I was bound apprentice with Pruyn & Lansing, Boiler, Machine and
Saw Works, Albany, NY.
The talk of civil war coming on, things were getting very slack;
we had not much work to do, so they closed down their saw
business and asked me if I would like my freedom papers.
They were made out and the next day I started for Philadelphia,
carpet bag in hand, as we were called carpet-baggers who came
from one State to another.
I arrived in Philadelphia Monday Morning, March 10, 1861, at the
old Kensington R. R. Depot. Being a stranger in a strange
land, I asked the way to Disstonís, and was directed by the
colored porter to take a straight course down Front Street till
I got there. It being early in the morning, I wondered around
until the shop opened.
The first man I met was, I learned later, David Bickley. I
asked him if he could direct me to the office of Henry Disstonís
Saw Works. He asked me what I wanted. I said I would like
a job of work. I told him what I could do and he hired me right
away. Having no place to go, tired and hungry, putting hat
and coat on, we started out to find one. Went to work at noon
Mr. Disston received me when he saw me, and called me runaway
apprentice, but I satisfied him and I was all right with him
Mr. Bickley had the contract for making all the Long Saws.
It did not take many of us, about eight. The output was about
twenty-five (25) dozen a week. There was not much
machinery for making saws, one Toothing Press, and one
Horizontal Grinding Machine. We did not have any Dies or
Flattening Presses at that time.
Our saws were hardened and tempered on Furnace Bottom, all hand
work. Later on the factory consisted of two dwelling
houses made into one. Grinding Hand Saws in cellar;
Blacksmith Shop, first floor; second floor, Hand Saws and other
kinds of saws; Long Saw machine out in yard facing Laurel
At that time we did not have more than seventy-five men working
for us. On April 15 the war started. Quite a number of our
men enlisted, so that left us with very few, but we got along
When we were not making saws we had plenty of Government work to
do. Things commenced to look brighter. We were getting new
machinery right along, machines for grinding hand saws and long
saws, extending the building till we got to Richmond Street.
Then Mr. Disston got the old flour mill and started in to make
his own steel. Built new rolling mill on Laurel Street.
After going along nicely, on July 2, 1865, our factory burned
down, losing most of everything. But in a short time Mr. Disston
put up a fine building, all new machinery, plenty of room.
During the building of the new mill we had a very large shop on
the other side of Haydock Street, then across Canal to Richmond
There we had our Hardening Shop. Everyone who had
a contract did his own hardening and tempering. It was no
easy job to smith saws in those days, for if we did twenty-five
dozen in a week we were doing well, while now, with the Disston
improvements in appliances and machinery, many times this
quantity is being turned out of better quality and workmanship
and with greater ease by the men.
In 1874 our factory burned down again the second time, but it
was soon rebuilt on a larger scale than before, the business
steadily increasing. The enormous production of these
works today is wonderful.
If Mr. Disston, the founder,
could have lived to see the fruits of his industry and that of
his sons, the immensity of the establishment would be a source
of great satisfaction and pride. They are fine people. I
have found it to be so in my fifty-eight years with them.
Our work was mostly done by contract system until Mr. Hamilton
Disston came into the firm. Then the system was altered
entirely, going back to day work under foremanship, everyone
working directly for the firm.
I often stop to think what changes there have been in my time -
from a little place to such a tremendously large one, the big
army of men employed, the great improvements and many new
inventions of machinery, and the enormous output compared with
that of the time I first went with them.
I have every reason to be loyal, and take this opportunity to
thank the members of the firm for their kindness to me in all
the years I have been with them.