Chapter XIII

Ford City Borough


Natural gas was the foundation of Ford City, and this abundant and clean fuel, together with admirable natural advantages and a supply of suitable materials, caused the late Capt. John B. Ford to select the site for the present immense plate glass works, around which the city has grown.

Captain Ford's first venture in the plate glass industry was at New Albany, Ind., where he became financially embarrassed, but although an old man then, he again established himself at Creighton, Pa. As there were no plate glass polishers in this country, he persuaded Matthias R. Pepper to come from England to take the position of chief of the polishing department, and with his help the business was put upon a firm foundation.

In 1888 he visited the portion of Manor township south of Kittanning and at once took steps to purchase the land on which Ford City now stands. With him were interested Hon. John H. Painter, Marcus D. Wayman and Matthias R. Pepper, and jointly they started the Ford Plate Glass Company. Mr. Pepper, who was the first plate glass polisher in America, was made superintendent of the works, while the machinery was designed and installed by Wayman. From this start arose the thriving and populous city which bears the name of its founder.

On Nov. 17, 1891, a statue of Captain Ford was unveiled in the park at Ford City, in honor of his birthday, by the contributions of 3,000 workmen connected with the plate glass works. Captain Ford, although eighty years of age, was able to attend the unveiling and deliver an address to his grateful employees. His death occurred in 1893, at the age of eighty-two, after a life of many ups and downs, finally crowned with success.

The works started to operate in 1889 with a few workmen and a moderate equipment, and now the plant is the largest in the world, covering twenty acres of ground and employing over 2,000 men. The sand for the manufacture of the glass is secured from Kemmerton, Pa., and the rock in the quarries across the Allegheny from the town is transferred by wire rope transmission to the main plant, after being crushed to sand, and used for grinding the plate glass. Thirteen and one half million square feet of the finest grade of plate glass is produced here in one year and marketed in all parts of the world. The heart and life of Ford City is the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. The local manager is R. C. Beatty, and the superintendents are G. C. Taylor and H. A. Reynolds.


In view of the fact that the largest plant for the manufacture of plate glass in the world is located in Ford City it is not inappropriate to give a description of the methods of manufacture, as there will probably be many a reader of this history who has never been in a plate glass factory.

Plate glass, although of the same composition in the main as ordinary window glass, is made by an altogether different process. The surface of window glass is wave-like in appearance, owing to having been blown like a soap bubble, while plate glass is ground to a level surface by machinery.

Glass was known to the Egyptians 4,000 years ago, but plate glass was first made in France about 200 years ago. The principal ingredients of modern plate glass are white sand, carbonate of soda, arsenic, and charcoal, the proportions being variable, and the formulas are prized secrets of the different firms. To make the glass and grind it brings into use a number of materials, such as fireclay for the crucibles, sand for the mixture, coarse sand for grinding, limestone for fluxing, felt and peroxide of iron for polishing, and coal and natural gas for melting. Were it not for the cheapness and nearness of the coal and natural gas there would not be a glass factory in Armstrong county.


Pots of fire clay take so important a part in the successful manufacture of plate glass that the subject deserves especial notice. The different clays after being mined are exposed to the weather for some time to bring about disintegration. At the proper stage finely sifted raw clay is mixed with coarse, burned clay, and water. This reduces liability of shrinkage and cracking. It then is "pugged," or kneaded in a mill; kept a long time (sometimes a year) in storage bins to ripen, and afterwards goes through the laborious process of "treading." Nothing has thus far been found in machinery by which the right kind of plasticity can be developed as does this primitive treading by the bare feet of men. The clay must be treated, not once or twice, but many times. The building of the pots is low, tedious, and time killing affair, but this is most essential.

Without extreme care, some elements used in the making of the pots might be fused into glass while undergoing the intense heat of the furnace; or they might break in the handling. The average pot must hold about a ton of molten glass, and the average furnace heat necessary is about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The work is not continuous. Each workman has several pots in hand at a time and passes from one to another, adding only a few inches a day to each pot, so that a proper interval for seasoning be given. After completion, comes the proper drying out of the pots; and this is another feature in which the greatest scientific care is required. No pot may be used until it has been left to season for at least three months, and even a year is desirable. And after all this trouble, the pot has but twenty-five days' of usefulness. The pots form one of the heavy items of expense in plate glass manufacture, and upon their safety great things depend.

The pot, having first been brought to the necessary high temperature, is filled with its mixed "batch" of ground silica, soda, lime, etc. Melting reduces the bulk so much that the pot is filled three times before it contains a sufficient charge of metal. When the proper molten stage is reached the pot is lifted out of the furnace by a crane, is first carefully skimmed to remove surface impurities, and then carried overhead by an electric tramway to the casting table. This is a massive, flat table of iron, having as an attachment a heavy iron roller which covers the full width, and arranged so as to roll the entire length of the table. The sides of the table are fitted with adjustable strips which permit the producing of plates of different thicknesses. The pasty, or half fluid glass metal, now is poured upon the table from the melting pot, and the roller quickly passes over it, leaving a layer of uniform thickness. The heavy roller then is moved out of the way, and by means of a stowing tool the red hot plate is shoved into an annealing oven.


