The American Car & Ship Hardware Manufacturing Company, which made metal alloy (brass and bronze) fittings for trains, trolleys, and ships, was organized by the wealthy limestone baron George W. Johnson in New Castle, Pennsylvania, in 1901. The one-room factory had fifty employees and was located south of Croton Avenue on South Mill Street – at the intersection with Mechanic Street. In 1912 a rising executive with the company named Patrick “P. J.” Flaherty returned from a business trip to Muncie, Indiana, with an idea to mass produce parts primarily for the automobile industry. When he returned home the company soon switched its production line and began making bronze bushings and bearings for automobiles, aircraft, ships, and other machines. The firm was guided by George W. Johnson’s son Charles H. Johnson, who served as President until his untimely death in late 1918. The elderly George W. Johnson took over as President until he passed away in October 1919.
In January 1916 the company changed its name to the Johnson Bronze Company to better reflect its new mission. During 1916-1917 the company underwent a major expansion of its facilities along South Mill Street. This effort was just in time as during the Great War (World War I) the plant manufactured various bronze fittings for the U. S. military. In early 1918, with dozens of its skilled male employees serving off to war, the company began hiring woman to work in its machine shops. At the time the Johnson Bronze Company, under general manager (and soon-to-be President) P. J. Flaherty, had 500 employees and was one of New Castle’s biggest manufacturers.
Success continued during the postwar period as the company underwent major expansion efforts throughout the 1920’s. An editorial in the New Castle News of May 10, 1929, had this to say, “Every time I go down around the Johnson Bronze Company it seems as though they have added a new building. No sooner is one building completed than there is another one springing up, like mushrooms.”
It was also in January 1928 that P. J. Flaherty, who had been running the profitable company for over a decade, acquired a controlling interest and became the principal owner of Johnson Bronze. The enterprising Flaherty was born in Ireland in 1879, came to Massachusetts as a young boy, later made his way to Pittsburgh, found employment with the Pennsylvania Railroad Company (PRR), and joined Johnson Bronze as an accountant in c1909. Buoyed by a strong work ethic Flaherty went on became one of New Castle’s most influential industrialists, served on the board of directors for several local corporations, and supported various humanitarian causes throughout the city.
Flaherty expertly guided the company through the tough times of the Great Depression and into the 1940’s, when once again the company began manufacturing products to support the massive military effort during World War II. During 1944 two ironworks plants in Somerville, New Jersey, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, which Flaherty had previous involvement, came under official control of Johnson Bronze. Flaherty also reduced his role with the company, stepping down as President and becoming Chairman of the Board of Trustees. He was succeeded as President by the oldest of his three sons, J. Preston Flaherty. Within a few years the company lost its longtime patriarch as the elderly P. J. Flaherty passed away at the age of seventy in February 1948. One of his last endeavors was to see the June 1947 dedication of P. J. Flaherty Field, a baseball field complex built on a 45-acre lot of property donated to the city by Johnson Bronze.
By the late 1940’s the company had about thirty warehouses/sales offices throughout the country with over 1,500 total employees. In early 1951 the company expanded in New Castle once again by purchasing an old machine shop facility (two buildings on six acres) along Mahoning Avenue in Mahoningtown, where a new process for making machined bronze bars got underway in January 1952. In May 1955 J. Preston Flaherty ascended to the position of Chairman of the Board and his younger brother Edward M. Flaherty, a highly educated lawyer and longtime executive with the company, took over as President. Another brother named Joseph F. Flaherty was also representing Johnson Bronze out of its office in Detroit, Michigan – where he had direct liaison with the automobile industry.
The company continued to thrive and opened a modern Research Lab on South Mill Street in early 1959 and established a subsidiary in Salem, Indiana, known as Ferraloy Corporation in 1960. They also opened two international subsidiaries in South America known as Johnson Bronze de Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Sintermetal S. A. in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and had an interest in Nagato Metals in Tokyo, Japan.
An article in the New Castle News of January 26, 1965, best describes the company’s product line, “The Johnson Bronze Co. prides itself on being able to a make a bearing for any moving part. In fact, there is no other single sleeve bearing manufacturer in the entire world which manufactures as complete a line of sleeve bearings, bushings and bearing materials as does Johnson Bronze.” The outfit sold fittings to an endless list of major players such as the Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Chrysler Corporation, Mack Trucks, John Deere, Caterpillar Tractor, International Harvester, General Electric, and the Westinghouse Electric.
