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Manufacturers Index - Allaire Works
Last Modified: Jan 11 2015 7:42PM by joelr4
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      Veterans among our American engineers can remember the day when New York City was a metropolis of steam engine construction. Especially was it eminent in marine work. At the time of the War Between the States there were flourishing several large shops which had built up a national reputation. Among those that were doing great things then or somewhat earlier may be named the Allaire Works, West Point Foundry, Novelty Iron Works, Speedwell Works and the Delamater Iron Works. None of these was, at one period, more famous or influential than the Allaire Works, which dated back from our time about a hundred years. As a machine shop it was an outgrowth of Robert Fulton's establishment.

      James P. Allaire, a descendant of an old Huguenot family, was originally engaged in the avocations" of a drug store, which he relinquished to start a brass foundry. It was situated on Cherry street, near Corlears Hook, New York, on the extreme east side of the city, not far below the present Williamsburgh bridge. The date of his entry upon that business is stated in Charles H. Haswell's "Reminiscences of an Octogenarian" as 1813, while Bishop's "History of American Manufactures," written about half a century ago, gives the year as 1804. Bishop is not remarkable for mathematical precision and since Mr. Haswell was employed by Allaire in very early days, he ought to be the better authority. We may, however, admit Bishop's chronology in evidence and it is upon him that I depend chiefly for the account given of Allaire's relations with Fulton and his subsequent doings.

Fulton And His Contemporaries

      In 1807, as all men know, Robert Fulton demonstrated the practicability of the steamboat idea by the famous voyage of the "Clermont," whose engines and boilers had been furnished by Boulton & Watt. Soon afterward he erected a shop on or near Greene Street, Jersey City, in a locality later marked by Zeno Secor's Fulton Iron Foundry. There he built engines for the "Car of Neptune" and other vessels. The iron castings were supplied by Robert McQueen and John Youle, the brass castings by James P. Allaire.

      This McQueen, in conjunction with a Mr. Sturtevant ran an air furnace at the corner of Barley and Cross streets, New York, He is thought to have been the first man in America who made the building of stationary steam engines a specialty.

      Fulton's exploits became to Allaire the inspiration and stimulus by which he grew into a great engineer. He gave his heart to the improvement and simplification of the steam engine and upon his shoulders fell the mantle dropped at Fulton's early death.

Establishment of The Cherry Street Machine Shop

      When, in 1815, the father of steamboat navigation died, Allaire leased his shop and tools and took into partnership his engineer, Charles Stoutinger. They proceeded to construct the engine and boiler for the famous "Chancellor Livingston," which occupied about a year of their time to complete. With a cylinder of 40 inches diameter and 4-foot stroke, the boat developed a speed of eight miles per hour. In a short while Mr. Stoutinger died, leaving to his partner a legacy of prediction that marine engines would be greatly simplified and that ships would cross the Atlantic within eleven days' voyaging time. Allaire removed the machinery and tools, in 1816, from Jersey City to Cherry Street, New York. Thereby he definitely laid the foundation of the Allaire Works, whose annals are a record of achievement in equipping many of the famous vessels of their day.

Progress Of The Allaire Works

      Among the first work done was to repair the "Savannah," whose machinery had been constructed elsewhere, and which, in 1819, made the first voyage across the ocean. Her original cylinder, 44 inches in diameter with 5-foot stroke, was exhibited as a relic at the New York World's Fair of 1853. She is the vessel of which is told the hackneyed story that on her first trip she brought copies of a demonstration that it was impossible for any ship to carry coal enough for such a voyage.

      Among engines early built by Mr.' Allaire were those for the "North Carolina," "South Carolina" and "Robert Fulton." Naturally he was considerably concerned with the equipment of the North River steamboat service.

      The boilers of these early boats were made of copper, since iron was not available in suitable quality and was believed to be lacking in strength for that purpose. Wood was burned as fuel and a brilliant sight it made for spectators on the shore of the Hudson as the steamers paddled along at night.

Burning Anthracite

      When anthracite began to come in use it met with contemptuous opposition from the skeptics, who would not hear of burning "black stones." Two of the first to use it for steamboat purposes and otherwise were R. L. Stevens and the Rev. Eliphalet Nott, president of Union College. James P. Allaire was another anthracite pioneer. By his insistence the "Car of Neptune" was laid up and her furnace equipped with grate bars adapted to stoking with that fuel. The firemen of the boat went on strike to vindicate their superior knowledge, so Mr. Allaire volunteered to act himself as chief fireman, taking along some men from his own shop as assistants. In 18 hours the steamboat reached Albany, thus achieving a triumph only slightly inferior in importance to the maiden trip of the "Clermont." But a "man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still," and so it proved with the steamboat men of that day, who continued to burn wood for some time thereafter.

Rapid Growth Of The Works

      The Allaire Works grew, by the year 1831, to employ 200 hands. Beside this, Mr. Allaire was employing 400 in a furnace and foundry plant, which he maintained among the New Jersey pines. The New York shop then turned out in six months engines and other heavy iron work to the value of $140,000.

      After continuing the business as a personal one until 1842, Mr. Allaire turned it into an incorporated company, with a cash capital of $300,000. For eight years he served as president, retiring in 1850. He was succeeded by T. F. Secor. Mr. Allaire had been a most painstaking manufacturer, instructing his men to reject faulty castings and allow no piece of machinery to pass muster unless perfect of its kind.

      After his retirement the works continued to turn out large work and were one of the most important shops. At the time of the interstate war they occupied a territory of fifty-two 25x100 lots and employed about a thousand men, producing annually an output estimated at $1,000,000. Among their record-breaking work was the beam engine for the steamship "Vanderbilt," with two cylinders, 90 inches in diameter and 12-foot stroke. Another job was a propeller engine with 100-inch diameter by 4-foot stroke cylinder for the Ericsson monitor "Puritan." They also constructed some stationary machines, including a Cornish engine for the Cleveland, O., waterworks and pumping engines for New Orleans.

Allaire In The Jersey Pines

      The great shop on Cherry street was not the only important interest that bore the name of Allaire. In the vast and lonely pine region of New Jersey he maintained a furnace plant through which his memory is today kept greener than by reason of the New York establishment. The wilderness of South Jersey is today a graveyard for the dead bog-iron ore industry, whose forges and furnaces, a century ago, instilled a now almost incredible amount of prosperity into that solitude of nature. About the year 1812 Mr. Allaire acquired possession of an existing ironworks on the Manasquan River, a few miles back from the coast on the northern border of the bog-ore region. This plant he enlarged, for furnace and foundry purposes, expending thereupon, it has been asserted, half a million dollars. Here was built a thriving village, containing the mansion house of Mr. Allaire, at which John Roach, the shipbuilder, found his bride. With the decay of the Jersey iron trade, about the middle of the last century, the Allaire Works ceased operation. The outward habitations of industry and life did not at once fall to ruins, but year by year have sunken into quietude and decay, remaining to furnish a melancholy commentary upon the impermanence of manufacturing success. At a comparatively recent date, if not at present, the little chapel at the village was still kept up, and Henry Allaire, son of the great engine builder, was still a lonely occupant of the old mansion house. But the very desolation of the place has tended in a way to revive it. Of late years it has become famous as a "deserted village" and is growing to be a favorite objective point of sightseers from neighboring resorts on the coast. Thus it is evidently being vulgarized by the picnickers and beer-bottle throwers in the same manner as the site of Thoreau's hut by Walden pond at Concord, Mass. and like all other localities of refined appreciation when they become a popular fad.

Unpublished Notes Of Charles H. Haswell

      That patriarch of the engineering profession, Charles H. Haswell, who died May 12, 1907, in his ninety-eighth year, having continued in active business up to the time of his death, was, by the aid of his memory and memoranda, a link with the remote past quite beyond parallel among living men. A few years ago, while I was engaged in some research, he supplied me with several manuscript notes which, so far as I am aware, have not hitherto appeared in print. Since they relate to James P. Allaire and his engineering contemporaries this is a proper occasion to present them in full:

      "James P. Allaire was originally in a drug store and at the period of Robert Fulton's essays he engaged in the foundry business and soon extended it to the manufacture of steam engines, boilers, etc."

      "In 1828, William Gibbons, of New York, who had the monopoly of steamboat service between New York and New Brunswick, lost it by an act of the New Jersey Legislature and in withdrawing his boats he gave to Captain Vanderbilt the steamboat 'Bellona.' This was the first and only boat the captain owned, and in May he contracted with Mr. Allaire for the building of the 'Citizen.'

      "In March, 1828, Charles H. Haswell, subsequently the first chief engineer and the first engineer-in-chief in the naval service of the United States, entered the employ of James P. Allaire. In 1837 he designed and built the first steam launch."

      "William Lighthall was a fireman on board the 'Chief Justice Marshall,' and he and Henry (R.?) Dunham, a journeyman silver plater, simultaneously, in 1829, entered the fitting shop of James P. Allaire at 75 cents per day."

      "The West Point Foundry Association was organized in 1816, for the casting of cannon and subsequently commenced the manufacture of steam engines and boilers in West street, corner of Beach Street, New York."

      "John Conroy, the well known manufacturer of fishing rods, reels, etc., was an expert and ingenious finisher in metals, and in about 1830 opened a store in the gore on the southeast corner of Fulton and Cliff Streets."

      "John Clark, a millwright, designed the lining of the air pump of a marine steam engine with staves of brass, expanding them by the repeated blows of a button-headed hammer and then boring out the cylinder."

      "Hogg & Delamater commenced business in the open air at the foot of Harrison street, North river, and removed to the foot of West Fourteenth street."

      Bishop tells us that the works at the foot of Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets were founded in 1850, the firm of Hogg & Delamater having existed since 1842 at the Phoenix Foundry, on West street, between Hubert and Vestry streets. Mr. Hogg retired in 1855 and the business was thereafter conducted by Cornelius Delamater alone. At these Fourteenth street works was constructed the machinery of Ericsson's original "Monitor." They were in existence up to a few years ago as a survivor of the old New York engine shops. In fact, the name of the works still remains in the business world. The West Point Foundry before alluded to, is now and has long been located at Coldspring, N. Y.

      The Phoenix Foundry dated back to 1835. Previous to 1842, it had been conducted by James Cunningham, who was the first to cut off steam by the detachment of an inlet steam valve; this was an invention of Peter Hogg, his apprentice, in 1839. (Bishop.)

To Mr. Haswells manuscript notes may be appended three relating to Mr. Allaire extracted from his "Reminiscences of an Octogenarian:"

      (1816) "James P. Allaire, who had commenced business as a brass founder in the year 1813 in the upper part of Cherry street, No. 434, had so extended his business under the patronage of Robert Fulton and the elder Gibbons, that he became the leading manufacturer of steam engines, boilers, etc. The famous name of the Allaire Works was to be seen on a vast number of engines, especially on steamboats, at a time comparatively recent."

      (1824) "In this year, James P. Allaire, the proprietor of the largest steam-engine manufactory in the United States, located on Cherry and Monroe between Walnut (Jackson) and Corlears streets, designed and constructed the engines of the steamboat 'Henry Eckford,' which were of this compound type, being the first of the kind built in this country or applied to marine purposes in any country; subsequently, 1825 to 1828, he constructed those of the 'Sun,' 'Post Boy,' 'Commerce,' 'Swiftsure' and 'Pilot Boy.' It was not until more than thirty years after (1860) that the English engineers revived this type of engine, introducing it in all their steamers and land engines with the improvement of a steam receiver intermediate between the cylinders, and operating with a much higher pressure of steam."

      (1832) "The writer suggested to his former employer, James P. Allaire, the steam-engine manufacturer, that, as work was light, it would be well to keep all his good men and build a tugboat, which he might employ profitably if he could not sell her. To which he replied: "Why, Charles, there are three now!' This was considered conclusive; three boats, how could they be supported? At the present time (1895) there are 592 documented at this port, besides an unknown number from outside our limits."

Information Sources

  • American Steam Engine Builders: 1800-1900 by Kenneth L. Cope, 2006 page 12
  • Steam Power on the American Farm by Reynold M. Wik, 1953 page 251
  • Power & the Engineer, V29, 08 Dec 1908, page 971-971