Q: When I was a boy in Emmaus, there was the Donaldson Iron Co. There was an iron foundry and a machine shop. My dad and all my uncles worked there, as did most of Emmaus. What was its history?
A: The Donaldson Iron Co., with the slogan ''the pipe everlasting,'' was a thriving company in Emmaus from the 1880s to the 1930s. The spark plug behind its creation and growth was the remarkable George Ormrod.
An immigrant from England, Ormrod, whose home on Hamilton Street in Allentown was later purchased by General Harry C. Trexler, was a man of many interests. He was involved with mining and, with Trexler, was a founder of Lehigh Portland Cement Co.
Ormrod's interest began with Donaldson's predecessor, the Emmaus Iron Co. Formed in 1870, it had a blast furnace and used local iron ores. Ormrod and H.H. Fisher of Allentown took the company over in 1877. By then, the local iron industry was already in decline, having suffered from the collapse of the railroad building boom in 1873.
In 1882, Ormrod and Fisher began building the facility that would become the Donaldson Iron Co. In 1883 they closed the iron furnace and that October produced their first cast iron pipe. The company took its name from John Donaldson, a Philadelphia man who joined Ormrod and Fisher in the business. The company's products were primarily used for municipal gas and water pipes.
Cities and towns were expanding and demand for the company's product was booming both in America and overseas. In its first year (1883), about 500 tons of cast iron were produced. By the early 20th century Donaldson was producing 45,000 to 50,000 tons of iron pipe annually.
Donaldson Iron employed 500 to 700 people. By 1912 it owned 71 acres and 36 houses. It had its own water supply from two reservoirs, electric light, a power plant and a machine and pattern shop. John Donaldson was company president until his death in 1906. Ormrod, who had been manager and treasurer, was named president in his place. He held that position until his death in 1915.
Donaldson Iron continued to thrive into the 1920s. When Emmaus held its Diamond Jubilee in 1934, the company was still the borough's largest employer.
''This is our oldest and largest industry and has contributed immeasurably to the development and prosperity of our borough,'' said the official program for the jubilee. It was estimated in 1934 that if the total tonnage produced in the company's first 50 years was converted to 6-inch pipe its most popular type it would stretch more than 16,000 miles.
But World War II was to prove the company's undoing. A shortage of iron for domestic use led to Donaldson's 1943 closing. It could not be converted to war work because it was equipped to make only pipe. To judge from the news stories in The Morning Call's files, this led to troubles for workers suddenly without jobs.
In 1945, World War II ended. But Donaldson Iron was not coming back. On Aug. 21, 1945, it announced that the company would be liquidated and its assets sold.
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