In the late 1960’s the company, which had experienced significant growth throughout its existence, began facing some internal and economic difficulties. The employees went out on strike in September 1967, but returned to work seven weeks later with better pay and increased benefits. In January 1968 the Chairman of the Board, J. Preston Flaherty, passed away at the age of sixty-three. In September 1968, after decades of Flaherty family ownership, the Johnson Bronze Company and its associated firms were sold to Waltham Precision Instruments Inc. of Massachusetts. Charles H. Schubert was brought in from Connecticut to serve as the new President. Edward Flaherty stayed on as the new Chairman of the Board until stepping down two years later. Unfortunately, he also passed away at the young age of sixty in June 1972. All the goodwill that the Flaherty family had built up with in the preceding years would be lost in the coming two decades.
Johnson Bronze, with over 500 employees in New Castle, continued in operation under new ownership but faced increasingly problematic labor issues during the 1970’s. Another strike commenced in September 1976 and shut down production for over four months. The company began threatening to close the plant and announced in September 1977 – the same month that Youngstown Sheet & Tube abruptly shut down in nearby Ohio – that it would be relocating some of its local operations to a newly acquired site in Summerville, South Carolina. The move began in April 1978 and cost 150 employees in New Castle their jobs.
In August 1980 the Johnson Bronze Company filed for federal bankruptcy protection. The company shuttered its New Castle and South Carolina plants in January 1981 and the remaining 300 or so employees in New Castle were laid off. Johnson Bronze’s proud history as an industrial giant in New Castle came to an end after eighty years.
In late October 1981 a four-day auction was held to sell off the contents of the plant. The 13.87-acre property, a few of which were previously owned by CSX railroad, was soon put up for sale. In January 1982 the federal bankruptcy court accepted the bid of $300,000 from Robert A. Frank. Frank soon transferred ownership to the Bertin Realty Company, owned by himself and Bernard W. D’Ambrosi. Before too long the city took measures to seize and sale the property due to unpaid taxes from 1980 and 1981. An agreement was later worked out as the owners promised to pay the back taxes. Meanwhile, the Shenango Valley School of Business began renting – and holding classes in – the main office building of Johnson Bronze along South Mill Street.
In addition to the tax battle a host of city, county, and state officials, alarmed by possible toxic contamination at the site, began pushing for federal inspections. A nasty legal battle ensued as city officials, the owners of the property, and former officials of Johnson Bronze fought to establish who was responsible for the cleanup. In March 1985 the city finally seized the property due to the unpaid taxes. In lieu of attempting to sale the property it was put into a trust for the time being.
Finally, in late August 1985, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted an inspection of the site and determined it to be of concern. An internal EPA document revealed, “An emergency assessment by EPA reveals the presence of extremely incompatible hazardous wasted stored in close proximity to one another and whose containers were in a state of deterioration; inadequate site security; and vandalism as evidenced by smashed lab jars with their containers mixed.”
An 8.3-acre portion of the Johnson Bronze site was soon designated for “Superfund” status, a federal program – officially known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) – designed to clean up locations severely contaminated with hazardous substances. However, the site was given low priority and due to a lack of funding the cleanup was placed on hold. Meanwhile, the issue of groundwater and soil pollution also became a hot topic. It wasn’t until September 1989 that the U.S. EPA allocated $979,820 for the cleanup of the Johnson Bronze site. These funds were strictly designated for “above-ground toxic material” only, and not to be utilized for cleanup of the soil (groundwater) contaminants or the demolition of the buildings. The cleanup began on September 19, 1989, and progressed slowly and stretched into the summer of 1990.
In March 1990 the city officially purchased the property from the trust for $2,002 and began efforts to transform it into an industrial park. On June 14, 1990, Pennsylvania Governor Robert P. Casey held a brief press conference at the site and presented city officials with a check for $760,000 to commence with the demolition of the buildings. The New Castle News of June 15, 1990, reported that Casey said, “Beginning today, we can stop talking about the Johnson Bronze site in the past tense – instead we can talk about the opportunities for economic growth that this site provides.”
