Monthly Archives: November 2011

Early Northwestern Wheels Turned By River Power

Following appeared in the Daily Gazette in 1979
Retrieved by Dana Fellows ~ 2011 and Transcribed by Caitlyn Fellows ~ 2011

Early Northwestern Wheels Turned By River Power

Because the Dillon family had established itself so firmly in Ohio in pioneer days it is only natural to wonder what drew one branch of the family to the Rock River Valley in Illinois half a century later.

It in part, can be explained by the sudden spurt in growth taking place all along the Rock River at that time in history. From Rockford to Rock Island, much was happening to attract settlers to this area. Following the close of the Black Hawk War in 1822, when the Indians of northwestern Illinois had been moved west of the Mississippi River, settlements sprang up all along the Rock River, but it wasn’t until the 1850’s that rapid growth occurred in this area.

As early as 1854, Dixon had two major railroads entering the city, the Illinois Central Railroad which ran north and south, and the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad Company, today known (1979) as the Chicago and Northwestern Transportation Company. The next year the GACU Railroad extended to Sterling and Morrison, and in 1856, the rails were extended all the way to the Mississippi River at Fulton.

This excellent railroad service connected with Chicago, the Great Lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Rock River and the Mississippi River.

Rock River Power

From the time the white man came to this area, it was felt that the Rock River provided great possibilities for water power, and it was soon developed at all the larger settlements in the valley.

On February18, 1847, the Illinois General Assembly approved the formation of a corporation to be known as “The Sterling Hydraulic and Manufacturing Company” with the authority to erect a dam across the Rock River, at, or near the foot of the rapids in said river, at Sterling, in the county of Whiteside.

The said corporation shall be the sole owners and proprietors of the water power to be created and produced by reason of the dam aforesaid.

On Feb. 5th, 1849, the General Assembly approved a general act, “for the improvement of the navigation of Rock Falls, and for the production of hydraulic power.” Under these two acts, a corporation was formed and the dam built at Sterling. It was completed soon after the arrival of the first Galena and Chicago Union Railroad train in Sterling in July, 1855.

By 1872, the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad had made connection with Sterling and Rock Falls.

In the late 1800’s, Sterling showed a population growth from 1741 to 5087. In 1867, a new town, to be called Rock Falls, was laid out at the south end of the Sterling dam. Only the river separated the two towns.

In a short time they developed into two industrial sites, sharing the abundant water power of the Sterling Hydraulic Company. The stage was now set for the rapid, sold and closely knit industrial development of Sterling and Rock falls.

Water power played an important role in the industrial development of Sterling and Rock Falls, and in particular in the Northwestern Barb Wire Company.

In the early days there were about 25 water wheels on the Sterling Rock Falls races, located at the north and south ends of the 940-foot dam of the Sterling Hydraulic Company. The dam had a fall of eight feet and six inches, which produced approximately 4000 mechanical horsepower. Of this total, Northwestern in its original plant on the Rock Falls race used two wheels, producing over 200 horse-power.

The Dillon-Griswold mill in Sterling race used five wheels, producing nearly 1300 horse-power, by far the largest operation in the twin cities.

In time, the water power was converted to electricity, resulting in a substantial increase in the power produced and used.

Low Water Level

Another fact is noted about the early days concerning water power from the Rock River. Because of low water levels at time, the Rock River sometimes failed to produce all the local power needed and industries such as the Northwestern Barb Wire Company carried auxiliary power produces by huge steam boilers. It should be also noted that though the river no longer produces the power for Northwestern, it does supply thousands of gallon of water per minute used for cooling operations, which of course, is returned, clean, to the river.

Soon after 1910, a second dam was constructed one-half mile upstream from the old dam, in connections with completion of the Illinois-Mississippi Feeder Canal witch starts at the point.

This second dam powered twelve wheels at 250 horse-power each, to be converted into electricity, giving the twin cities water power close to 8000 horsepower from industry from the two dams combined.

Eventually the Illinois Northern Utilities Company bought out the local power interests and supplied electricity for local industry.

By 1972, all local productions of electricity had ceased and Commonwealth Edison Company (successor to the Illinois Northern Utilities Company) supplied the county with electricity produced elsewhere.

The two power dams still stand and speak of a day when the Rock River turned the wheels of industry in the Sterling-Rock falls Community.

Today, the Northwestern Steel and Wire Company, for the most part, receives power for its Sterling and Rock Falls plant’s directly from the Commonwealth Edison company atomic energy station in Cordova, Ill.

The Northwestern Steel and Wire Company today is rated the largest customer user of electricity in Northern Illinois.


