Industry in Berks: Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company


Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company Foundry Pattern  on display in the Berks History Center Museum.

Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company traces its beginnings back to 1740 when William Bird built a forge, a saw mill and grist mill and founded the town of  Birdsboro. His oldest son, Marcus, enlarged on his father’s work and constructed Hopewell Furnace. He was the largest producer of iron in America during the Revolutionary War.  After the war, the forges have financial problems caused the Birds to sell their assets to Matthew Brooke changed the name to the Birdsboro Iron Foundry Company.

The forges were most successful under Brooke’s management in the mid-19th century. During the Civil War, the company produced munitions and armaments for the Union Army and began manufacturing parts for railroad cars and locomotives.  This was the beginning of steel production for the family. The company continued its tradition of supplying the armed forces with providing the Navy with material for building a steel fleet during the late 19th century.

Photo taken in the Berks History Center Museum’s Trades to Industry Room

In 1906, the management decided to erect a large modern steel foundry with a potential capacity of approximately 3000 tons per month for making steel castings.  In World War II, the government contracted with Birdsboro Steel and Foundry and Machine Company to produce tanks and artillery for the war effort.  In 1944, a manufacturing subsidiary was established for weapons manufacturing known as Armorcast. By the end of the war, the company began to manufacture more industrial equipment, many used in the production of steel.

After 1947, the federal government and several businessmen tried to sell or use the space.  Armorcast failed to win a government contract to continue production in 1975 and the plant closed in 1988 after a lengthy strike. The four smokestacks, collapsed in the planned implosion to make way for a new power-generating facility, were the last vestiges of a regional history of manufacturing started before the American Revolution.

“Manufacturing evolved from making cannon for Revolutionary War to making tanks for World War II,” said Sanders, 70, former Superintendent of Hopewell Furnace.  “All that’s gone now.”

Article Researched & Written by Gail Corvaia

4 thoughts on “Industry in Berks: Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company

  1. I am proud to read the history and the importance of the Birdsboro Steel company, my father was employed and worked to the title of foundry superintendent. He was always proud of his job and I remember the nights that he would be called to return to work because of a problem with a heat being poured. He was proud of the work they turned out and the success of the foundry.
    Unfortunately his life was cut a bit short because of the work, he had then called “black lung” because of the silica sand (they are very small particles,penetrated into his lungs and caused lung cancer and that spread to his bones and bone cancer).
    I have many fond memories of touring the plant with him to show me how things were done.

    • I remember your father. I worked as an unskilled foundry laborer hired in the 1950s to work the second shift labor gang for #1 foundry. My first boss was an old black man we called “Ol’ Liza.” I believe his first name was actually “Elisha” a Hebrew prophet and and successor to the prophet Elijah.In any case, one day my boss cautioned us to “not to be standing around” as the “big super” might be coming through. Some minutes later the big boss, Mr.McMullen, did indeed come walking past us and gave us a friendly “How are you boys doing?” “Fine sir” was our response and then he was gone. I have mostly pleasant memories of Birdsboro Steel where I also worked on the foundry furnace deck and finally in steel fabrication – a total of 11years before going on to college.

      • I wish to add to my remarks via Anne (McMullen) Hudick’s own comments about her father back in July of 2019. My image of superintendent McMullen remains to this day as one of a young disciplined man not unlike that of an officer in the military. I was further saddened to learn of his passing. Tom Mathews,former contractor, U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and proud Birdsboro Corporation Steel Worker.

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