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Ferracute Machine Company records

Creation: 1863-1982 Creation: Majority of material found within 1937-1963
Accession: 1928


The Ferracute Machine Company of Bridgeton, New Jersey was a press and die business founded by Oberlin Smith (1840-1926), inventor, writer, manufacturer in 1863. The collection consists of materials assembled by Arthur J. Cox for the preparation of the company history, Ferracute: The History of an American Enterprise (1985). This collection has been arranged into seventeen series: Administration; Advertising; Employees; History; Machine tools; Military work; Unions; Patents; Press work; Frederick A. Parkhurst (FAP) Time Studies; Miscellany; Scrapbooks; Drawings; Orders; Payrolls; Press cards; and Account books.


  • Creation: 1863-1982
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1937-1963



5 Linear Feet

Physical Description

5 linear feet, 84 microfilm reels

Historical Note

The Ferracute Machine Company of Bridgeton, New Jersey was a press and die business founded by Oberlin Smith (1840-1926), inventor, writer, manufacturer in 1863. Smith studied engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of Philadelphia planning a career in this field. In 1863 he opened an ironwork shop at North Laurel Street in Bridgeton at which he did steamfitting, plumbing and architectural ironwork plus general jobbing and repair. Smith eventually began to make foot presses for the canning industry, foreseeing a need there he could fill. Smith took a partner, J. Burkitt Webb (1841-1912), on January 1, 1864, and the firm became known as Smith & Webb. Five years later Webb left to become a professor, so their partnership was dissolved. By 1873 three significant events occurred: Smith's brother, Frederick F. Smith (1849-1928), became a partner; Smith sold the Laurel Street property and bought an abandoned brick yard on Commerce Street adjoining East Lake in Bridgeton to concentrate on the press business; and Smith adopted the adjective "Ferracute," an Italian word meaning 'sharp iron', to become part of the firm name. Ferracute Machine Co. was incorporated in January 1877. Smith served as President and Mechanical Engineer; Fred Smith as Secretary and Treasurer.

During the 1870s Ferracute developed a growing number of customers as it began diversifying the types of presses offered. Ferracute continued developing press equipment for canneries, and by 1891 offered a full line of equipment for setting up a cannery. Treadles on presses were replaced by power attachments at Ferracute, although treadle presses continued to be made and sold until the late 1920s. Ferracute introduced its first open-back inclinable press in 1872 to meet the demand for greater productivity. In 1877 Oberlin Smith patented the double-action press for the tinsmith trade. Ferracute was invited to exhibit at the Centennial Exposition in 1876. A University of Pennsylvania graduate and Bridgeton resident, P. Kennedy Reeves (1854-1942), ran Ferracute's booth, and later became employed by Ferracute.

Ferracute's marketing practices involved no distributors; Ferracute sold directly to companies. Two substantial buyers of Ferracute presses, U.S. Stamping Co. in Connecticut and West Penn Tinware Co. of Pittsburgh, began their long associations with Ferracute in the 1870s. Ferracute first began selling its presses abroad in 1876. Ferracute also sold presses to companies in Canada and as far away as Australia and Japan. The beginning of the next decade Ferracute employed sixty men at a monthly payroll of $3,000.

The 1880s were marked by a concerted effort on Oberlin Smith's part to stimulate sales, and changes in marketing practices resulted. Smith began making annual sales trips to European factories. Marketing forms were printed in French and German to expedite sales. Domestic marketing included form letters to prospective buyers including new patent holders, and follow-up letters to established customers as well as to those who received Ferracute's catalogs. Ferracute also began actively seeking dealers. Between 1885 and 1931 Ferracute shipped out no fewer than 150 presses a year.

Ferracute developed presses to meet changing technologies, industrial needs, and fads. Between 1870 and 1902 the canning industry gave Ferracute its most substantial domestic business. In 1902 Ferracute sold its rights to manufacture and sell canning presses to the American Can Co., who with the Continental Can Co. established a monopoly dismantled by a U.S. Court decision in 1950.

In 1887 Ferracute began supplying electric companies with presses and dies. The use of electric power in factories was becoming more widely used. Ferracute, in turn, offered presses fitted for electric motors. Ferracute's biggest customer, the automobile industry, would bring Ferracute into the twentieth century.