James Foster, Only Non-Family President of Northwestern Barb Wire Company

Following appeared in the Daily Gazette in 1979
Retrieved by Dana Fellows ~ 2011 and Transcribed by Rachel Fellows ~ 2011

James Foster, Only Non-Family President of NW Barb Wire

In the 100 year history of the Northwestern Steel & Wire Company, only one man has the distinction of being the first, and only, non-family to assume to the presidency of the company. He was James C. Foster, a former sales manager with Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation.

Foster was named president of the Northwestern Barb Wire Company (NS&W) on March 1st, 1938. He succeeded Paul W. Dillon who resigned to become chairman of the board and general manager of the firm.

The following is the complete text of Foster’s appointment as carried in the March 1st, 1938 edition of The Sterling Gazette:

Paul W. Dillon has resigned the presidency of the Northwestern Barb Wire Company to become chairman of the beard and general manager. His place as president will be taken by James Craven Foster, general sales manager of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, who resigned Monday to take up his new duties on April 1st. Mr. Foster has been with Jones & Laughlin, one of the three largest steel corporations in the United States, since 1913.

Mr. Dillon will continue as the head of the gigantic industry he has created here, but felt that the load was becoming too great for one man to carry, hence the shift of the presidency upon the shoulders of Mr. Foster.

The growth of Northwestern Barb Wire Company has been phenomenal during the past few years under the leadership of Mr. Dillon, it was incorporated in 1879. At the present time, when the miss is operating at its full capacity, as it was until a few months ago, a peak of 2,007 men were on the pay rolls.

Has Gone Steadily Ahead

Originally the Northwestern Barb Wire Company made, as its name implies, only barbed wire. Later other lines were added in 1902 W. M. Dillon formed a partnership with J. Wool Griswold under the name of the Dillon-Griswold Company, he putting in his fence machines and Mr. Griswold his bale tie machines. The present plant was built, but Mr. Dillon retained the Northwestern Barb Wire plant on the Rock Falls side of the river, where he continued to make nails, etc.

The Dillon-Griswold company went into the hands of a receiver in 1911. Meanwhile P.W. Dillon had become associated with his father in the Northwestern Barb Wire plant and had taken over the active management. In 1913, the Northwestern Barb Wire Company purchased the Dillon-Griswold plant and made changes and enlargements, since which time it has forged steadily to the front until today it is one of the biggest industries of its kind in the Twin Cities. Washington M. Dillon died January 12th, 1920.

From a humble beginning, manufacturing only one line, the plant is now making between 50 and 60 different articles-possibly more. The Dillon-Griswold plant put in a rod mill which did not prove successful. Three years ago, the work of putting in a complete steel mill was started by the successors, the Northwestern. The first steel was poured two years ago in April. More changes and improvements are contemplated for the future.

Foster a Marine

The new president of the Northwestern, James Craven Foster, is a middle-aged man, married, and an ex-service man, having served during the World War as a captain in the United States Marines. He is a member of the American Legion and other ex-service organizations.

Mr. and Mrs. Foster will take up their residence here sometime during the later part of March, in time for Mr. Foster to take over his new duties April 1st.

Northwestern Steel & Wire Company Pours 50 Years Into Electric Steelmaking

The Following was taken from a copy of the “Lighting Bolt” from April 1986. Retrieved and transcribed by Dana Fellows ~ 2011

Northwestern Takes Bold Step Into Future  

The year 1879 was the year in which the curious minds and restless hands that would lead America into its age of greatest progress were beginning to make their presence felt.

This was the year in which Thomas Alva Edison would perfect his electric light in Menlo Park, New Jersey and when inter-city telephone communication would be demonstrated for the first time. In that year Northwestern Barb Wire Company made its quiet entrance on the local scene.

Four young and industrious hardware merchants, headed by Washington M. Dillon and his stepbrother, William C. Robinson, signed papers of incorporation of Northwestern Barb Wire Company – thus beginning the history of Northwestern Steel and Wire Company on that cold day on February 28, 1879.

Ironically also in that same year, an Englishman named Dugald Clark would, for the first time, melt steel in a furnace that utilized an electric arc .. a process that would be perfected to a high-degree of efficiency at Northwestern Steel and Wire Company 57 years later.

At the outset, 10 employees turned out spools of barb wire in a single three-story building built from stone quarried from the Rock River and positioned along the river banks on the Rock Falls side.

The Company purchased the smooth wire it needed from the American Steel and Wire Company in DeKalb. About 600 spools of barb wire a day were being turned out at the Company’s modest facility. Power to run the barb wire machines came from a long-line shaft driven by water wheels installed on the river side of the mill race.

