American Steel

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by Lloyd Farquhar Jr. and William Shive


The company known as American Steel Foundries is the largest maker of steel castings in the United States. Castings are found mostly on railroads, holding the train together, taking the weight of the cars, easing the shocks of the rails. But they are also found in oil fields, ships, big machines, highway trucks and Army tanks. They're found in any spot where you need more strength than iron and a shape no other process can achieve.

The sand casting process was discovered in 1891 in East St. Louis at the St. Louis Steel Foundry Company by James McRoberts. One day, a molder came to McRoberts and told him they'd forgotten to make an ingot mold to store some surplus metal. Rather than pour the metal on the floor, McRoberts had the molders ram up a mold out of green (unbaked) sand. Charlie Hutchinson, the ladleman, was skeptical. It was well-known that you couldn't pour hot steel into a green sand mold. It would blow and sputter. The cast would be full of blow holes. But as the yellow stream was poured into the gates of the mold, nothing happened. The casting was perfect. Patent #504,361 was granted for the process.

133-steel.tif (121274 bytes) Earlier molds were made of baked sand, held together with a combination of clay and flour which had been added to bind the mass firmly together. The mold was then baked in an oven and allowed to cool and dry. This process might take a full day.

When molten steel cools, it shrinks nearly one-quarter inch per foot. This caused difficulties. If the product happened to be a complicated shape, the contracting metal encountered too much resistance from the hard-baked sand. The metal often tore apart as it shrank. Green sand molds corrected the problem.

A mold consists of two halves - an upper called a "cope," and a lower half called a "drag." Each half contains a pattern, and when sand is forced around the pattern, cope and drag take on the contours of the article to be cast. Making cores and molds calls for sand - tons and tons of sand. The sand used must be tested for grain size, clay content, moisture, strength and permeability, which means its ability to let gas escape through it. Two holes are made in the mold. Molten metal is poured into one hole and allowed to harden, and the other hole allows steam and gases to escape.

The Shickle, Harrison and Howard Company in St. Louis could not meet the rising demand for castings. Part of the ownership wanted to expand the St. Louis facility, and another part wanted to start a new facility in East St. Louis. Tom Howard and George B. Leighton gathered their assets and crossed the river to start the Leighton-Howard Steel Co. James C. Davis. inventor of the Davis Steel Wheel, was prevailed upon to become the general manager.

The East St. Louis plant soon became part of American Steel Foundries, There were plants in East St. Louis, Granite City. Alliance (Ohio), Chicago, and Pittsburgh, Sharon and Chester in Pennsylvania.

American Steel Foundries was incorporated under the laws of New Jersey on June 26th, 1902. The first president was Joseph Schwab, brother of Charles. The first vice-president was Dan Egan of St. Louis, and the second vice-president was C. H. Howard. The first annual report showed profits of $1,500,000.

American Steel's great contribution to World War I, aside from its improvements in railroad trucks (wheels) and couplings, was the production of shell forgings at the East St. Louis plant. The man in charge of production was C. H. Walcher. Subsequently, the plant was managed by Lloyd Farquhar Sr., and his son, Lloyd Jr., who worked in the Chicago research office during World War II. The plant produced approximately a million shells.

The six foundries of ASF produced the greatest tonnage of cast steel of any company in the world. There were 300 companies in the U. S., but the output of ASF ran twice that of any other single company.

Workers at the East St. Louis facility often talked about the legend of Joe Magarac. Joe is the Paul Bunyan of the steel industry. He was conceived in a mountain of iron ore and grew to manhood with muscles and ribs of steel. He could stir a beat of bubbling steel with one arm, twist a dolly bar into a pretzel, and grab a hot ingot and squeeze out a railroad rail.

In May, 1943, the company filled a mysterious order for steel castings that were unidentified and unnamed. These strange castings were delivered to the Government, and not until several years later did the company learn that it had played an important part in the production of two atomic bombs that ended the war in the Pacific in 1945.

Back in the 1900s laborers received 75 cents for a ten hour day. Bricklayers received 20 cents an hour and laid 2,500 brick a day. Carpenters earned 13 cents an hour and molders $1.25 a day.

- from Sand in Their Shoes by Franklin Reck,
   Published by American Steel Foundries,1952




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