehem and non-Bethlehem ships, and are arranged in alphabetical order. The class number, indicating vessel type, is also given.
The Vessel Files consist of research files and notes compiled by the archivist on various Bethlehem-built vessels. They consist of data entry sheets and occasional tear sheets and clippings. There also are printed brochures on the INDEPENDENCE and the CONSTITUTION, the JOHNSTOWN and the VENORE, and some drawings for the GOVERNOR COBB.
The last series consists of the internal correspondence of the Archives dealing primarily with collection development and accessioning.
From the Record Group: 75 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
From the Collection: English
This collection is open for research.
- Rutter family (Family)
- From the Collection: Bethlehem Steel Corporation (Organization)