Into The 20th Century

Washington M. Dillon was forced to continue the operation of the plant on his own following the sudden death of William Robinson in 1883. In 1892, Washington Dillon entered into a new partnership with J W Griswold and started the Dillon-Griswold Wire Company in Sterling. Dillon kept his original plant across the river in Rock Falls, but devoted much of his time and energy to the new organization, which manufactured Dillon’s barb wire and Griswold’s bale ties, and later added field fence and nails to the product line.

The new firm grew and prospered until Griswold’s death in 1902. When Griswold’s heirs expressed little interest in managing the factory, Dillon … dissolved the partnership and returned to the operation of Northwestern Barb Wire Company in Rock Falls.

When the Dillon-Griswold Company went into receivership in 1912, Northwestern purchased the remaining assets of the firm and the barb wire factory moved from Rock Falls into the Sterling plant’s newer and larger facilities.

The elder Dillon was assisted in the move by his son, Paul W., who had, at that time, been assuming additional responsibilities in the firm for the past few years. Following Washington’s death in 1920, Paul – P W. to his friends and associates – was elected president by the board of directors. He was an intense, capable young man whose leadership and enterprise quickly became apparent to those around him in the Company and in the community.

In 1930, the third generation of the Dillon family in Northwestern management, W.M. (Martin) Dillon, was named general manager of a newly acquired subsidiary firm: Parrish-Alford Fence and Machine Company of Knightstown, Indiana. Martin ran the firm for five years at its Indiana location, then supervised the moving of the facility back to Northwestern’s original home in Rock Falls.

Northwestern faced some difficult times in the decade of the 1920’s and 1930’s. A major fire swept through the wire mill, causing three fatalities and doing an estimated quarter-million dollars in damage during the 1920’s. But at this time in Northwestern’s history, the greatest threat to its future was not represented by natural causes, but by man-made ones.

During the hard times that followed the stock market crash of 1929, the Company felt the economic pinch even more than the majority of the other he country, NSW was operating at full capacity to assist the war effort.

When Leonard Shannahan (who later went on to become Superintendent of the IO-Inch Mill) first came to Northwestern in 1946, the Company was pouring steel into I-ton ingots. “In 1947 we averaged 500 tons a day on that mill,” Leonard recently reflected. “That eventually went up to 1100 ton a day.”

Leonard said he misses those days when spirit among workers was high and there weren’t so many restrictions on job descriptions. “You knew· everyone – their wife’s name and kids names. We were close. When you walked into the IO-Inch Mill on a given day, you didn’t know what job you would eventually be doing. If we had a breakdown everybody worked on it. It didn’t matter who you were.”

In the early 1950’s the Company embarked on yet another major expansion in the building of a complete new plant just west of Avenue G to house two new 150-ton electric furnaces, a new 46-inch blooming mill and a 12-inch merchant bar mill.

By 1968 technology was starting to work in Northwestern’s favor A new concept developed by the Company, called ultra-high power, allowed NSW to achieve substantial increases in productivity This year saw the installation of a 250-ton furnace.

In just three years, Northwestern’s insatiable appetite for steel melting power increased to the point that in 1971, the first heat of steel was tapped from furnace No.7, – a 400-ton unit that remains the largest of its type in the world. By the end of the decade, a second 400-ton furnace was installed and the 250-ton furnace also was converted to 400-tons.

How It’s Done Today

When it comes to steel production through the use of electric furnaces, no one “does it better” than Northwestern Steel and Wire.

A pioneer in electric steel-making, Northwestern has continually stepped up its production capacity to include three 400-ton electric furnaces .. the largest of their kind in the world.

Why does Northwestern use electric furnaces to melt scrap steel instead of producing steel from scratch? There are a number of reasons:
(1) Northwestern is located in a good scrap area and selected steel scrap is the principal ingredient for the production of electric steel.
(2) Northwestern is located in an area where there is more than adequate electrical supply This is vitally important to the mill, as its daily usage of electricity is comparable to the electrical needs of a city of 300,000 population.
(3) Electricity is considered a “pure” source of heat, and does not in itself impart any mysterious properties to the steel. Heat comes from both the proximity of the electric arc and the electrical resistance of the steel bath itself The production of heat by electricity is unique in that oxygen is not necessary to support combustion. Thus, the quantity of oxygen can be controlled, and the presence of oxygen compounds and other impurities undesirable in good steel can be materially reduced. In addition, the electric furnace process permits the addition of alloying agents to molten steel without appreciable loss by oxidation.
(4) Northwestern has 50 years of experience in the electric steel-making process.