To end the nineteenth century and begin the twentieth, Ferracute displayed its wares at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, the Paris Exposition in 1900 and the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901. Ferracute presses also traveled to China. Henry A. Janvier (1861-1952), a Ferracute engineer, was the company's representative to China to install coin minting machines in 1898. Janiver's papers recording this trip can be found in Accession 1925.

To begin the new century the Ferracute plant at East Commerce Street was destroyed by fire, but was rebuilt the following year in 1904. Oberlin Smith expanded his estate, and had a twenty-two room mansion named Lochwold built in proximity to the plant. Smith also became fascinated with Frederick W. Taylor's (1856-1915) scientific management, and invited a Taylor disciple, Frederick Parkhurst (1877-1959), to implement scientific management at Ferracute. Parkhurst's studies and improvements at Ferracute led to a 300 page case history, Applied Methods of Scientific Management. Ferracute adopted Parkhurst's efficiency methods. Bonuses were part of it.

One press Ferracute developed before it began its association with the automobile industry was a metal casket press. Few buyers responded. The metal caskets which were manufactured were used during World War I for shipping loaded shells and other ammunition.

Oberlin Smith was pessimistic about the use of stamped metal parts in the automobile industry. The John R. Keim Company of Buffalo, New York, an independent metal stamper who switched from bicycles to automobiles, changed the need in favor of metal stampings for cars. Keim experimented using its bicycle presses for stamping auto parts, but those presses were too weak. Keim ordered a press from Ferracute in 1905, and by 1906 was making sample parts to show auto makers. Ford became an important Keim customer, and in 1911 Ford purchased Keim. By 1912 Ford had become a strong Ferracute customer, following the leads of other car manufacturers such as Pierce Motor Co., Packard, Cadillac and Chrysler.

World War I resulted in such an increase of press and die orders for Ferracute, that Ferracute had to contract out some of the work in order to meet the demand. William Cramp & Son of Philadelphia is an example of this practice; they help Ferracute fill the press orders from Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1915. Export sales jumped. Fenwick Frères in France, munitions plants in England, and Canadian companies supplying military equipment, such as Montreal Ammunition Company, to the war effort all purchased from Ferracute. Besides this activity, Ford bought nearly 500 presses between 1914 and 1917 to advance its assembly line process at the Ford plants established across the United States. Ford also switched from wood to steel for its dashboard. By 1927 Ford's orders declined because its competitor, General Motors, was offering financed purchasing and body style changes and colors.

Oberlin Smith died in 1926. His son, Percival Hill Smith (1880-1958), became President and Henry A. Janvier (1861-1952), Vice President. The 1930s were a turning point for Ferracute. Because of the Depression Ferracute went into decline, a decline from which it never fully recovered. Oberlin Smith's mansion burned to the ground in 1934, and the bulk of his personal papers were lost. That same year Ferracute went into receivership proceedings. George E. Bass (1904-1984), an engineer by trade who worked briefly in France for Commonwealth Steel, purchased Ferracute for $180,000 on June 28, 1937. Bass became the new President, Janvier still Vice President, Philip Meyers (1880-1979) secretary and superintendant, and Lather Meyers, treasurer and general manager. Bass' wife, Medora H. Steedman (1909-1987) and Barton F. Sharp (1866-1946), who served as receiver during receivership, were on the Board of Directors.

Under Bass, Ferracute modernized. Bass had locks installed on the doors, and a fence around the firm complex. New tools and machinery replaced the turn of the century ones. Bass switched to purchasing electricity instead of generating it on site. To make Ferracute presses competitive they had to be redesigned: streamlined, lighter and quieter. Bass set up a network of exclusive distributorships because Ferracute distributors were double dealing. Under Bass' strategy, the distributor could not handle competitive presses in exchange for the right to sell Ferracute presses. Ferracute was the largest U.S. press builder to use distributors instead of an in-house sales force, and distributors were used up until Ferracute was sold in 1968.

Bass started a series of periodical newsletters called "The Ferracute Field". It was an advertising tool as well as a how-to guide. Ferracute participated in the 1939 New York World's Fair, and the 1939 issue of "The Ferracute Field" reports on their display. A new high speed press called the Super Speed was introduced at the Fair, the production of which ended after World War II. The F press brake was also added to the Ferracute line in 1939.

