Statue of Matthias Baldwin
Northwest corner of City Hall
Statue of Baldwin at Broad and Spring Garden Streets from 1905 to 1921. Moved in 1921 to City Hall. (Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission)
Baldwin Gravesite, Laurel Hill Cemetery
The tolling of church bells announced the death of a prominent Philadelphian, the year 1866. In the funeral procession City dignitaries stood shoulder-to-shoulder with 1,000 workers. They proceeded on foot from center city to Laurel Hill Cemetery. Along the way, the funeral cortege came to a large factory at Broad and Spring Garden Street. As they circled the factory, the bell in its cupola rang out the death of its owner. That man was Matthias Baldwin.
Known for his abolitionist views and philanthropic deeds, Baldwin had built from scratch one of Philadelphia's most successful businesses, the Matthias Baldwin Locomotive Works. He made certain that upon his death his company would continue to provide employment for his workers. At its peak in 1907, 41 years after the death of its founder, the Baldwin Locomotive Works employed 18,500 people.
The Works grew to 39 buildings covering 17 urban acres in this area. During its heyday 2,000 steam locomotives were manufactured a year. They were sold domestically as well as shipped to foreign countries, including England, France, India, Haiti, Egypt and South America. The Baldwin locomotive was a work horse. It climbed Pikes Peak in Colorado, pulled trains for the Trans-Siberian Express and ran the train from Jaffa to Jerusalem. Over time hundreds of customized designs from 4-ton electrics to 150 ton steams were manufactured.
Not a native of Philadelphia, Matthias Baldwin was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey into an affluent family that found itself financially ruined upon the death of the father. The family assets were stolen by the executors of his will. Matthias Baldwin at age of 16 was forced to seek work in Philadelphia as an indentured apprentice to a skilled jeweler in Frankford.
It was in Philadelphia that Baldwin saw his first steam engine imported from England. It would change his life. Studying the blueprints, he made his own primitive locomotive. Refining and manufacturing better models, he soon outgrew his workshop in old city and moved his factory in 1835 to the countryside at Broad and Spring Garden.
His company prospered beyond all expectations, remaining in this area until 1928 when it moved to Eddystone, Pennsylvania. Slow to convert from steam to diesel, the company became mired in the past. In 1951 it merged with Lima-Hamilton engine builders. In 1954 management destroyed most of Baldwin's company records. Production ceased in 1956.
During his lifetime, Baldwin enjoyed great fame but today is little remembered. His statue stands in a little noticed nook outside of City Hall, NW corner. It is our hope to put Matthias Baldwin back on the map with the naming of our Park and the Pennsylvania Historical Marker located at the NW corner of the Matthias Baldwin Park.
see original invitation to dedication ceremony of 26 September 2009
authored by Sandra Owens 2/2018