Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: October 1999 Volume 37 Number 4, Pages 125–130

American Non-Gran Bronze Company

Bob Goshorn

Page 125

"The bulk of all world's records - track, road, water and air -- ," an early brochure of the American Bronze Company proclaimed, are "held by Non-Gran bushed [engines] .... They must have ... the BEST. That's why they always use Non-Gran."

The American Bronze Company (later reorganized variously as the American Bronze Corporation, the American Non-Gran Bronze Corporation and the American Non-Gran Bronze Company) was located on the north side of the Lancaster Pike, at the eastern end of Berwyn.

A list of the pioneer automobile and truck manufacturers that used the products of the company in its early years is an impressive one and includes many of the industry leaders of the time. Stutz, Packard, Locomobile and Maxwell were among the automobile manufacturers using its bushings and bearings. Among the truck manufacturers that were its customers were Case, Autocar and Mack. In later days, its products were also used in Curtiss and Dusenberg airplane engines, in motorcycles and in machine tools.

The company was formed in 1907. On November 9, 1906, Jack Watson, Alfred H. Smith and Fred Smith filed notice of their intent to seek a charter for "an intended corporation to be called 'American Bronze Company', the character and object of which is the manufacture of castings and bushings and other articles of bronze and other metals and the sale

Page 126

thereof...." The charter was granted, and Watson purchased a lot of slightly over an acre and a half of ground from the heirs of John McLeod, the minister who had owned the property for many years. Operations were soon begun in a small T-shaped foundry building constructed there containing two coke- fired furnaces.

The technology employed was contributed by Englishman Alfred Hodgson Smith, a metallurgist, who had worked out and brought to this country with him an idea for a special type of alloy. (Smith, by the way, was over 65-years of age when he came here to pioneer the new company. He died at his home in Berwyn in 1919.) Jack Watson, of Wayne, handled administrative details and was the financial backer.

The company's products differed from those of other foundries in that they were cast from a non-granular (hence "Non-Gran") bronze alloy, "made up of millions of long needle-like fibres -- all completely interlocked -- giving it more resiliency - greater density - and three to four times the wear life" of ordinary bronze alloys. As a result, the product had none of the unlocked granular particles that gradually loosen under frictional pull or "crack or flake off under the pounding and tearing action of a heavily loaded shaft," thus an "ideal" metal for high-speed bearings.

The alloy consisted of 86-1/2 per cent copper, 11 per cent tin and 2-1/2 percent zinc, with the maximum percentage of impurities no more than two-tenths of one percent. It was, according to the company brochure, "made entirely from new pure metals", with all scraps sold to other foundries rather than remelted for re-use.

The alloy had a tensile strength of 45,000 pounds a square inch, an ultimate compression strength of more than 80,000 psi, and a shear strength of 75,000 psi.

The castings were described as sand-molded and sand-blasted in the company's foundry, and were "guaranteed free from open pockets, sandholes, misplaced cores or other defects that would prevent finishing to a perfect surface."

The new company had a rapid growth. Within two years the building was enlarged, the number of furnaces tripled, and six molders and two lathes added. By 1912 these quarters too were completely outgrown, and a new modern foundry building, with a "saw-toothed" roof to provide maxi­mum lighting and ventilation, was erected.

Page 127

The company was reorganized in 1914, taking the name American Bronze Corporation (rather than American Bronze Company), following acquisition by R. L. Dollinger Company, investment bankers with headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio. At the same time, the furnaces were converted from coke to oil, and additional equipment again was added. The original building was now used solely for office space and as the shipping department.

A featured product of the company at this time was its "6-54 Assortment", which it sold to garagemen and others in the automobile repair trade. It consisted of "six 12-inch bars of varying wall thickness from which can be made any of the 54 standard and all intermediate bushing sizes." During the First World War, every truck sent overseas with the Army was equipped with one of these "6-54" kits for emergency repairs.

In early July of 1923, allegations of irregular financial practices involving the company were made against its owners, the R. L. Dollinger Company, which was declared bankrupt. Bankruptcy proceedings were also brought against all its Pennsylvania affiliates, and later that month the Berwyn company was also placed in receivership by Chester County Judge William Butler, and closed down. "The townspeople of Berwyn," it was reported in the West Chester Daily Local News, "are ... very loth [sic] to see the industry go out of existence, for it is the only one of any consequence in Berwyn, and its employment of 100 persons, most of whom are residents of the town, is a substantial factor in the town's well being."

After some legal maneuvering, however, the following month a new receiver was appointed by a Federal court and the plant reopened. "Since the appointment of the new receiver," it was shortly afterwards reported in the Local, "matters have been steadily improving at the plant and the stockholders have prospects of a reorganization and resumption of busi­ness on the former large scale." Under the leadership of its president, Edwin G. Anderson of Wayne, the company was able to have the receivership discharged in May of the following year, every creditor having been paid 100 cents on the dollar.

By late 1925, however, the company was reorganized once again, this time named American Non-Gran Bronze Corporation, with P. Exton Guckes as president, treasurer and purchasing agent, Reeves K. Johnson as vice president, sales manager and advertising manager, and John McMahon as secretary and plant superintendent. The directors named were John Stokes Adams, Charles B. Ermentrout and Bertha Marx, of Philadelphia. The new corporation took over the plant and started operations again.