The operation begins with steel scrap, sorted by grade and loaded into huge charging buckets which are used to transfer the scrap to the furnace. The furnaces themselves resemble giant tea kettles on rockers; their steel shells are lined with refractory or water cooled panels to hold steel reaching temperatures of 3000-degrees. The dome-shaped, water cooled roof of the furnace is removable in that it swings aside when the furnace is to be charged with scrap. Once the furnace has been charged, the roof is swung back into place and three carbon electrodes are lowered into the furnace.

In the case of the 400-ton furnaces, these three electrodes are 28-inches in diameter It is at this point that ultrahigh power is supplied to the electrodes through automatic control devices connected directly to Northwestern Steel and Wire Company’s computer.

Current within the furnace arcs from one electrode to the metallic charge of scrap and from the charge to the next electrode. This process continues until the steel is a molten mass. Periodically during the heat, limestone and flux are added to the molten steel causing impurities to rise to the surface and form the slag which floats on top of the metal. At intervals during the heat, the furnace is tilted slightly so that this slag can be removed.

When the temperature of the bath reaches a specific point, alloying elements are added to the heat to determine the grade of steel as called for in the specifications given to the chief melter.

Bloom Caster

When the steel is ready for tapping, the electrodes are raised above the dome and the tap hole is opened. Awaiting the molten metal is a ladle into which the steel is to be poured. The ladle is pre-heated at a pre-heat station so that the molten steel will retain its high temperatures throughout the casting process. Since the electric furnace is on rockers, it can be gradually tilted so that the steel is drained from under the remaining slag.

Most of the steel that Northwestern produces is processed either into a bloom or billet continuous caster a relatively new process that takes the place of the old billet mill. Northwestern utilizes an 8-strand billet and 6-strand bloom caster, which means that either eight billets or six strands are produced simultaneously as the steel is poured through the caster. The billets and blooms are then taken to one of Northwestern’s rolling mills where they are reheated in a reheat furnace and then, while hot and pliable, rolled into finished products, such as angles, flats, channel, beams and rods.

Making Steel – The Electric Way

By the time the German Army invaded Poland in 1939, Northwestern had nearly recovered from the financial struggles involved in the start-up of the new steel plant and was well into a tone of continuing expansion, improved product quality and increasing profits.

Northwestern's 10 Ton Furnace, about 1936

The two original 10-ton electric furnaces at Northwestern allowed the Company to produce its own steel and wire rod and thus become self-sufficient for the first time.

Ingots poured from these first furnaces were about 6×6 inches and weighed about 800 pounds. They were poured into gang molds, each holding four ingots. The ingots later were increased to 12×12 and weighed about 1,400 pounds.

Fryn Engineering designed a small re-heat furnace for the ingots and the blooming mill reduced them to 2×2 inch billets.

Next step in the process was a rod mill to produce the No.5 rods from the billets. This was a new mill designed by Fred Gildon, Superintendent of the Rod Mill, and the manufacturer, Birdsboro Corporation. Gildon is credited with being a genius in this area.

An innovative feature of the mill was the continuous production of a round with a minimum of handling, thus requiring a very small labor force of 8 to 10 men. It also produced rods at speeds almost unheard of at that time – 3,700 feet / minute (by contrast, Northwestern’s existing Morgan Rod Train is listed at 20,000 feet/minute). At full capacity, it would produce about 30 tons an hour.

As a pioneer in the electric steel making process, Northwestern’s melt shop had to proceed by trial and error. One of Northwestern’s early successes, though, was called top-charging. The idea of top-charging an electric furnace is believed to have originated in the development of these first furnaces for Northwestern. The earlier furnaces used elsewhere, were side-charged units, which were alright for making alloys and special steels.

But in order to get any tonnage volume out of the furnace, it was necessary to get a lot of scrap into it in a short period of time, so the top charge arrangement was perfected.

Northwestern's 50 Ton Furnace, about 1940

Northwestern continually upgraded its steelmaking capacity. By the early 1940’s Northwestern installed two 50-ton furnaces, and, like the rest of plied rod to Northwestern were also competitors in the wire business. To get away from this potentially disastrous situation, Paul Dillon knew he had to begin melting steel and making his own rods; but he was apparently blocked by a new piece of legislation called the National Recovery Act.

In the midst of the Depression, Congress had decided that there was an over-abundance of steel production in the country and banned the installation of any additional facilities. The Act was later found unconstitutional, but at the time, it presented the greatest challenge ever to the survival of Northwestern Barb Wire Company.

Paul Dillon’s solution to the problem posed by the National Recovery Act was to use the wording of the NRA’s section on steel to his advantage. The Act prohibited “the construction of blast furnace, open hearth or Bessemer steel capacity,” but neglected to mention electric furnace steelmaking.

