America’s Oldest Forge

By: Jay D. Taylor

Forge Hallmark

Wendell August Forge Hallmark

In 1923, Wendell August, who was working in the coal industry, needed latches for the doors on his Brockway, Pennsylvania home.[1] He sought out the help of Ottone “Tony” Pisoni, who was a blacksmith at August’s coal mine.[2] After seeing artistic quality of Pisoni’s work, August got the idea to start a decorative ironware business.[3]   Pisoni and three other blacksmiths created railings, window grilles, doorknockers, candlesticks, and fireplace andirons.[4] They continued working with iron until a contract from the Aluminum Company of America sent them down a path they would follow for over 80 years.

 

Aluminum pieces

Examples of Decorative Aluminium Pieces

The Aluminum Company of America was looking for new uses for aluminum, and by winning their contract for designing decorative aluminum gates and elevator doors, Wendell August Forge moved into the decorative aluminum business.[5] Wendell August Forge began by making many of the same style products they had previously made, such as gates and railings, and they even night deposit boxes for banks. There was one difference though—Wendell August would have the scraps from these projects used to make decorative gifts for whoever he was working for.[6] It was here that the current focus of Wendell August Forge began.

The company moved to Grove City, Pennsylvania in 1932, after a successful commission for one of Grove City’s bank.[7] Wendell August Forge has remained in Grove City ever since. Wendell August continues to make their products using their original eight-step process,[8] but their medium has expanded to include bronze, silver, and pewter as well as aluminum. All of their products are hand-made one at a time, insuring that no two items are identical. Their expert die engravers, who still use a hammer and chisel to craft their dies.[9] Wendell August Forge was listed on the National Register for Historic Places, until it met with tragedy in 2010.

Fire

The Fire that Consumed the Historic Forge.

It took only about an hour for flames to consume the forge.[10] A fire in March of 2010 destroyed the historic building, but luckily their dies survived the crucible.[11] The fire didn’t stop the Wendell August Forge, and their operations continued through their other sites while a new flagship location was built. It took over three years, but a new building was finally built in Grove City, and the company has been refined in the fires of misfortune.[12]

Hindenburg

Hindenburg “Millionaire’s Flight” Ashtray

Throughout its operation, Wendell August Forge has crafted some extremely notable pieces. In 1936, the Hindenburg took some of the wealthiest people in the world on a “Millionaire’s Flight.”[13] Ashtrays decorated with a glass Hindenburg replica made by Wendell August were given to the passengers of this flight.[14] Other notable pieces include 12 solid bronze plates which commemorated the SALT II treaty between the United States and the former Soviet Union, turtle shaped towel basins for the Rockefellers, commemorative tickets for the Pittsburgh Penguin’s last regular season game at Mellon Arena, as well as pieces for Coca-Cola and Walt Disney.[15]

As someone who grew up in Grove City, Wendell August Forge has a cultural significance to me and the other people who live the area. It ingrained in the culture. It would be difficult to find a home in Grove City that doesn’t have at least one piece made by Wendell August. The decorative aluminum works of art created by Wendell August are a ‘go-to’ gift for graduations, weddings, and other important events. Every year Wendell August comes out with a new Christmas ornament, which will undoubtedly end up in many households.

Even though the original building listed on the National Register is gone, the history itself still remains and is perpetuated by Wendell August Forge, and the communities nearby. Their history lives on through the workers at the forge, because they keep it alive by making pieces by hand, one at a time. Their history also lives on because of a community who values a product made the same way it always was—and the way it will continue to be made.

[1] “History, Heritage, and Tradition,” Wendell August Forge, https://www.wendellaugust.com/page/history.

[2] Benjamin Liebling, “Doing Things the Old-Fashioned Way: Wendell August Forge,” http://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/WAForge.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] “History, Heritage, and Tradition.”

[5] “Company History,” https://www.wendellwholesale.com/files/WAF%20Company%20History%20020112.pdf

[6] Jeremiah G. Blaylock, prod., “The Wendell August Forge Story” Case Reserve Public Media, 2002, http://westernreservepublicmedia.org/vodshows/wendellv.htm.

[7] “History, Heritage, and Tradition.”

[8] Ibid.

[9] “The Wendell August Forge Story”

[10] Moriah Balingit, “Historic Wendell August forge burns to ground,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 7, 2010, http://www.post-gazette.com/local/north/2010/03/07/Historic-Wendell-August-forge-burns-to-ground/stories/201003070228.

[11] Ibid.

[12]Dave Crawley, “Wendell August Forge Officially Opens New Factory & Flagship Store,” KDKA Pittsburgh, October 29, 2013, http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2013/10/29/wendell-august-forge-officially-opens-new-factory-flagship-store.

[13] “Old-Fashioned Way”

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Company History.”

All images courtesy of Creative Commons Wendell August Forge Photos by Michael Shang and Seth Thomasmeyer is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0

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