Page 128

It was also in 1925 that the company intensified its activities in the aviation field, supplying the bushings for the first Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines, for which it was to become the sole supplier until the outbreak of the Second World War. (In fact, the blue prints for the engines specified "Non-Gran" rather than a quality description for the product!)

The bushings for the engine which powered the "Spirit of St. Louis", in which Charles A. Lindbergh made his historic first non-stop trans-Atlantic flight in May of 1927, were also made by the American Non-Gran Bronze Corporation in Berwyn, as also were those for the planes used by Admiral Richard E. Byrd at the South Pole some years later.

During the 1930s the company also broadened its operations to include products of other alloys, developing and producing beryllium-copper and aluminum-bronze centrifugal cast bushings for use on the newly­perfected variable pitch aircraft propellers.

With the production of centrifugal as well as sand-molded castings, in 1940 an old stone house, in earlier times the "Spring House" tavern of the Old Lancaster Road, just west of the main foundry building, was purchased and converted into a foundry for the centrifugal castings.

Despite the fact that shortly after the Second World War started, the company was limited by government edict to supplying products only to the Pratt & Whitney plants in East Hartford and Kansas City, to the North Tonawanda plant of Chevrolet, and to the Buick plant in Flint, with the war there was considerable expansion in operations. The number of employees increased from about 140 in 1939 to close to 1,000 in 1942, the plant operating on a three-shift, seven days a week basis during the war years. Beginning in 1941 the company for the first time also employed women as well as men in its foundry and machine shop operations.

The physical plant was also expanded. In 1941 the company purchased land across the street and erected a new machine shop, and it also built a pattern shop between the "Spring House" tavern building and the main building. In the following year the old Wayne ice plant was leased and converted into a machine shop, as were several stores on Lancaster Pike at the west end of Bryn Mawr. The old Wayne steam heat plant was similarly rented in 1943 to house the foundry for centrifugal castings, which was moved from the old stone house building to make additional space for the machine shop. Some of the rough machine work was also subcontracted to the Wayne Iron Works.

Page 129

Ironically, none of the three principal officers participated in much of this expansion, Guckes having enlisted in the Navy in 1942, McMahon having had a heart attack the same year that was to keep him from being active in the company, and Johnson in 1943 suffering a nervous breakdown that put him on the shelf for over a year.

But the war production boom ended very suddenly. With the end of the war, in September of 1945, the company received a telegram from the government cancelling every order on the books!

All hourly-paid employees were immediately laid off, though a number of them were gradually called back after several months. By the end of 1945 all operations except those at the main plant in Berwyn had been closed down.

In January of 1946 the company was again reorganized. Purchased by Arthur E. Van Bibber, a former vice president of the Congoleum Company, and founder of the Hudson Bay Company of the United States, it was rechartered as American Non-Gran Bronze Company. The new management began an extensive modernization of the plant, replacing the old overhead shafts and belt drives with individual motors to power all equipment. After a few years, virtually all the equipment that had served during the Second World War was no longer in use.

The company also again broadened its operations, producing not only its "aircraft quality" bronze alloys, but also bronze alloys to meet specifications for other "high grade" bearings and of "commercial" quality. When a nickel-cast iron alloy replaced bronze in aircraft engines, due to the higher operating temperatures of newly-developed engines, the company began purchasing castings which it then processed in its machining operations. In the late 1940s it became a distributor for American Smelting and Refining Company's "continuous cast" material, and was their largest single customer.

The firm also expanded its production and promotion of centrifugal castings, to meet the demand for less porous, denser, finer grain castings for use with liquids and gases. The machining service was also expanded to handle a wide range of materials to very fine tolerances, with the facilities including both modern and diversified machine tool equipment and quality-control and inspection equipment and practices to ensure precision.

Page 130

While manufacturers in the aviation field continued to be the company's best customers (in the 1950s it became the sole supplier of all parts for Pratt & Whitney of Canada -- with a 99.9% quality acceptance), it was pointed out in advertisements and brochures that the company's products were also designed for use in a variety of other products ranging from air compressors to cream separators to printing presses to sugar mill and textile machinery.

The growth of the company continued until November of 1958, when its employees walked out on strike in a dispute over wages. The strike was a bitter one, in and out of the Chester County courts several times, marked by mass picketing in spite of injunctions limiting it, and damage to the plant and supervisors' homes.

It was to be a costly strike for the employees. Unbeknownst to the strikers, during the strike negotiations were undertaken for sale of the com­pany to the Aviation Division of the Hupp Corporation in Chicago.

After thirteen weeks, the strike was ended in March of 1959 and most of the employees were called back to work. Less that two months later, however, in May they were notified of the sale of the business a nd transfer of operations to Chicago. Twenty-four trailer loads of machinery and equipment were moved from Berwyn.

But for over half a century the "bronze works" in Berwyn was a major supplier of bushings and bearings for automotive and aircraft engines, including those for the "Spirit of St. Louis" and many of the early automobile pioneers.

Aerial view of "Bronze Company" buildings about 1953. Note old stone "Spring House" tavern at upper left, south of the railroad, and new machine shop across Old Lancaster Road. Berwyn Bearing Bronze Company is seen at lower right.


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