Although it had been used only for small quantities of specialty steels, the electric furnace offered Northwestern the chance to get into steelmaking.

Working closely with William Moore of Lectromelt Corporation, a pioneer in electric furnace steelmaking, and with engineers from Westinghouse Corporation, who built the necessary electrical equipment, Paul Dillon drove Northwestern through the legal loophole in the NRA and installed two small 10-ton electric furnaces at the Sterling plant, along with a billet mill and a rod mill after a horribly cold winter.

Ignoring the experts who said carbon steel could not be made profitably in electric furnaces, Northwestern, on Easter Sunday, April 12, 1936 became a steel producer as well as a wire mill … and continues to this day to be at the forefront of electric furnace technology.



Moses Dillon: Early Pioneer in Steelmaking

Moses Dillon: Early Pioneer in Steelmaking

The history of the Dillon family in the steel making industry is traced back to the Pre-Civil War days in the State of Ohio.

Moses Dillon was an early pioneer in the steelmaking industry. Dillon is shares the distinct honor of being the first steelmaker to build the first iron furnace west of the Allegheny Mountains in Ohio in the early 1800’s.

Dillon built his first steel furnace at Dillon Falls, Ohio, near Zanesville. The mill was operated by Moses Dillon and his son, John. At the time, they produced bar iron and castings.

Dillon Iron Works ~ Zanesville, Ohio ~ 1832

Following the death of Moses Dillon, the operation was managed by his son, John. John Dillon continued the iron works operation until the vein of ore was exhausted.

John Dillon, 82, died July 17th, 1862 at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Moorehead, in Zanesville, Ohio. It is believed the first Dillon furnace was operated until about 1850. It was in the late 1830’s the Dillon furnace was leased to Henry Blandy and A.F. Blockson.

The Dillon furnace and forge operated for two years without success. An article in the Ohio Courier dated Dec. 24th, 1872, explains why the Dillon Furnace failed.

According to the article, good iron ore in the vicinity of the forge was exhausted and the managers had to resort to other points, often as far as Frazeysburg, for what they had expected to obtain on their own grounds. With the slow transportation of that particular time, the expense of hauling ore that distance was prohibitive.

The newspaper article related, “The iron works fell into ruin and the homes were moved away. Dillon’s Falls became a ghost town for nearly half a century. Then, in 1906, soon after the interurban line was constructed, a cottage colony grew up.”

In the year 1974, there was still a small Dillon Falls community, including a school, small store, and other businesses, and homes on both sides of the Licking River, connected by a highway bridge for local traffic.

There is still a road on the west side of the river from the site where the Dillon iron works once was located and extending south under the present Interstate 70, past the Dillon burying ground joining US Rt. 40.

The first venture by Moses Dillon into the iron business was reported by his son John, in his memoirs.

John explained in his writing, “When in my fourteenth year of age, my father (Moses Dillon) sold his farm in Harford County and moved to Fayette Pennsylvania, near Beaver town, now called Union Town, where he had previously bought one half of a Furnace created by George Meason on Dunbar Run, called Dunbar Furnace.”

Back in Maryland, Moses Dillon once again assumed his place of leadership ith the Society of Friends, which included some missionary trips to the Indians, west of the Alleghenies. In 1803, on a visit on horseback to the Wyandotte Indians in Ohio country, Dillon camped near the falls of the Licking River with his companion, Hugh Judge, a Quaker preacher.

J. F. Everhart in his 1182, History of Muskingum County, Ohio, tells of the visit by Moses Dillon to this country and the affect it had on him.

“Arriving at the falls of the Licking, Dillon was first impressed with the beauty of the landscape, and then with the fact that here was a fine water-power, and conceived the idea of utilizing it for manufacturing purposes.

Before leaving the neighborhood, Dillon discovered iron ore, which increased his determination to make this a business point.

Soon after his return home, he purchased a tract of land including the falls, probably near 3000 acres.

Dillon moved the falls in 1805 and proceeded to erect an iron furnace and foundry and made all kinds of hallow-ware, then in vogue.

First Furnace

Dillon’s furnace was probably the first furnace and foundry erected west of the Allegheny Mountains.

In 1814, Dillon built a gristmill and two sawmills near the falls, one on the east side of the river. These mills and the furnace and foundry, gave employment, sometimes to as many as 150 men.

“In 1806, Dillon opened a store at the Falls of the Licking, with a general assortment of merchandise suited to the wants of the pioneer, and trading with the Indians, many of whom lingered in the region round about, and found it convenient to exchange their skins, furs and other wares and meats, for articles of clothing and ammunition.

