William B. Bement & Son

20th and Callowhill

In 1848 a three-story stone building stood at the northwest corner of 20th and Callowhill Streets in which E. D. Marshall ran his small fabric printing business. William B. Bement (1817-1897), a machinist working in Lowell, Massachusetts, was lured to Philadelphia to join the enterprise in 1851. Bement eventually headed the business, and switched to making big machines for big machine makers, including the nearby locomotive factories of Norris and of Baldwin. For the next 75 years, the name Bement was the only constant in a series of partnerships and consolidations whose specialty was making big machines.

This next paragraph will have a lot of business trivia, but, as always in these articles, there are connections. Foundry specialist James Dougherty was a partner from 1854 to 1870, at which point he left to start his own firm. Bement's son, Clarence, then joined the newly christened William Bement & Son business. In 1885 consolidations led to the name Bement, Miles, & Company and finally in 1900 to Niles-Bement-Pond Company. Niles-Bement-Pond would pass through several consolidations to eventually become Lima-Hamilton Corporation, which itself would merge with Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1950 to become Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton Corporation (B-L-H). B-L-H closed most of its Eddystone plant and stopped making locomotives in 1956. In 1972, Greyhound Corporation, the new owner of the B-L-H subsidiary, closed it down. Most of the Eddystone site was cleared in 1994. Thus was the shared end of Baldwin Locomotive Works and William Bement & Son, two former neighborhood stalwarts.
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Portion of map from 1849 showing the E.D. Marshall & Company Machine Shop in lower left at 20th and Callowhill Street, now the site of the Target. Some other features on the map:

  • many street names change as one crosses Broad Street, e.g. Morris to Spring Garden, with substantial offsets in their course which persist today

  • the Preston Retreat was an orphanage or foster home (upper left) in 1849, not yet a functional maternity hospital

  • W.P. Cresson's Foundry at right edge would move to 18th and Hamilton in 1866, as discussed here

  • Baldwin's locomotive factory at Broad and Hamilton Streets was in its infancy

  • the Norris Iron Foundry at 17th and Morris Streets was dominant in locomotive output

  • Pennsylvania Avenue had multiple rail tracks at grade, before the Callowhill Cut

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Bement, Miles and Company around 1890.

This view is looking northeasterly, with the corner in foreground being that of 21st (running to the left) and Callowhill Street (running to the right). The train along Pennsylvania Avenue can be seen in the back left. At this time there were about 1,000 employees.

For more business details, see outside link here.

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Bement was a national player.
In 1869 Bement took out this full-page ad in the Union Pacific 64-page commemorative book marking the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The Union Pacific had completed the eastern half of the railroad.
Bement sold almost as many different items as the Target there now!
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Hexamer map of Bement from the southeast in 1888

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Portion of City Atlas from 1875 showing the Bement factory in lower left at 20th and Callowhill Streets and the homes of William Bement (1814 Spring Garden Street) and of his son Clarence Bement (1804 Spring Garden Street) at upper right. Two other sons, William P. and Frank, eventually joined the business as well. William P. lived at 2027 Spring Garden Street and Frank at 710 North 20th Street. None of these homes exist today.
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House of William Bement at 1814-1816 Spring Garden Street in the late 1800's.
The house was demolished in the 1920's. A Linton's Restaurant occupied this site in the 1960's and 1970's. The site then became part of the desultory Franklin Town project in 1971 and finally the first Museum Towers (now North x Northwest) apartment building in 1987.
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1814 and 1816 Spring Garden Street in February 2021.
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Photo from 1874 showing overhead machines and shafting made by Bement for a manufacturers' exhibition sponsored by the Franklin Institute (then at 15 South 7th Street).

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Tidy display of Bement shafting in a factory in Wisconsin.

Shafting was a huge business in the era before electric motors. Multiple machines would be connected by straps and pulleys to a rotating shaft powered by one stationary steam engine. A powerful enough engine could supply a whole factory building.

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Inside the Bement plant showing three stories of equipment.

This photo is from the extensive 1893 catalog here.

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A view from the top of City Hall in 1917 shows the few remaining buildings in the path of the Fairmount Parkway. Bement juts out in the top right. The first building along the parkway moving away from City Hall is the Medico-Chirugical Hospital at 17th and Cherry Streets. Though partially demolished it was repurposed as an emergency hospital in October 1918 for the influenza pandemic.

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Portion of a Sanborn insurance map from 1917 showing the accessory Bement plant at 23rd and Wood Streets. This too would fall victim to the Fairmount Parkway. This site is now where the Park Town Place towers are located.

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The accessory plant at 24th and Wood Street as sketched in 1891, from here. This link, Philadelphia and Popular Philadelphians, has informative biographies of Philadelphia businessmen and businesses as of 1891.

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The mid-twentieth century was a time of business consolidations.

Ad from 1964 showing some of the names that worked their way into Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton. Niles is part of Bement-Niles-Pond.

Energetic railroad enthusiasts have created specialized pages for their hobbies, including this one dedicated to Baldwin diesel engines.

Like most industries with competitors located in close proximity, young energetic apprentices could cut their teeth before starting their own companies. For example, Edward G. Budd came to Philadelphia at age 20 to work in the William Sellers Machine Company starting in 1890. He moved employment three blocks west to work for Bement, moving up to become head of the hydraulic press design department. He worked for a few other companies after he left Bement in 1898, then parlayed his skill as a draftsman and experience with hydraulic presses into his own company in 1912. He made pressed-steel components for auto, rail cars, and plane bodies. The Budd Company plant on Hunting Park Avenue went dormant in 2003, after employing thousands for 88 years. 

The Pioneer, a stainless steel seaplane built by Budd in 1931, sits outside the Franklin Institute. This is the first connection of Bement to the art on Logan Square.
Laurel Hill Cemetery is one of my favorite places in Philadelphia. There is history, including the history made by our neighborhood industrialists, around every turn. Let's look at two graves there.
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Main stone in the Bement family plot at Laurel Hill Cemetery.

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Marker for the Clarence Bement family.

Clarence Bement (1843-1923) was one of the foremost mineral and gem collectors in the country, having spent over $100,000 on his collection. He often consulted with the 20-years-older Joseph Leidy (1823-1891), head of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, which in 1876 would end up three blocks from Clarence's home. In 1900 Clarence sold his collection to J. P. Morgan, who donated it to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The manganese mineral bementite is named for Clarence.

On the gravestone pictured above is the name Joseph Leidy Bement, Clarence's son, who was  born in 1873 and lived for only two weeks. The bronze statue of his namesake, Joseph Leidy, is in front of the Academy of Natural Sciences. This is the second connection between the art on Logan Square and the Bements.

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Two Bement-related art pieces on Logan Square just outside our neighborhood.

The Budd Pioneer in front of the Franklin Institute and the statue of Joseph Leidy in front of the Academy of Natural Sciences.

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And that second grave of note in Laurel Hill Cemetery...

Most decorative figures at the graves in Laurel Hill are allegorical; there are very few statues of the the actual persons who are entombed within the grave. One interesting example is that of one-time Bement partner James Dougherty, whose bronze figure stands at a lectern made of bolts and gears, just behind Millionaires' Row.

Our article on police stations in the neighborhood picks up the history of the parcel at 20th and Callowhill Streets from the 1930's. See here.

authored by Joe Walsh, October 2021