Granite City, Illinois Metro East Riverfront

The Founding of Granite City: Industry and Aspiration

by Michael R. Allen

Based on notes for a bus tour that I gave during the 35th Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial Archeology, June 2, 2006.

German immigrants Frederick G. and William F. Niedringhaus played a major role in St. Louis history by organizing the industrial city of Granite City, and a major role in American industry by pioneering the process of creating durable, affordable stamped and enamelled metal-ware. They came from Westphalia to St. Louis around 1858 after having trained under their father, a tinner and glazier. With $1,000 and three helpers, the brothers incorporated Niedringhaus & Brother in downtown St. Louis. Their first products were hand-made kitchen utensils, but early on they experimented with mechanized production. By 1862, the brothers began using machines to stamp utensils from single sheets of metal — a technique on which they would build their fortunes. By 1865, they were making deep-stamped wares and were likely one of only two such makers in the country. The brothers began working with sheet iron imported from Wales.

The Niedringhaus brothers founded the more focused St. Louis Stamping Company in 1866, and enjoyed immediate success. Their seamless stamped tinware met the public demand for durable, affordable kitchenware. The first year’s sales were $7,000 — an amount that they would increase one-hundred-fold within eleven years. Production increased to levels that led them to purchase land north of downtown near the Mississippi River in 1870. They built a four-story brick manufacturing, warehouse and office building between 1871 and 1873. This building, still extant, was likely designed by architect August Beinke and faced Collins Street between Cass Avenue to the south and Collins Street to the north. By 1876 adjacent to the first building, the brothers built seven additional smaller buildings including a blacksmith shop, annealing building, galvanizing shop and boilerhouse. (Part of one of these buildings remains.) North of this block, the Niedringhaus brothers constructed a rolling mill in the style of the English tin-plate mills of the era. This railroad- and river-served mill could produce twenty tons of sheet metal daily and employed about 700 workers.

Events Granite City, Illinois Industrial Buildings Metro East

Society for Industrial Archaeology in Town This Weekend

by Michael R. Allen

Tonight is the start of the annual conference of the Society for Industrial Archaeology, which meets for the first time in St. Louis. Co-sponsors include Landmarks Association of St. Louis, the Missouri Historical Society and the UMSL History Department. Members are already out and about delving into the fabric of a city that fascinates all of them.

While a ruinous landscape is always of interest to SIA members, their delay in meeting in St. Louis gives them a chance to see some great examples of adaptive re-use of industrial sites. Although a small group, SIA members’ scholarship is at the forefront of interpreting the history of American industrial cities. Perhaps the visit will inspire them to write a little more fondly of St. Louis.

Check out the conference schedule to see what SIA members will be doing while in town.

For the conference, I have been helping create tours, and will be co-leading a bus tour tomorrow to Granite City and the National City Stockyards that will include a rare guided tour of the US Steel facility in Granite City. I will be making a presentation on the founding and history of Granite City that will get posted on Ecology of Absence at some point. On Sunday, Landmarks Association is leading downtown walking tours; guides are Richard Mueller, Joseph Heathcott and myself. This should lead to three very different tours.

East St. Louis, Illinois Granite City, Illinois Infrastructure Metro East Mississippi River

New Bridge Could Widen the Gap

by Michael R. Allen

In a St. Clair County Journal article discussing the possibility of tolls being imposed on the proposed Mississippi River Bridge, mayors and alderpersons of several different Illinois cities were quoted, and all favor the new bridge. The mayor of Granite City, Ed Hagnauer, thinks that the new bridge will bring Missourians into Illinois.

One city rarely mentioned in discussions of the new bridge, and without an elected leader quoted in the article, is East St. Louis. Perhaps this neglect is due to the fact that new bridge has no real physical connection with East St. Louis, and will instead divert I-70 from even passing through the old city. The new bridge’s backers tout the economic growth it will bring to Illinois, but overlook or dismiss the inequity such growth will bring. Cities farther east, liked Edwardsville and Collinsville will benefit greatly from a quick route connecting their new strip malls and office parks to the moneyed residents of St. Charles County. This economic flow will miss older cities close to the river, like East St. Louis and even Granite City — cities that face depopulation, widespread poverty and a lack of economic growth. The bridge will allow the haves to gorge on growth while ensuring that have-nots continue to remain economically malnourished. It will carry people over the old cities and their minority populations, just as the highways built in the late twentieth century did for larger cities.

Proponents of the bridge dodge the issue. The bridge will spread the sprawl eastward, and balance out the effect of the far-west suburban growth in St. Charles and Warren counties. But it will be creating a distribution pattern resembling a donut, fueling new growth on the edges of the east side’s developed area instead of helping redensify the inner core of east side cities.

East St. Louis is left out, again. Why not? Dealing with its problems is too difficult and requires careful, long-term action. Preventing exurban growth requires strong will on the part of politicians, who would have to tell their big-bucks backers “no.” Building a bridge gives everyone a relatively quick dose of what they want: faster profits on new east side development, a short-term decrease in commute time between far suburbs in Illinois and Missouri and a fancy new structure to experience from a car.

Granite City, Illinois Metro East

Dead or Alive

On Nameoki Road in Granite City.

Granite City, Illinois Hyde Park North St. Louis

Vintage Postcard View of the McKinley Bridge