The store owned by Dillon was to become an important trading point. The people were allowed to settle on his land nearby, and the village, that grew in this wise – though never regularly laid out, and on one acquired title to the land occupied by then – once numbered 50 families.

Two Sons

Two of Moses Dillon’s sons, John and Isaac, were like himself…enterprising men. He was engaged in business with his sons until the time of his death in 1839.

His son John continued the furnace, foundry, and mills for some years after the elder Dillon’s death.

Interesting Bits

Stories circulated around the area where Moses Dillon’s steel works was located on the Licking River indicate the famed western novelist Zane Gray spent much time there.

While Zane Gray was enrolled at nearby Zanesville High School, he spent more time at Dillon Falls than in classrooms itself. On his tramps and fishing trips to the falls, he became acquainted with “Muddy” Mizer, who lived in a shack on the east side of the river.

Gray later said that the scenery at the falls aroused his interest in the great outdoors. After Gray became famous and wealthy, he paid “Muddy” Mizer’s room rent at a hotel near Altadena, California.

Swim Pool Thomas W. Lewis once wrote that there was a famous swimming pool at the foot of the falls on the west side of the Licking River. But, the flood of 1898 filled it almost full of gravel. Summer residents hoped that the 1913 flood would wash the gravel out, but it did not.

Zane Gray and those who enjoyed the swimming pool in the river would be amazed at the recreational facilities in this particular area today, partly as a result of the 1912 flood.

Dillon Dam

On October 2, 1960, the Dillon Dam on the Licking River was dedicated as a final unit in the Muskingum Valley Flood Control Program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Located about a mile above the Dillon Falls, the dam backs up the river into a permanent reservoir covering about 1325 acres and extending 10 miles upstream. For storing flood water the pool could be enlarged to 10,285 acres and nearly three times larger than normal.

The Dillon Dam is a rolled, earth-filled structure 118-feet high and 1400 feet long.

First proposed in 1934, construction was delayed by World War II, the Korean War and local objections. Originally estimated at under $7 million, the final cost of the structure was reckoned at $35 million.

Dillon Lake and surrounding area is open to the public for picnicking and water recreation, with the entire area named in honor of the noted pioneer industrialist, Moses Dillon.

Washington Dillon, co-founder of Northwestern Barb Wire Company, at Rock Falls, was the great grandson of Moses Dillon.

Retrieved from the Daily Gazette by Dana Fellows ~ 2011
Transcribed by Rachel Fellows ~ 2011

Northwestern Barb Wire – Manufactured Under Columbia Patent License ~ What?

Manufactured Under Columbia Patent License

In the early days of the manufacturing of barb wire by the Northwestern Barb Wire Company, the product was produced and tagged with a “Columbia Patent”.

The Panhandle – Plains Historical Review explains why as follows

“In 1891, the Columbia Patent Company was formed, being an organization composed of the licenses of Washburn and Moen. The Columbia Patent Company purchased from Washburn and Moen, the barbed-wire patents.

The royalty from the patents were fixed at one dollar per ton, subject to a rebate, and continued at this rate, almost without exception throughout the period during which the royalties were collected. A rebate of 70 cents per ton was paid during the six months period ending May 31st, 1893, and thereafter gradually increased until the end of the royalty period, at which time ninety-seven cents per ton was being refunded.

At the expiration of the royalty period covered by the licenses issued by the Columbia Patent Company, June 28th, 1904, the licensees were: John A. Roebling’s Sons, Dillon Criswold Wire Company, Jamesville Barb Wire Company and the American Steel and Wire Company.”

As a result of the licensing arrangement and the switch to Glidden wire, the Northwestern Barb Wire Company factory was enlarged and new machinery was installed.

In one account, it is reported that in a six-month period in 1884, sixty-five men worked night and day on thirty-five machines and produced 400 cars (4,000 tons), of barbed wire.

Paul W. Dillon, son of Washington Dillon, related that there was a nail “pool” similar to the barbed wire pool. Each plant was allowed to make an assigned quantity of nails and an inspector was stationed at each plant to see that the assigned volume was not exceeded and that the production was recorded accurately.

Northwestern was allowed to make 500 kegs of nails a day and sell them for $1.00 a keg. A keg contained 100 pounds.

The nail making machines used by Northwestern were made by Bates at Joliet, Ill., from whom the company later also bought wire drawing and galvanizing equipment.

In 1892, however, Washington Dillon had formed another business relationship, this time with J. W. Criswold, and this new obligation was given his primary attention during the 10 preceding years of the company’s history.

Retrieved From The Daily Gazette by Dana Fellows ~ 2011
Transcribed by Rachel Fellows ~ 2011

STERLING Brand Nails and other wire products were added to the Northwestern product line over the years

Fence Products

Various Fence and Nail Products offered over the years at Northwestern Steel & Wire Company

STERLING Brand Nails and other wire products were added to the Northwestern product line over the years.

The manufacture of nails was included into the product line during the early years of operation of the Northwestern Barb Wire Company.

The nail manufacturing portion of Northwestern Barb Wire, and in later years of Northwestern Steel & Wire Company, was an important product line and was enlarged over the years to meet the demands of various industries and costumers.

Under the STERLING Wire Product line, Northwestern manufactured the following under the regular nail division: common nails, smooth box, wire spikes, finishing, double-head nails, cement coated sinkers, cement coated box nails, casing nails, blunt point, flooring, galvanized shingle, lath, roofing, foundry, dish-head drywall,  plasterboard, fence staples, poultry netting staples, panel staples, siding, and hardboard siding.

In the ring and screw shank nail division, Northwestern manufactured flat washer nails, pole barn, drywall, underlayment, flooring, pallet, roof rafter, common, Deniston lead seal, and gutter spikes.

In the agriculture line, Northwestern manufactured feedlot fence panels of rugged, one-piece construction, which quickly and easily erected onto wood posts using J-bolts or large fence staples. No stretching or bracing was required.

The Du-A-Lot cattle panels were 16-feet long, 55-inches in height, and weight of 55.5 pounds. The hog panels were 16-feet long, 34-inches in height and weigh 41.5 pounds.

Fence Division

STERLING field fence was manufactured in 20-rod rolls with a STA-BRIGHT galvanized coating. It was in the product line starting in 1879.

STERLING brand barbed wire was also STA-BIRGHT galvanized and it was made in two and four point Regular; two and four point Frontier, and the twisted barbless cable, all were available in 80 rod spools.

STERLING poultry fence and extra line netting were also in the Northwestern product line. Other products it the line included electric fence wire, baling wire, steel posts and accessories, merchant quality wire, hardware cloth, fabric-cloth, welded wire fabric, and single loop bale ties.

Products manufactured under the STERLING plastic coated facing line conclude Lawn Guard ornamental fence, flat top Color Guard flower boarder, flat top Color Guard flower border, and Tot and Lot lawn or “play-pen” fence.

Included also in the product line was STERLING Galvanized ornamental fence, ornamental flower boarder, welded yard fence, gates, and numerous metal gate fittings.

STERLING building and reinforcing fabric was manufactured to combat shrinkage while concrete is curing and later prevents cracks or spreading resulting from foundations settling, weather extremes, and load stress. Re-Bar tie-wire was sold in uniform coils of wire produced from 16 gage annealed wire with taped square core. Each three and one-half coil contained approximately 385 feet.

Northwestern maintained its own fleet of trucks for reliable delivery of products to its customers. In addition to the inventory at the mill, the company had warehouse facilities in east and southwest United States.

From top management down to the production employees, where was a spirit of dedication by over 4000 people who took pride in their work with the company. This was the reason Northwestern served the needs of its customers with the attitude: “We’re Big Enough To Server You…. Small Enough To Know You.”

Source, Daily Gazette, Modified by Dana Fellows ~ 2011

Northwestern Barb Wire was established in Rock Falls IL

Barb Wire

Spool of Northwestern Barb Wire as what it would have looked like in the 1980's

Northwestern Barb Wire was established in Rock Falls IL

The first home of the Northwestern Barb Wire Company was secured by the officers of the company, in 1897, in an old wagon plant located in Rock Falls. The building was next to an elevator and flour mill owned by Lloyd Dillon, Washington Dillon’s older brother. The building’s had been constructed of stone quarried from a bed of the Rock River.

A basic reason for starting the mill in that particular location was the availability of water power from the nearby Rock River. Water power was developed originally and was provided on the Sterling side of the river by the Sterling Hydraulic Company. Half interest in the Hydraulic Company was sold to A.P. Smith, founder of Rock Falls. However, when he started the town of Rock Falls in 1867, he built a mill race on the south side of the river to serve industry in the new community.

The importance of having water power is evident considering the fact Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light that same year the Northwestern Barb Wire Company was incorporated in 1879. The date of the first electric plant in Sterling was 1890. The first gasoline engine made for sale was built in Sterling in 1886. So, the only choices for dependable power in the year 1879, were steam and water.

Even so, most of the work was done by hand during that period and the Northwestern Barb Wire Company had a work force of 10 persons. Where production is concerned, the work began turning out about 60 spools of barb wire per a 24 hour day.

Another major advantage of the particular period of time was the accessibility of two railroads in the Sterling and Rock Falls community in which to provide excellent shipping facilities for projects manufactured locally.

Source, Daily Gazette – Original story slightly modified by Dana Fellows ~ 2011

The Bale Tie and Coiled Wire Process, as it was done in 1957

Baling Wire From Northwestern Steel & Wire Co.

The Bale Tie and Coiled Wire Process, as it was done in 1957.

The manufacturing of bale ties at Northwestern Steel & Wire Company was an important item in the company’s project line. Bale ties users were many, including farmers, manufacturers, merchants, and other who required the use of this particular pliable, strong wire.

The following explains how the bale tie and coiled wire department operated as explained in the January 1957 issue of “Northwestern News.”

“This is the story of bale ties and coiled baling wire and how it is produced at Northwestern. Let’s first look at the process involved in the production of bale ties. First, the desired gauges of wire of special analyzed steel is loaded on large reels and then fed through annealing furnaces at controlled temperatures to produce the required pliability and still maintain the strength quality.

“From the furnace the wires pass through a straightening operation and then to the fabricating machine which cuts the ties to the exact length required. From there it automatically forms a single loop or a ‘clinch-hed’ tie. The single loop tie has a loop or eye twisted on one end, therefore making it a simple operation for the user to insert the end of the wire through the loop or eye and twist by hand to secure the bale.

“The ‘clinch-hed’ is a patented bale tie and eliminates the tedious job of hand twisting. The ‘clinch-hed’ tie has a special loop or eye formed on one end of the wire and a head formed on the other end similar to the head of the common nail. The user then needs only to insert the nail head end of the tie through the special loop or eye and the expansion of the bale automatically locks nail heard and eye securely so that it cannot come apart.

“Next the ties are processed through our building machine operations where the bale ties are bundled 250-500 wires each bundle depending on customer requirements. There, a red burlap protective covering is applied to the loop or eye end of the bundle and white burlap protective covering is applied to the tail end of the bundle.

“The entire bundle is then “spiral wrapped” with copper-coated wire for additional protection during handling and shipment to our customers.

“Our bale ties, commonly known as Red Head Gold Band Bale Ties, are produces any desired gauges and lengths to meet the requirements of our customers.

“About 1949, the Manufacturers of Baling Equipment introduced an automatic, self-tying baling machine, that requires the use of annealed wire in coils or spools, which replaces the old hand-fed machines.

“Northwestern has pioneered in the production of this spooled wire for use with automatic self-tying balers.”

Coiled Baling Wire

“In the production of coiled baling wire, the wire, after being drawn from rods to the desired sizes, is then further processed through annealing furnaces to obtain the desired pliability and tensile strength. From there, the wire is re-coiled on our coiling machines into desired coil or spool specifications to meet our customer requirements.

“After the wire is coiled, the coils are sent by conveyor to the packaging end, where they are packed in special cardboard containers and sealed, ready for shipment to the customer.

“For many years, Northwestern has been a leader in quality bale ties and in coiled baling wire from ins inception. The improved production methods and improved quality developed thought these years are proud accomplishments of the men who make this product.

Article taken from the Daily Gazette with some corrections and modifications. Dana Fellows ~ 2011


Northwestern Steel & Wire Co. ~ The Terrible Thirties

Northwestern Steel & Wire Company ~ The Terrible Thirties

During the 10 year period of the 1930’s, Northwestern Steel & Wire Company was hit with several disasters. This 10 year period, besides the last 10 before it closed, might have been the most difficult in the company’s history.

The “terrible thirties” not only affected the local area but the entire nation.

Events highlighting those years at Northwestern included the following events:

1930-1932: The Great Depression. NWSW did not closed during this time; however the hours were shortened due to the slowdown in production during this period.

1935-1936: Still in a depression period, NWSW faced and found solutions to financing problems for their conversion to a steel mill operation.

1936-1937: NWSW faced labor problems and during this period officially recognized the first steel-workers union.

1938: Swollen waters from the ice-jammed Rock River went over their banks and flooded many parts of the NWSW plant in the worst flood disaster the company’s history. There was no work stoppage and employees pitched in to rebuild with re-constructions beginning immediately.

1939: A disastrous fire swept throughout the bale tie and other departments casing major damages. Again, there was no work interruption and the re-construction began immediately

1940: Business began an upswing in the two years before the nation would become engulfed in World War II.

Dana Fellows ~ 2011

Source: Daily Gazette

Northwestern Steel & Wire 10 Years After Closing

Sauk Valley News did a story on the mill 10 years after the closing. You can read it here.