With the coming of World War II, Ferracute began its association with the Franklin Arsenal, which became Ferracute's biggest domestic customer. The Arsenal was involved in cartridge case and mortar shell manufacture. The British Purchasing Commission was Ferracute's substantial European wartime customer.

The work force at Ferracute increased during World War II to handle the orders for small arms ammunition machinery presses and other work. Previously employees joined the work force for life. The men were highly skilled, and could and were expected to operate any machine in the plant in an emergency. The apprenticeship program promoted by Oberlin Smith gave way to more formal training with the influx of wartime employees. The Parkhurst system was updated in order to train these new employees fast. The job of assembling a press was broken down into components. These segments of the job, in turn, were taught to the new workers. The new employees were also paid while they trained. Ferracute was the first company in New Jersey to set up this approach to training new workers. In fact, it worked so well that these trainees eventually left for better paying jobs. This training program was dropped after the war.

A wartime employee magazine, The Ferracute Home Front, ran from August 5, 1942 to December 8, 1943. Ferracute employees also formed an independent union, which management recognized on August 2, 1942. This union dissolved after the war. Ferracute opened an employees club, added a parking lot and cafeteria, and hired a company nurse. Female employees were placed in such company occupations as security guards, labor negotiators, and skilled press workers.

The bulk of the orders were for small arms production machinery. Ferracute subcontracted work to small machine shops soon after Pearl Harbor. Ferracute's business was not restricted to small arms equipment, however. The Soviet Union ordered 147 presses, eight of which were the largest Ferracute ever built: 2500 ton top toggle embossing presses. Packard, Continental Motors, and the U.S. Navy also continued to order from Ferracute.

Soldiers returning from the war claimed the old jobs they left at Ferracute displacing wartime employees. The work force joined a local union, Local 134 of the United Electrical and Radio Workers Union, and went on strike in 1947. The union went on strike again in 1953; this was the first authorized strike. Ferracute began producing non-metal forming machines, called 'ironers', and tile pressing presses after the war. Ferracute also introduced its "Thirty" series of C (cutting) presses, which was designed for punching at a greater rate than the P (punching) presses. Even with shown innovation in its press work, and acceptance into the National Machine Tool Builders Association, competition with E. W. Bliss Corporation caused Ferracute to lose business. On May 27, 1968 the last shipment of Ferracute presses to the Utica Tool Co. went out. Ferracute was sold to the Fulton Iron Works of St. Louis within the year.


This collection was in no specific order when it arrived, so a system was imposed. Since no records by department existed, a subject listing was established.

Scope and Content

The collection consists of materials assembled by Arthur J. Cox for the preparation of the company history, Ferracute: The History of an American Enterprise (1985).

This collection has been arranged into seventeen series: Administration; Advertising; Employees; History; Machine tools; Military work; Unions; Patents; Press work; Frederick A. Parkhurst (FAP) Time Studies; Miscellany; Scrapbooks; Drawings; Orders; Payrolls; Press cards; and Account books.

Administration series includes samples of executive correspondence, a report on operations, organization charts and lists of Ferracute distributors.

Advertising series Includes drafts of advertisements; press clippings; a company publication, Ferracute Field (1939-1940); and press views for Ferracute ads.

Employees series includes material relating to the improved training system introduced by Bass after 1937, as well as apprenticeship agreements, employee's handbooks, and an issue of an employee magazine, Home Front (1945). Also inclued are news clippings about employees, particularly Vice President Henry A. Janvier.

History series consists mainly of newspaper clippings and photocopies of articles about Ferracute and its founder Oberlin Smith. Also included is a small sample of personal material from George Bass, as well as sketches and schedules of the plant and buildings.

Machine tools series contains schedules of the plant and buildings and machine tools used in the plant.

Military work series documents Ferracute's effort during World War II, particularly its relationship with the Frankford Arsenal, plus a few letters relating to sales to Russia through the Amtorg Trading Corporation.

Cartridge Manufacturing subseries consists of correspondence, sketches, drawings, blueprints, instructions, magazine articles, advertisements, and press views. The Franklin Arsenal records document the Arsenal's association with Ferracute in the Arsenal's production of small arms and ammunition.

