Allentown PA barbed wire WWIIn an odd coincidence of war, a Doughboy from Allentown, PA crawling under German barbed wire in 1918 was startled to see a tag on the wire stamped with the words- in English- “Barb Wire Works Allentown Pa.”  

History's Headlines: Barbed wire in Allentown and WWI

By Frank Whelan
via the WFMZ-TV 69 News television station (PA) web site

By the 1980s, World War I was fast fading from living memory. But several elderly doughboys, then living at Allentown’s Phoebe Home, were still willing to share their experiences of the war that was to make the world safe for democracy, a war that would end all wars. Tragically it did neither. One among their ranks had a particularly dramatic tale to tell. He recalled crawling under the coiled rolls of barbed wire surrounding German trenches and suddenly looking up to see a small tag. As he recalled, it was stamped with the words- in English- “Barb Wire Works Allentown Pa.” As an Allentown native he recalled feeling a mixture of anger and resentment at the time but many years later wondered at the irony of it all.

This did not mean that the company was trading with the enemy. Allentown Barb Wire, by then a subsidiary of U.S Steel known as the American Steel and Wire Company, had been around since the 1880s and sold an awful lot of barbed wire to both sides in World War I before the U.S. entered the conflict in 1917. But it does tell of the importance of the international impact of the plant that was known locally as simply “the wire mill.”

At its height from 1900 to 1920, the 13-acre facility employed 1,200 men working 12-hour shifts and had its own police and fire departments as well as a small hospital. Telegraph keys clicked around the clock to a staff taking orders, and steam locomotives puffed in and out in a constant stream. A small community focused on Wire Street, many of them immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian empire, that made up part of the mill’s work force. Allentown residents kept time by its whistle.

According to some sources the wire mill came to Allentown as the result of a buggy ride. First known as the Iowa Barb Wire Company, it was founded in 1879 in Johnstown, Cambria County. It was a branch of the Iowa Barb Wire Fence Company of Marshalltown, Iowa. In 1881 it became its own company. The president was Charles Douglass. His brother George was secretary-treasurer. Apparently wanting to be closer to the East coast market, the Douglass brothers moved the company to Easton in 1884. But within two years they realized they had made a mistake. While a beautiful location it was confined by hills and the Delaware River. They needed room to expand. Easton just did not offer that.

By 1886 George Douglass was on the lookout for something nearby. That summer he took a trip to Allentown. Some sources suggest it was just an afternoon jaunt. But if so, it was one that took him to the office of Edward H. Reninger, secretary to the Allentown Board of Trade, ancestor of the Allentown Chamber of Commerce. Allentown had been recovering from the Panic of 1873 that had KO’d the city’s iron industry. The arrival of a silk mill in 1881 from Paterson, N.J. had begun a process of development that was taking the city away from relying on only one major industry.

Read the entire article on the WFMZ-TV 69 web site here:

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