All of these stages of the work have to be performed with remarkable speed, and by men of long training and experience. The plates remain for several days in the annealing oven, where the temperature is gradually reduced from an intense heat at first, until at the end of the required period it is no hotter than an ordinary room.

When the plate is taken from the annealing oven it has a rough, opaque, almost undulating appearance on the surface. It is only the surface, however, for within it is as clear as crystal. First, it is submitted for careful inspection, so that bubbles or other defects may be marked for cutting out. It then goes to the cutter, who takes off the rough edges and squares it into the right dimensions, and thence to the grinding room.

The grinding table is a large, flat, revolving platform made of iron, 25 feet or more in diameter. The plate must be carried from the annealing oven to the grinding machines, and thence to the racks, by men skilled in the art. Twenty men are required to carry the large plates of glass, ten on each side, using leather straps and stepping together in perfect time. The lockstep is absolutely essential to prevent accident as the top of the glass waves like a sheet of cardboard.

The grinding table is prepared by being flooded with plaster of paris and water; then the glass is carefully lowered and a number of men mount upon the plate and tramp it into place until it is set. After this greater security is obtained by pegging around the edges with prepared wooden pins; and then the table is set in motion. The grinding is done by revolving runners which pass over every part of the table in concentric circles. Sharp sand is fed upon the table and a stream of water constantly flows over it. After the first cutting by the sand, emery is used in a similar manner.


The plates are inspected after leaving the grinding room, and if any scratches or defects or any kind are found they are marked. Some of these can be rubbed down by hand. There also are not infrequently nicks and fractures found at this stage, and in such case the plate must again be cut and squared. Afterward comes the polishing, which is done on another special table. The polishing material is rouge or iron peroxide, applied with water, and the rubbing is done by blocks of felt. Reciprocating machinery is so arranged that every part of the plate is brought underneath the rubbing surface.

The grinding and polishing has taken away from the original plate half of its thickness, sometimes more. There is no saving of the material; it has all been washed away. When to this waste is added the fact that fully half of the original weight of lime and soda has been released by the heat of the surface, escaping into the atmosphere in fumes and acids, one may begin to understand something of the cost of converting the rough materials of sand, limestone, and soda into beautiful plate glass.

One of the serious questions in the manufacture and handling of plate glass is that of transportation, the greatest single item of carrying expense being that of the finished product. The carrying of large finished plates constitutes a difficult problem and a tremendous one. They must be packed and crated with the utmost care; the trucks for hauling them must be of special construction, and even special cranes are found necessary where an unusual amount of plate glass traffic exists.

To what extent the plate glass industry of the county has grown may be understood when it is stated that the Ford City works in the course of a single year will use 47,000 tons of white sand, 300,000 tons of grinding sand, 287,000 pounds of polishing felt, and 180,000 tons of coal.

The cost of the finished plate glass is explained when it is stated that at least ten cars of raw materials are used to make one car of the finished product.


On the site of Ford City many stirring scenes were enacted in the days of the settlement of this county. Here was situated the Claypoole blockhouse in 1790-5, built upon a still more ancient fortification of the prehistoric mound builders. George Cook, a famous scout and soldier, was a resident of this section of the Manor, and others at that and subsequent dates were Richard Bailey, James McFarland, Jeremiah Cook, James Barr, John Monroe, Joel Monroe, Jonathan Mason and Parker Truitt.

The owners of the land on which-the city was laid out were, in 1876, J. Fowler, D. S. Herrold, J. C. Herrold, C. Bailey, E. Herrold, A.B. Starr, George Shoup, J. Iseman and E. S. Golden.

The first house built on the site of the city was the brick store of Sam Nelson, in 1880. One of the first storekeepers was A. M. Mateer, who now conducts one of the most complete establishments in the city.


Ford City was incorporated in 1889 and in the space of less than twenty-five years has grown to greater numerical strength than any other borough in the county. Not only is it the largest borough in Armstrong, but it is also the most modern in construction and arrangement; everything necessary to keep it in the front rank of cities of its size in the State being carried out by the various successive burgesses and commissioners. With such a vast foreign population, it is wonderful how much has been done to improve the appearance and condition of the city.

The population of Ford City in 1890 was 1,255; in 1900, 2,870; in 1910, 4,850, and at present over 5,000.

The Ford City Potteries were started in 1898 by John Wick, Jr., of Wickboro, and Captain Ford, and in a short time became the greatest plant in the United States. Later on they came into the hands of the Pennsylvania China Co., who at the time of their suspension were manufacturing only insulators for all kinds of electric transmission lines, and fixtures. Formerly the product was chinaware and decorative tableware. The plant is valued at $240,000.

The Fawcus Machine Company, with offices in Pittsburgh, are manufacturers of mill machinery, special gear wheels and general foundrymen. Their number of employes is usually 100 and the industry is of importance to the industrial life of the city.

The Ford City Brick Company, A. La Verne Ivory, president; E. D. Ivory, secretary and treasurer, have a large and growing plant here. The proprietors are Kittanning men.

The Hileman Distilling Company is a development of the old Hileman works in Kittanning township, and does a good business with other States.


The First National Bank was organized in July, 1898, with a capital of $50,000. Business has greatly increased in the years that have intervened since that date and the present and this institution is now one of the strongest in the county. The officers are: D. B. Heiner, president; H. McD. McCue, vice president; Daniel D. Core, cashier; Calvin E. Miller, assistant cashier; A. W. Mellon, W. G. Heiner, H. McD. McCue, G. W. Larkins, D. B. Heiner, William Hileman and J. R. Christy, directors.

The People's State Bank of Ford City came into being in 1913, with a capital of $50,000. The officers elected at the first meeting were: A. M. Mateer, president; N. L. Strong, I. T. Campbell, John Fox, William Jack, Abe Greenbaum, and Harrison Walker, directors.


The hotels of the city are: American, M. Paffrath; Ford City, F. J. Bellamy; Teddy, E. A. Burns; Commercial, W. H. Morrow, Joseph Schubert; Fifth Avenue, C. Stenger; Park, D. A. Goldman.

Adolph Heymers operates a wagon factory; H. F. Berndt & Son are the principal liverymen; Abe Greenbaum is the leading furniture dealer; the Plumbers' Supply Company are all their name implies; Geo. Hassinger and C. F. Huth are the bakers for the town; Frank Aschrel, Nick Keener and Schall Bros. carry on the meat markets; and Frank Gablas, Kavolsky Bros., Fritz Reitler, H. Shoemaker, and George Szafran are the wholesale liquor dealers.

George E. Kettle, McClelland Bros. and E. J. Rihn are the leading druggists, and the storekeepers who carry various necessary commodities in stock are: A. P. Allen, Artman & Heilman, John S. Bryan, Nick Cieply, Thomas Flynn Company, Ford City Merchandise Company, I. Friedman, George Criss, T. A. Heilman, Conrad Krahe & Son, G. W. Larkins, I. Lefkowsky, N. Liberto, A. M. Mateer, Moore & McCutcheon, P. R. McGrann, H. Horowitz, David Pollock, W. S. Schrader, Mrs. C. M. Thiry, Zentis & Krahe.


The resident physicians are Drs. Jesse E. Ambler, Albert E. Bower, David I. Giarth, Carl H. Robensteen, Orin C. Campbell, D. S. Grant. The dentists are Drs. J. K. Beatty and W. A. Frederick.

A. L. Ivory & Sons are the leading real estate agents, August Klose is the justice of the peace, and J. F. McNutt is the city notary. The only photographer in the city is Walter G. Campbell.


Ford City is well supplied in the way of educational facilities, having a fine brick grammar school and a large high school. The principal of the grammar school is Prof. W. W. Irwin, and of the high school, Prof. C. D. Cook.

In 1913 the number of schools was 12; months taught, 9; male teachers, 3; female teachers, 14; average salaries, male, $84.44; female, $62.70; male scholars, 220; female scholars, 235; average attendance, 407; cost per month of each scholar, $3.44; amount tax levied, $26,130.40; received from State, $3,477.50; from other sources, $26,788.63; value of schoolhouses, $13,500; teachers' wages, $11,720; other expenses, $19,111.76.

The school commissioners for that year were: John G. Shearer, president; F. Reisgen, secretary; E. E. Morrison, treasurer; John Seckinger, Dr. A. E. Bower.


Ford City is well supplied with churches, almost all of the principal denominations being represented here. All of the buildings are new, and some of them are of the finest order of architecture and furnishing. When St. Mary's Catholic Church is completed it will be the largest and most artistic religious edifice in this part of Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh and the other large cities.

Ford Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1889, the first services being held in the Opera House by Rev. William Hall of the Oakland circuit. The present handsome brick building was erected in 1890, at a cost of $12,000, the parsonage being valued at $5,000. The membership is now 250, with 375 in the Sunday school. The present pastor is Rev. M. R. Hackman. The trustees are: William Gregg, Daniel Core, A. B. Mooney, Dr. R. G. Giarth, Noah Beatty, James Speakman and John Miller.

The First Presbyterian Church was organized May 3, 1891, with 52 members, and Rev. J. H. Sutherland as pastor. This building was erected in 1891-2 at a cost of $20,000. The successive pastors have been Revs. S. R. Frazier, 1895-98; H. F. Kerr, 1899-1901, H. U. Davis, 1901-6; A. B. Mimmager, 1906-7; M. H. Bush, 1907-11. The present pastor is Rev. Clarke Hoon, who came in October, 1912. The membership of the church is 212 and of the Sunday school, 210.

St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church was organized soon after the beginning of the city's settlement, and has a large membership of the English Catholics. A parochial school and convent are connected with the church, of which Father Benedict Baldauf is pastor. He is engaged in the great work of erecting the beautiful stone structure, of Gothic design, mentioned above, the cost of which cannot now be computed, but will be above $160,000.

The Baptist congregation occupy a handsome pressed brick edifice, near the schoolhouse, the value of which is $20,000. The present pastor is Rev. T. A. Lloyd.

The German Lutherans occupy the oldest church building in the city, opposite the schoolhouse, but are contemplating the erection of a larger and more modern building in the near future. The pastor in charge is Rev. Johannes E. Burgdorf.

Holy Trinity Slavic Catholic congregation are served by Father Marsalec, and have a neat and convenient church building.

St. Francis Polish Catholic congregation have Rev. Father Siatecki as pastor. Their home is a fine brick building in the centre of the town, dedicated in 1913.

A Greek Catholic congregation has been organized for some time, the present pastor being Rev. Stephen Waszlyshger.


The borough officials are: Amos T. Fair, burgess; A. B. Mohney, assessor; David Reynolds, Jr., tax collector; Amos A. Schaffer, auditor; Harry Drury, Walter J. Legg, Charles Stewart, Joseph Thery and Charles Vencel, councilmen. The present postmaster is W. J. Boggs.

The city is well supplied with water for fire protection and domestic use by the municipally owned plant, which takes its supply from the Allegheny. A reservoir is located on the lofty hill east of the town, and the pressure is ample without the use of engines to extinguish any fire.

The fire department is composed of one fire company of thirty members, who volunteer their services. The officers are: J. B. Weaver, president; John F. Bower, secretary; Frank McNutt, treasurer. The fire chief is D.A. Duff. In addition to this protection the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company have a paid fire department and a hose truck, on duty night and day, which responds to all alarms in the city. They have frequently been the means of saving the town from disastrous conflagrations.

The fire alarm system, just installed, is the Star Electric and similar to those in most large cities. Boxes are located at convenient points and the pulling down of a hook automatically sounds the alarm.

Besides the waterworks, the city operates its own electric light plant, lighting the streets and public buildings and supplying the citizens with light and power also. It has been found necessary to increase the capacity of the plant, and the coming year the borough authorities will probably rebuild it entirely on a larger scale. Both the water and lighting rates are much lower than those of Kittanning.

The assessment returns for 1913 show: Number of acres, 249, valued at, $74,925; houses and lots, 824, value, $572,602, average, $694.90; horses, 79, value, $2,665, average, $33-73; cows, 33, value, $500, average, $15.15; taxable occupations, 1,862, amount, $100,105; total valuation, $1,224,197. Money at interest, $62,069.87.


The State Highways Commission has surveyed a road from Kittanning to the lower limits of the city, which will cut the distance considerably and permit closer communication with the former borough. For years this road has been much needed, as the approach of winter almost cut off communication between the towns over the country roads, which were usually seas of mud.

A bond issue of $50,000 has been authorized for the construction of a bridge across the Allegheny, at the lower end of town, below the glass works, and there is a controversy between the Pennsylvania, the glass company and the county commissioners regarding the height and span of the structure. The city proposes to build the approaches over the Pennsylvania tracks, in order to avoid the high water. The railroad objects. The span of the bridge is to be 400 feet in width.

Ford City has the distinction of having the only public park possessed by any borough in Armstrong county. This does not speak well for the other towns. However, the forests and rivers surround all of the municipalities of the county and are of easy access to the tired workers.


Fraternal orders are well represented in Ford City. Among the prominent orders are: Masons, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Fraternal Order of Eagles, Modern Woodmen, Elks, Moose, Knights of the Maccabees, Order of Owls, Independent Order of Americans, Knights of St. George and Red Men.


The population of Ford City in 1900, the first enumeration since its incorporation as a borough, was 2,870. In 1910 the total population was 4,850. Of this 2,536 persons were native whites and 2,314 were of foreign birth and unnaturalized. This explains the many points of difference between this borough and those of the county whose history runs from the early days of settlement. Given years and opportunity Ford City will present an interesting history for record by future chroniclers.

Source: Page(s) 103-135, Armstrong County, Pa., Her People, Past and Present, J. H. Beers & Co., 19114.
Transcribed September 1999 by Sara Stewart for the Armstrong County Smith Project.
Contributed by Sara Stewart for use by the Armstrong County Genealogy Project (

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