Franklink Arsenal subseries consists of correspondence, sketches, patents, orders, advertisements, and magazine articles. Letters of Ferracute distributor, Motch & Merryweather, are included here (and also in the Administration files).

Unions series includes contracts and seniority lists.

Patents series consists primarily of patents for press machinery, as well as some of Oberlin Smith's other patents for such devices as an automatic egg boiler and a drink mixer.

Press work series consists of press work and includes a small amount of customer correspondence, a sample of orders, catalogues, manuals, and numerous sketches and drawings of presses and their products.

Press Work material continues into a third box. Over 100 Press Work blueprints no larger than 11" × 14" are found here.

These blueprints, as well as the oversize ones, are listed by number, product and customer (if there is one). Customers include: Dodge Manufacturing Co., I. D. Watch Case Co., L. A. Young & W Co., Lanston Monto Machine Co., Manzel Bros. Co., and the US Navy for the Mark 9 cutters. The more than 150 oversize blueprints and drawings are listed at the end of the inventory, although they represent an integral part of Press Work. The number very often has a letter in front, such as E6060; these letters indicate size: A, smallest of this group (but larger than 11 × 14) to X, one of the largest. Customers include ones listed earlier plus: Chrysler Corp., General Electric, Reeves Pulley Co., Twin Disc Clutch Co., US Ordnance Dept., US War Dept., and The White Co. A few blueprints of the Ferracute site, 1918-1968, and blueprints done for Ferracute, are also here. Companies which provided blueprints are: Alfred Herbert (India) Ltd., The Clark Controller Co., Clearing Machine Corp., Crocker-Wheeler-Electric Mfg. Co., Dynamtic Corp., General Electric, Gilbert & Baker Mfg. Co., Hanna Engineering Works, F. J. Littell Machine Co., and Marquette Tool & Mfg. Co. Frederick A. Parkhurst (FAP) Time Studies series includes documenation of the work Parkhurst was invited to perform at Ferracute in 1907, because of Oberlin Smith's interest in Scientific Management. Frederick A. Parkhurst (FAP) Time Studies document Parkhurst's activities at Ferracute. Parkhurst's time studies are detailed in eight (8) small volumes dating 1909-1913, mostly of press assemblage. Three time study manuals complement these studies: an incentive policy manual, 1948; a manual for the Foreman of the Boring Mills and Planers, 1948; a manual for the Foreman of the Store Room, 1948. Time study miscellany consists mostly of blank sample forms such as: drawing index cards; instruction forms; "Order-of-work, Clerk's record of job" forms; time study forms; and travel forms. Various charts are also here: bonus chart; charts of "thousandths of an hour or minute"; clearance and tolerance table; elemental time sheet for cutting gears on 8M; erection chart; and rules for gearing. Three remaining items in this group are: a photocopy of a section of Parkhurst's "Symbolic Nomenclature"; Ferracute Factory Chief's record for 1914; and Sketches of various sizes of straddle tools.

Drawings series are of presses, such as a can forming machine for a Robert Harper in Australia. Most of them are for house or office fixtures such as verandahs, doors, railings, furniture; or for small structures such as a barn for Oberlin Smith. Some are of Ferracute machine shops and plant site. Miscellaneous ones include a Float for Labor Day Parade (1914); Columbian Fair Exhibit and Centennial Exhibit; and Ferracute real estate. A Ferracute Drawings ledger (photocopied pages) lists drawings 1-13,000.

Copyright Notice

Copyright restrictions may apply.

Microfilm is usable but alot of it is dirty and stained. Sections of unspecified film is boxed with the labeled film. The film may be recopied eventually, but no time-frame has been set.

Related Material

Henry A. Janvier papers (Accession 1925), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library

Cox & Sons Co. records (MC 899), Rutgers University Library, Special Collections, New Brunswick, N.J.

Language of Materials


Additional Description


Purchase from Arthur J. Cox

Separated Material

Ferracute Machine Company photographs (Accession 1987.244), Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library

Publications were transferred to the Published Collections Department.

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Ferracute Machine Company records
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
Script of description:

Revision Statements

  • 2022: Laurie Sather

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA