Baldwin Locomotive Works
There have been two major events shaping the current Baldwin Park neighborhood. The more recent was the Franklin Town Development as discussed in two prior articles starting here. The more distant was industrialization. This article will look at the history and physical structures of the most prominent industrialist in the neighborhood.
Matthias Baldwin (1795-1866) was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. When he was four, his father, a carriage maker, died. Matthias was educated by his mother and moved to Frankford when he was sixteen to serve a five-year jeweler's apprenticeship with the Woolworth Brothers. In 1817 he found work as a journeyman jeweler at the esteemed shops of Fletcher and Gardiner at 130 Chestnut Street. In 1819 he decided to start his own jewelry and engraving business at 1 College Avenue, near today's 10th and Market Streets, just in time for jewelry to fall out of fashion. He struggled in the jewelry business until, in 1825, saying that he was tired of making "gewgaws," he joined with friend David Mason and started a business making machines to print bookbindings and calico cloth, in a narrow alley above Walnut Street between 4th and 5th Streets. His inventiveness in the production meant that these machines no longer had to be imported, and business was good. In 1828, Mason dropped out of the business and Matthias moved from "Bank-Coffee House Alley" to 14 Minor Street a few blocks away. He built a stationary steam engine in 1829 to better serve the power needs of the factory, and in 1831 he built a small-scale passenger locomotive for Franklin Peale's museum. Engines became his business. In 1831 he moved again, to 1 Lodge Alley. He and Peale cajoled a security guard into letting them have a look at a recent locomotive imported from England, and Baldwin decided that he could build an engine of this size as well. In 1832 he reverse-engineered a full-scale locomotive, Old Ironsides, for the Philadelphia Germantown & Norristown Railroad. Other orders followed, and he outgrew his small shop in Lodge Alley. His new factory at Broad and Hamilton gradually expanded westward until it reached 19th Street, as the images below show.
In light of recent events concerning the vandalism of the Matthias Baldwin statue at City Hall in June (see Inquirer article here), 2020, I would like to veer off on a brief aside. In 1835, while Baldwin was beginning a major business undertaking, he was living at 160 South 10th Street. He recognized the educational needs and limited opportunities for young blacks in the houses behind his own, and he paid for rent and teacher salaries for a school for them. He had a racially integrated factory, and helped start the Franklin Institute, which at that time was a technical training institute that provided workers further theoretical and practical education to advance on the job. He had long been an abolitionist, and this stance led to decreased locomotive sales to railroad owners in the South. In 1837, despite his business workload, he agreed to go to Harrisburg for the Pennsylvania State Constitutional Convention. The issue was qualifications for suffrage, then based solely on wealth, but increasingly becoming an issue of race. He spoke out and voted in favor of keeping blacks enfranchised, voting in the minority on multiple ballots. The convention on January 20, 1838, voted to amend the Pennsylvania State Constitution so that the vote was given only to "free whitemen." He had fought but lost. In the 1850's he began funding the building of churches, especially in the poorer neighborhoods, and six churches owe their existence to his financial support. He was a businessman, but not all business. For more see our brief website article here and a longer outside book from 1867 here.
1832 lithograph (source here) showing the parade of gold and silver artificers marching past the 2nd Bank on the centennial of George Washington's birth. Notice Fletcher & Gardiner shop on the left at 130 Chestnut Street. Astute observers may know that the 2nd Bank still stands at 420 Chestnut Street. As explained in this outside article, the street numbers ran sequentially from the Delaware River west based on the building, with no regard for intersecting numbered streets. This was changed to the system we know today in 1856.
Silver teapot made by Fletcher and Gardiner at 130 Chestnut Street in the 1820's. This teapot is in Gallery 207 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Before Baldwin worked with blacksmiths and iron, he had worked as a journeyman silversmith at Fletcher and Gardiner. The term "journeyman" is derived from the French journee, or day, because they were paid on a daily basis. It was the middle craftsman stage between apprentice and master.
Photo from 2019 of the Baldwin stationary steam engine that he built in 1829 while at 14 Minor Street. The engine was used at Baldwin Locomotive Works (BLW) until 1873, and is now in a prominent place on the first floor of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. A photo of a portion of the placard is included.
Baldwin's first shop 1 Lodge Alley in 1831. He moved here in 1831 from his machine shop at 14 Minor Street, which ran between 5th and 6th a half block north of Chestnut Street. At this time Baldwin lived at 160 South 10th Street.
Baldwin would build nine locomotives in four years here before the move to Broad and Hamilton Streets in 1835. BLW at Broad Street would, at its peak, build six locomotive engines per day.
An imaginative sketch from 1832 of Old Ironsides departing the PGN depot at 9th and Green Street. The locomotive was made at 1 Lodge Alley. It was in use in Vermont at least into the 1850's, and was either buried in a landslide or cannibalized for parts, or both (depending on source), in the 1860's.
The non-working replica that was made for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia is on display at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, and looks nothing like this sketch. The replica was made from the original 1832 drawings.
For an outside three-page article on Old Ironsides, see here.
For a six-minute video about Old Ironsides (including a notable flaw), see here.
Model of Old Ironsides on display in the Franklin Institute train exhibit.
This matches the appearance of the full replica on display in Shelburne.
Ad for the new rail line in 1832.
Tickets cost 25 cents, the equivalent of $8 today, so no complaining about SEPTA!
Horses were used on rainy days, since the iron wheels could not get traction on wet iron rails. The sand-box, which was not invented until 1836, stored sand that could be released in front of the drive wheels when traction was needed. Literal horse power would no longer be needed after that.
Portion of 1865 Barnes Map of Philadelphia to help clarify the early Baldwin moves.
In 1859 many street names in Philadelphia were changed.
Chant Street on the left is the former College Avenue.
Minor Street is on the upper right.
Jayne Street is the former Lodge Alley, called that because it ran behind the Masonic Lodge.
Independence Hall is between Walnut and Chestnut and 5th and 6th Streets.
Watercolor by David Kennedy in 1861 looking northwest at the corner of Broad and Willow Streets. The first BLW building at Broad and Hamilton Streets is in the back left. Photo from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Portions of two sections of the 1922 Bromley map combined to show the extent of Baldwin locomotive Works (BLW) on its eastern campus. Many other factories in the area supported BLW, like the Sellers Iron Works seen here between 16th and 17th Streets; Bement and Miles at 20th and Callowhill; and Asa Whitney Wheel Works at 16th and Callowhill Streets.
Baldwin Locomotive Works at Broad and Spring Garden Streets around 1900, looking west. The corner of Broad and Spring Garden Streets is at lower right. By 1922 the factory buildings had extended to 19th and Hamilton and occupied 3/4 of what will become Matthias Baldwin Park.
By 1922 there was also a satellite campus stretching from 26th to 28th Streets along the Callowhill Cut.
View looking north on Broad Street in 1901 from the bridge over the Callowhill Cut.
The white building with the dome on top is the third location of Boys Central High School, at the southwest corner of Broad and Green Streets from 1900 to 1939.
A closer look at the west side of the corner of Broad and Spring Garden Streets in 1913. The main offices of BLW are on the left. Notice the lamp posts running down the middle of Broad Street, a look brought back in a less quaint fashion recently. The domes in the background are the observatories atop the third building for Central Boys High School.
1871 photo for the Baldwin catalog looking west on Spring Garden from Broad Street.
The two churches seen on the north side of Spring Garden Street at 18th and 20th Streets are still there. The 1871 catalog has a detailed history of the Baldwin Locomotive Works.
This image looks north on 15th Street in 1901.
Looking southeast at 16th and Spring Garden Street in 1901.
Part of the new mint is seen on lower right.
Both the BLW building seen here and the Mint were completed in 1901. BLW was still expanding locally although the gradual move to Eddystone would begin in 1906.
Same view today.
The 1.1 million-square-foot office building at 1500 Spring Garden Street was built in 1947 and refurbished in 2002.
Looking north up 18th Street from just south of the new bridge over the Callowhill Cut in 1898.
The Pickering Spring Company seen on the left is in the southeast corner of the current Baldwin Park. BLW would eventually occupy this building.
No matter how neatly you stack your parts, you eventually feel cramped, as this stereograph from 1900 shows.
The first partial move out of the Spring Garden complex was to offices in the brand new Harrison Building, which opened in 1895 at the southwest corner of 15th and Market Streets. The twelve-story steel-framed office building was directly across from the Broad Street Rail Station, and had three high-speed elevators and electricity. BLW occupied suite 1103. The beautiful building, despite being fully occupied, was demolished in 1969 and replaced with.....
By 1907, BLW had maximized its use of the buildings it then had in our neighborhood. Adding extra floors to buildings still did not allow enough room for turning out six locomotives per day. Construction in Eddystone, just south of the current airport, began on 564 acres of land. The view here from 1918 shows access by rail and ships.
There were BLW expansions into areas of Philadelphia proper while the main production was shifting to Eddystone.
While the Pennsylvania Avenue railroad tracks were being submerged below street level in 1897-1900, BLW built an annex at 27th and Pennsylvania Avenue.
BLW by 1922 had about 700 feet of frontage on Pennsylvania Avenue. The turntable at 26th Street directed locomotives to bays for finishing touches.
Eddystone was ramping up as the Spring Garden BLW was winding down.
The Baldwin 60000 donated to the Franklin Institute was buffed up here before being moved on temporary tracks down Vine Street from the nearest rails.
In 1903 BLW built this 27-bay roundhouse and 80-foot diameter turntable at 26th and Pennsylvania Avenue. Repairs and locomotive finishing were done here.
Aerial photo from the west in 1925 shows the BLW roundhouse on the left.
There is a ramp with tracks leading up from the main tracks. St Francis Church is at center top. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is under construction at top right.
Portion of 1917 Sanborn insurance map showing the expansion of BLW north of Spring Garden Street onto the 1500 block of Brandywine Street. The World War I years were the peak production years at BLW.
Portion of 1888 map showing the Southwark Iron Foundry, which was established at Washington Avenue and 4th Street in 1836. The railroad tracks in the image are running east-west along Washington Avenue.
In 1930 BLW acquired it as a subsidiary. It vacated this block after World War II and the lot was eventually turned into Sacks Playground.
Newspaper clipping from late 1930's bemoaning not only the loss of industry but also the gain in surface parking lots.
Railroad buildings come and go.
The original BLW at the corner of Hamilton and Broad Streets is almost completely demolished as seen here in 1937. Across the street on the right is the massive Terminal Commerce Building at 401 North Broad Street, completed in 1931, and containing 1.3 million square feet of space. It was built by the Reading Company (photo credit).
Aerial photo looking northeast in 1938, after the demolition of the original Baldwin Locomotive Works buildings.
Photo from 1941 looking southwest at Broad and Locust Streets.
A tank made by BLW at the Eddystone plant works its way north on Broad Street. It will pass the empty lots on Broad Street between the Callowhill Cut and Spring Garden Street on its way to the dedication of a new armor factory at the Henry Disston & Sons plant in Tacony.
Aerial view of Eddystone in 1949.
Steam locomotives were being replaced with diesel and then diesel-electric locomotives starting in the 1930's. BLW never made the transition. The Eddystone plant even at its maximum production had only used a third of its capacity, and after military contracts faded after World War II BLW closed its Philadelphia area factories in 1956.
The Eddystone buildings, except for the four-winged Baldwin Tower in the foreground of this photo, were demolished.
Baldwin Locomotive Works (BLW) could not compete with other diesel-electric locomotive builders after World War II. It merged with Lima-Hamilton in 1950 to become Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton (B-L-H), turned out its last locomotive in 1956, and continued to make construction equipment. In 1972, Greyhound Corporation, the new owner of the B-L-H subsidiary, closed it down. Most of the Eddystone buildings were cleared in 1994. You can watch a four-minute video about the very last of 70,500 BLW locomotives at outside link here.
The days are numbered for B-L-H, here in 1950.
At least Baldwin gets top billing...
...and is the literal face of the company.
One of the last remnants of BLW still stands at Eddystone, used now as an office building.
Colorized postcard of the northeast corner of Broad and Spring Garden Streets in 1916.
Gone are the days of extravagant architecture and respect, even adulation, of machinists and their products.
The bronze statue of Matthias Baldwin seen here in the lower right was placed at this corner in 1906, at the peak output of BLW across the street. It would be moved to City Hall in 1922, where it remains today.
If you can't sleep due to worries about the Baldwin statue at City Hall, rest assured that the Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park know where to find a full-size replacement. Don't tell!
authored by Joe Walsh, July 2020