In September 1990, once the EPA cleanup was completed, the city began accepting bids for the demolition of the buildings. Beaver Valley Demolition of Aliquippa was awarded the contract and was eventually paid about $293,000. The demolition commenced in November 1990 and took about five months. The only building left intact was the main office building, which was still occupied by the Shenango Valley School of Business.
In the early 1990’s the city attempted to attract several possible tenants for its proposed industrial park, but it was difficult while efforts continued regarding the cleanup of the soil. The officials of the Arkansas-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc., who eventually opened a Walmart Superstore in Union Township in December 1995, were even approached about acquiring the property. Meanwhile, in late 1994, the removal of four 4,000-gallon underground storage tanks, each half-filled with contaminants and harmless sediment, was undertaken. In the summer of 1994 the Shenango Valley School of Business vacated the old office building and it was subsequently torn down.
The cleanup of the contaminated soil was finally funded and authorized in early 1995. The New Castle News of March 30, 1995, reported, “Decontamination of the former Johnson Bronze site is expected to take less than three months, and a city development official is optimistic that the property then will be ready to meet new industrial prospects… The operation involves removal, stabilization and disposal of soils containing elevated levels of lead and polychlorinated biphenyls, and backfilling and grading of the excavated areas. Groundwater contaminated with volatile organic compounds will be treated… The contracted company, Autumn Technical Services of Warren, Ohio, began soil sampling March 13. The work is being done in 20-foot intervals and involves removal of soil to a maximum depth of five feet. The potentially contaminated soil on the property will be stabilized with lime and then will be taken to the Browning-Ferris Industries Inc. landfill in Poland Township, Ohio, for disposal.”
By the end of 1995 various state and federal environmental officials deemed the former Johnson Bronze property ready for redevelopment. During a press conference held on May 21, 1996, Mayor Tom Fulkerson announced the site was being renamed as the New Castle Commerce Park. The next day’s edition of the New Castle News quoted Fulkerson with, “That area has been a problem for the city for so long that mention of the name conjures up nightmares. We are about to take the old site and bring in new investors, new businesses and new jobs… We feel that a new name would eliminate the stigma associated with the place.” During the summer of 1996 the city spent almost $105,000 to have tons of fill dirt dumped at the site.
Businesses slowly gravitated to the improved site. D’Vron Ceramics Studio was one of the first companies to build at the site beginning in the fall of 1997. In the coming years additional companies opened facilities in the New Castle Commerce Park, including Rocca’s Italian Foods, Linton Industries, Richardson Cooling Packages, Huston Group, and Castle Maintenance Products. The main building of the smaller Johnson Bronze facility along Mahoning Avenue, which sits at the end of McKinley Street, is still standing today. Johnson Bronze’s one-time parent company reorganized and is still in business in Ozark, Alabama, as the Waltham Aircraft Clock Company.
To read about the company adopting the name Johnson Bronze in 1916 click on: NAME OF CONCERN IS CHANGED ARTICLE. To read about the expansion effort began in 1916 click on: EXPANSION ARTICLES. To learn more about the plant employing women in its skilled positions beginning in 1918 click on: TO EMPLOY WOMEN IN PLANT HERE ARTICLE. To read about the woman employees of the company marching in a Red Cross parade in May 1918 click on: JOHNSON BRONZE GIRLS COLLECT $26 ARTICLE. To read two articles about another expansion began in 1920 click on: NEW EXPANSION ARTICLES. Accidents involving employees at Johnson Bronze seemed less frequent then at other local plants. To read about a heroic effort to stop a potentially major fire at the plant in early 1923 click on: FLEMING PREVENTS DISASTROUS FIRE ARTICLE.
