Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Pennsylvania Iron Works, c.1887-1908
Standard Roller Bearing Company, 1908
Merion Avenue between 48th and 51st Streets, Philadelphia PA 19131

Preston Thayer and Jed Porter, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

In 1887, the Pennsylvania Iron Works built a foundry, erecting shop, machine and pattern-maker's shop east of 50th Street between the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks and Merion Avenue. Subsequent to that, they built a blacksmith shop and a second erecting shop (for ice machinery) west of 50th Street, between Merion and Lancaster Avenues. About 1892, a third erecting shop, contiguous to the pattern-maker's shop, was constructed. An office building was also built along Lancaster Avenue. 1
 
The company was established in 1845, probably at Danville, Pennsylvania. The company rolled the first "T" rail in the United States and was the first to manufacture iron rail using anthracite coal. It later became part of Allen Wood Steel, of Conshohocken.
 
The Standard Roller Bearing Company, incorporated in 1901, took over the former site of the Pennsylvania Iron Works in 1908. Standard manufactured a wide range of ball, roller, and tapered bearings. They developed a high-carbon, high-chrome steel now customary throughout the ball bearing industry. They also developed and owned the patents covering the basic design for all modern-day tapered roller bearings. The company moved to Plainville, Connecticut in 1923.
2 About 1924, the Pennsylvania Railroad took over the buildings for use as a records storage facility, a function they retain today under Conrail.
 
Easily among the largest industrial sites in West Philadelphia during its operation, the Standard Roller Bearing Company factory is still impressive in scale, despite partial demolition. The section which was demolished once stood beside the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks and behind the row houses on the 4800 block of Merion Avenue. The row houses themselves appeared on maps as early as 1913 and, therefore, could have been constructed as housing for employees.
 
The eastern facade of the plant has an emblem bearing the letters "SRB."  Below the emblem is a painted sign that reads "Rudge-Whitworth Detached Wire Wheels," an indication that the company may have supplied Rudge, a British manufacturer of bicycles and motorcycles, or distributed its products.

1  Hexamer General Survey #2416 (1891) "Pennsylvania Iron Works Co."
Hexamer General Survey #2646 (1892) "Pennsylvania Iron Works Co."
2  Hudston T. Morton, Anti-friction Bearings, (Ann Arbor, MI, 1965)


Update May 2007 (by Harry Kyriakodis):
All structures between Merion Avenue and the railroad tracks have been demolished. A few structures between Merion and Lancaster Avenues remain, some abandoned and in poor condition.