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Salem Iron Factory Records

Salem Iron Factory Records

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Processing of this collection was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Salem Iron Factory Company
Title:Salem Iron Factory Records
Quantity:2 linear feet (4 boxes)
Abstract:The Salem Iron Factory Records date from the formation of the company in 1796 to its sale to Matthew Hooper in 1844.
Collection Number:MSS 149

Series List

Scope and Content Note

The Salem Iron Factory Records date from the formation of the company in 1796 to its sale to Matthew Hooper in 1844. The collection contains account books, record books of shareholders' meetings, correspondence, financial statements, inventory accounts, and stock certificates. The bulk of the records were generated during the period when Archelaus Rea was agent, 1819-1843.

The earliest records of the company are located in MSS 148, the Nathan Read Papers. These papers include the 1795 proposal to build the Waters Rivers Mill Dam, Read's proposal to form the company and an estimate of profits, the articles of agreement with stockholders, and Read's tool and stock inventories.

Historical Sketch

The Salem Iron Factory, which was located along the Waters River in Danvers, Massachusetts, was founded by the inventor Nathan Read (1759-1849) in 1796. Read had purchased the thirty-four acre Endecott farm bordering on the Waters River in 1792. In 1794, he purchased additional land along the river and received permission in 1795 from the town of Danvers to build a mill and dam across the river. Read then made a proposal to potential investors to form an iron factory which would manufacture sheet iron, anchors, chains, cables, nails, and other iron materials used in shipbuilding. The articles of agreement establishing the company were signed in May 1796. The nineteen original shareholders included many prominent Salem residents, among them, E.A. Holyoke, Joshua Ward, Joseph Peabody, Joseph Sprague, and William Stearn. Read sold the Waters River Mill, and his rights to the bridge and dam, to the Directors of the Salem Iron Factory in 1796. He was appointed treasurer and agent of the company in 1797, with Jonathan Allen acting as foreman. Although there were similar iron factories at Canaan, Connecticut, and Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the machinery which Read designed for the Salem Iron Factory required fewer workers. Read continually attempted to improve the factory's machinery. In 1798, he invented a nail machine which cut and headed nails in a single operation. Read resigned as agent of the company in 1800, when he was appointed to Congress, and sold his shares in 1810 after he had moved to Belfast, Maine.

John Osgood took over Read's position and was succeeded by Archelaus Rea in 1819. Between 1800 and 1820, the Salem Iron Factory primarily manufactured anchors and nails employing Read's nail cutting machine. In 1810, they expanded their operation with the purchase of the Danvers and Beverly Iron Works. According to William Bentley's diary, the manufacture of nails was not particularly successful because of competition in the local area. Between 1820 and 1840, the company gradually shifted to the production of iron rods and sheet iron.

In 1843, Factory trustees Joseph Peabody, William Pickman, and Archelaus Rea, sold the factory to Matthew Hooper, who changed the name to the Danvers Iron Works. Hooper sold the company to William and James P. Fisk of Cambridge in 1854, but foreclosed the mortgage in 1857. He then sold the company to John Sylvester of Somerville, and the company was held by the Sylvester family until 1920.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Rea, Archelaus
Read, Nathan, 1759-1849
Salem Iron Factory Company
Account books
Iron industry and trade
Nail makers
Danvers (Mass.)
Waters River (Mass.)


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Salem Iron Factory Records, MSS 149, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The Salem Iron Factory Records were purchased in 1934. The early Salem Iron Factory records in the Nathan Read Collection (MSS 148) were donated by Mary J. Low in 1916.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Caroline Preston, October 1984. Updated by Catherine Robertson, January 2015.

Related Material

Bradlee, Francis B.C. The Salem Iron Factory. Salem: Essex Institute, 1917.

Putnam, Eleazer. Plan of the Salem Iron Factory Pond. 1804.

Salem Iron Factory Company. An act for incorporating the Salem Iron Factory Company. Salem: Joshua Cushing, 1804.

Nathan Read Papers, 1709-1914, MSS 148.

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