Major Joseph G. Beale

The family of which the subject of this sketch and of the accompanying portrait is a representative is one of the oldest in the State of Pennsylvania. One of the progenitors of the family came over the ocean with William Penn, and, being a civil engineer by profession, was employed by the proprietor to lay out the city of Philadelphia. The family afterward settled in the Tuscarora valley, east of the mountains, where they engaged in agricultural and manufacturing pursuits, and in the year 1800, Washington Beale, grandfather of the man whose name heads this biography, crossed the mountains and settled in what at that time was almost a wilderness near Natrona, or the site of the soda-works in the northern part of Allegheny county. He accumulated a valuable property in this region, and the family flourished, as was natural from their enterprise and intelligence. Washington Beale, Jr., father of Joseph G. Beale, settled near his paternal homestead and devoted his energies to farming and stock-raising. To him the people of this section of country are indebted for a practical advantage and improvement. Seeing the necessity of a better class of heavy draft horses in the manufacturing districts, he went to England in 1859 and purchased and imported into this country the first English draft horses that were ever brought into Western Pennsylvania. From these horses descended the fine stock for which the immediate locality is now so much noted. It may be mentioned in this connection that Joseph G. Beale has taken much interest in the same matter, and that in 1875 he imported a superb draft horse from Scotland, after a visit to that country with his father.

Joseph G. Beale was born March 26, 1839, and reared upon his father's farm. His first enterprise undertaken for himself was drilling for oil in the Kanawha valley, and he was there when the war of the rebellion broke out.

He won an enviable reputation as a soldier. Immediately after the breaking out of the rebellion and under the first call for volunteers he enlisted for three months' service in the Iron City Guards of Pittsburgh. Before his time was up, however, he re-enlisted for three years and was mustered into the United States service in Co. C of the 9th Pa Reserves. He was wounded during the sixth day of the seven days' fight in front of Richmond, upon June 30, 1862, and left on the battlefield of Charles City Cross-roads, where the rebels found him seven days later, he having lain there during that time without food, except a few crackers. He was taken by them to Richmond and placed in confinement in the dreaded Libby prison, where he remained until the following fall, when he was released and sent to Fortress Monroe. After the battle in which he was wounded he was promoted to captain. His wound, however, was of such nature that he was never fit for active service again.

After leaving the army, and while still suffering from his injury, he studied law in Pittsburgh under the Hon. Samuel Purviance and N. Nelson, Esq. In 1865 he engaged in the coal business, which he sold out in 1868, and then bought the Leech property in Leechburgh. Resolved to make his purchase practically useful, he began a systematic series of endeavors to induce the building up of manufactures, and in 1872 succeeded, by giving land and extending other aid, in securing the establishment there of large iron-works for the manufacture of fine sheet iron and tin plate. In this mill natural gas was first used as a fuel. The gas came from a well put down by Mr. Beale, in 1869-70, which was the first one in this country, or in the world, so far as is known, from which gas was used for any kind of manufacturing. In 1875 the company who built the works having failed, Maj. Beale, with some others, bought them and carried on the manufacture of iron very successfully until 1879. In that year he sold out his interest and built the West Pennsylvania Steelworks, the first established in Armstrong county and the first steelworks in the world in which natural gas was utilized.

Although Major Beale has a number of other heavy interests, among them the ownership of a large body of lands in the Shenandoah valley of Virginia, he is devoting almost his entire time and energy to the management of the steelworks, of which he is the sole owner. In maintaining and improving this manufacturing establishment, of which he was the founder, he has added largely to the material prosperity of Leechburg, and it is safe to say that no citizen has done more than he in that direction.

After the war he was appointed major on Gen. Harry White's staff and served in that capacity at the time of the Pittsburgh riots.

Source: Page(s) 605-606, History of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania by Robert Walker Smith, Esq. Chicago: Waterman, Watkins & Co., 1883.
Transcribed July 2000 by James R. Hindman for the Armstrong County Smith Project.
Contributed by James R. Hindman for use by the Armstrong County Genealogy Project (

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