The American Car & Ship Hardware Manufacturing Company, which made brass and bronze fittings for trains, trolleys, and ships, was organized by industrialist George W. Johnson in New Castle, Pennsylvania, in 1901. It started with fifty employees working out of this one-room factory on South Mill Street. Full Size
A view of the American Car & Ship Hardware Manufacturing Company, founded by limestone magnate George W. Johnson in 1901. (c1910) Full Size
The caption for this photo reads, “It is in the foundry that the various blends of alloyed metal take shape in the form of castings.” (c1912) Full Size
The machine shop of the American Car & Ship Hardware Manufacturing Company. (c1912) Full Size
The plating room of the American Car & Ship Hardware Manufacturing Company. On page 22 of a 1913 company catalog I have it reads, “The sole thought in this organization is to give satisfaction, and it is being lived up to throughout the plant.” (c1912)Full Size
An overhead view of the Johnson Bronze facilities in New Castle in 1937. Full Size
The Johnson Bronze Company, renamed as such in 1916, was founded as the one-room American Car & Ship Hardware Manufacturing Company back in 1901. The main plant, located along South Mill Street, grew considerably over the years. The inset photo shows the smaller facility established along Mahoning Avenue/McKinley Street in early 1951. Full Size
Another map showing the various buildings of the Johnson Bronze Company along South Mill Street in New Castle. (1937) (Photo courtesy of Mitch Tannehill) Full Size
A float of the Johnson Bronze Company takes part in a parade in New Castle. (c1950) (Photo courtesy of Mitch Tannehill) Full Size
A new wing completed to the building that made bearings for the automobile industry. When completed it added 75,000 square feet of work space. (1948) Full Size
This building was occupied by the Brass Shop, company hospital, and general offices. (1946) Full Size
Company patriarch and Chairman of the Board P. J. Flaherty breaks ground for a new office building, shown completed in the next photo, along South Mill Street. Flaherty, who joined the firm back in c1909, was the guiding force of Johnson Bronze for almost forty years until his death in 1948. (1944) Full Size
A photo of the completed office building along South Mill Street that housed various administrative offices of the company. (1946) Full Size
Beginning in early November 1948 two representatives of the Glacier Metals Company of England, Fred Maer and William Anderson, undertook a ten-week visit of the Johnson Bronze facilities in New Castle to study production methods. Prior to returning home in mid-January 1949 the two men enjoyed a luncheon (shown above) at the Castleton Hotel with all the top executives of Johnson Bronze. (1949) Full Size
The plastic globe that graced the lobby of the main office building in New Castle. (1951) Full Size
A new foundry under construction at the new JB location on Mahoning Avenue in New Castle. (1951) Full Size
Longtime Johnson Bronze truck driver Burley R. Brown. (1951)Full Size
The new $500,000 Research Laboratory opened on South Mill Street in early 1959. It was modern facilities like this that helped make the company a world renowned leader in the production of bronze sleeve bearings and bushings. The company reportedly made sales in over sixty countries around the world. (c1965) Full Size
The Johnson Bronze Company always seemed to be expanding and was constantly adding new facilities, such as the Oakland, California, subsidiary shown above. Nationally, the company had over thirty warehouses/sales offices and employed about 1,500 total workers at its peak. (c1964) Full Size
These photos show engineers at work in the drafting room and the administrative offices of the company. (c1965) Full Size
These photos show men at work in a foundry and also a machine shop of Johnson Bronze. (c1965) Full Size
Employee Leona Nickum hard at work taking measurements. (Mar 1956)
Another employee checks for the proper diameter of a large bearing. (c1965)
Men at work in a foundry. (c1960)
A worker checks sleeve bearings along a conveyer belt. (c1965) Full Size
A worker operates a heavy-duty press machine. (c1960)
A workers prepares bearings for shipment. (c1960)
The quality control functions of the company are carried out in the Research Lab. (c1965)
Two badges belonging to employees of the New Castle plant. Full Size
Additional badges of Johnson Bronze employees. Full Size
A small box that once held a product manufactured by the Johnson Bronze Company.
An employee involved in quality control tests the crush weight of a bearing. (c1965)
The composition of the various metals used for production are tested and formulated in the
This photo depicts the barren spot where the Johnson Bronze admin building and other facilities once sat along South Mill Street. (Jul 2013) Full Size
Former parking spots of Johnson Bronze executives. (Jul 2013)
The power plant and railroad tracks that supported Johnson Bronze – along Moravia Street and directly across from the old Pennsylvania Engineering/PECor plant. (Jul 2013)
The sign for the New Castle Commerce Park, former site of the Johnson Bronze Company, along South Mill Street. (Oct 2014) Full Size