Scholla: John Fritz and National Defense 1822-1913 September 29, 1941

9/29/1941 John Fritz and National Defense 1822-1913

“To John Fritz on his 80th birthday. The builder of the West greets the genius of the East. The Oregon’s performance glorifies the steel of Fritz.”

This is the inscription which is engraved on a silver cup which was presented to John Fritz, of Bethlehem, at a banquest held in the Waldorf Astoria in 1902. The donor was Irving M. Scott, shipbuilder, of San Francisco, whose firm had built the renowned battleship “Oregon”, the ship that amazed the world by rounding Cape Horn during the Spanish American War. Three of the Battleships that participated in the battle of Santiago Harbor were equipped with armor plate made at Bethlehem under the eye of the great iron master, John Fritz.

John Fritz was a Pennsylvania German born in Londonderry Township in Chester County. At the age of 16 he learned the trade of blacksmithing in Parkersburg, PA…  Six years later he worked in an iron mill at Norristown. In 1849 he resigned his position to manage an iron plant in Safe Harbor, Lancaster County. After spending a number of years in industrial plants near Philadelphia he was made superintendent of Cambria Iron Company’s plant in Johnstown, PA. In 1860 he was brought to Bethlehem Iron Company as its chief engineer.

During the Civil War Fritz went to Chatanooga, TN to build a rolling mill. The federal government needed a mill to reroll the rail of railroads which had been torn up by the Confederate Army. In 1869 Bethlehem Iron Company introduced the Bessemer process for manufacturing steel and John Fritz was placed in general charge.

European war industries had made great steps forward in the processing of armor plate by hydraulic forging presses and furnaces. In company with an ordnance officer of the United States Army, John Fritz visited European plants for the purpose of studying their equipment and obtaining licenses to set up similar mills at Bethlehem. The mission proved to be successful and in 1891 the first armor-plate plant to be established in America was built at Bethlehem. Later other plants were built at Homestead and Midvale.

In 1897 when Fritz was 75 years of age, he resigned from the Bethlehem Company to accept a position as an engineer on the Army Factory Board, an organization set up by congress to build an armor plate plant for the United Sates government. When Fritz was introduced to the congressional committee the Secretary of the Navy introduced him as follows:

“I present to you Mr. John Fritz, the most honest man I have ever met.”

Archival Notes: For more information on John Fritz and excellent source is:

John Fritz, by Paul Hercher, 1898.
John Fritz, by Paul Hercher, 1898.
The Oregon on the day she set sail for Cuba at the onset of the Spanish American War.
The Oregon on the day she set sail for Cuba at the onset of the Spanish American War.

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