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Katahdin Iron Works Records

Katahdin Iron Works Records

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The processing of this collection was funded by a gift from the Pingree heirs.

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:Kathadin Iron Works
Title:Katahdin Iron Works Records
Quantity:2 linear feet (2 boxes)
Abstract:The Katahdin Iron Works records contain materials relating to David Pingree (1795-1863) and E. S. Coe’s involvement in the Iron Works.
Collection Number:MSS 912

Series List

SERIES I. Accounting Records

Scope and Content Note

The Katahdin Iron Works records contain materials relating to David Pingree (1795-1863) and E. S. Coe’s involvement in the Iron Works. Some of the materials date beyond the closing of the Katahdin Iron Company. This collection has been divided into two series.

Series I. Accounting Records contains receipts, accounts current, and correspondence about financial matters related to Katahdin Iron Works.

Series II. Other contains Katahdin Iron Works records that are not account records. Included in this series are meeting records, deeds, land agreements, insurance papers, inventories, two memo books of goods stored at the Iron Works belonging to Chamberlain Farm and John Ross, log rules, lumber prices, and field notes.

Historical Sketch

In 1841, the Maine Iron Company was incorporated by Samuel Smith, Dominicus Parker, Edward Smith, and Simon Greene for the purpose of manufacturing “iron, steel, and other articles of which iron and steel are the principal materials…” The iron works was to be located on the west branch of the Pleasant River, on a mountain known as Iron Mountain, in Maine. The Iron Mountain ore deposit was located near the center of township six in the ninth range of townships (6 R.9) twelve miles north of Brownville, in Piscataquis County. Within a couple of years, Samuel Smith had purchased most of the land in the township, and construction of a settlement began—the Maine Iron Company owned the whole township and every building on it (Eastman 20-22).

In 1845, presumably due to financial problems, Smith deeded the iron works with all of the land and buildings to David Pingree (1795-1863). Pingree was a wealthy shipping merchant from Salem, Massachusetts, who began to invest in land and timber in the 1840s, and bought large tracks of land in New Hampshire and Maine. In late 1845, Pingree, along with business associates Charles H. Ladd, Alexander Ladd, Samuel E. Coues, and John L. Hayes, formed a new corporation to replace the Maine Iron Company, Katahdin Iron Works Company. The company was named after Katahdin Mountain about 35 miles north of the iron works.

On June 2, 1846, the Katahdin Iron Works was incorporated by the Maine legislature with a maximum capital of $300,000. Soon after, Pingree and his associates sold their individual holdings to the company. Pingree was elected president of the company, a postion which he held until his death in 1863; he was also the principal stockholder. Charles H. Ladd was elected treasurer and Hayes became an agent and supervisor in charge of the operation of the Iron Works. E. S. Coe, an agent and business associate of Pingree’s, would also become an agent and later a stockholder of the Katahdin Iron Works. Pingree ran the company from his office in Salem, Massachusetts, through the two agents and Ladd (Eastman 41-53).

One of the chief costs of the company was the cost of transporting the iron to Bangor, which cut into the profit of the company. To correct this, the Katahdin Iron Works was authorized by the state legislature on August 6, 1846, to construct a canal or railroad from the Penobscot River at Bangor by way of the Pleasant and Piscataquis Rivers or the Dead Stream to the Iron Works. However, this would not become a reality, as the impracticality of undertaking such a project proved to be too much (Eastman 55). In the summer of 1847, about 20 miles of new road was built north, towards Chamberlain Farm lumber region. The purpose of building the road was to encourage travel through the Iron Works and the town, while keeping the cost of transportation down—teamsters bringing supplies north could carry iron at a reasonable rate on their return trip south when they would otherwise be empty (Eastman 65-66).

In 1848, the price of pig iron dropped and Pingree decided to refine the iron at the Iron Works; refined iron sold for twice as much. The refining house was remodeled to accommodate modern refining (Eastman 80). However, a combination of problems caused the refined iron to be of lesser quality than the market desired, making it unprofitable for the Katahdin Iron Works to continue producing it. 1853 was the first and last year that refined bloom iron was produced there (Eastman 86). Late 1856, early 1857 was the last time that the Katahdin Iron Works produced iron. It appears to have been a combination of financial problems that caused the stop of production—iron prices dropped while the company had a large supply in storage it could not sell, and “if it had not been for the fact that $107,898.97 was owed to Charles Ladd, David Pingree, and the Naumkeag Bank of which Pingree was President, [the Company] would have probably gone through bankruptcy and have been forced to liquidate all its assets” (Eastman 98). Pingree kept the company hoping that the price of iron would rise again so that operations could resume and debts could be paid off. Unfortunately this did not happen until 1864, a year after Pingree died.

The executors of Pingree’s estate sold the Katahdin Iron Works in November 1863 to Edward G. Tileston and Company, bankers and steamship agents, of Boston and New York. However, financial difficulties forced Edward G. Tileston and Company to abandon their plans to reopen the Katahdin Iron Works. In 1868, a group of business men headed by Thomas N. Egery of Hinckly and Egery Iron Foundry in Bangor, and E. P. Cutler, purchased a controlling interest in the Iron Works. A new company was formed and incorporated as the Piscataquis Iron Works. The new company’s plans for reopening the iron works revolved around the building of a railroad to the plant. However, this plan was never realized and the Piscataquis Iron Works never produced iron; for eighty years the company was merely a land holding corporation (Eastman 101-110).

In January 1876, Owen W. Davis Jr. and four others were incorporated as the Katahdin Iron Company and leased the land from the Piscataquis Iron Works. Davis made many improvements to the existing buildings and machinery; however, he soon faced many of the same problems as Pingree with regards to the quality of ore. It took a couple of years, but Davis remedied this problem, and the iron works was in full production in 1880 (Eastman 119). In November 1882 a hurricane blew around debris from the charcoal kilns which had been dumped on the river bank, and fanned it into flames. Sparks were blown into the buildings and the iron works burned to the ground. It took five years for Davis to rebuild the iron works (Eastman 131).

In December 1888, a controlling interest of the Katahdin Iron Company was purchased by Fred W. Hill and Charles D. Stamford. Davis remained on as general manager. However, in March 1890, it was announced that the iron works was suspending work. The trend of the market towards steel, and the costs associated with running the iron works proved once again to be too much (Eastman 146-147).

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.

Coe, Ebenezer Smith, 1814-1899
Hayes, John L.
Ladd, Charles H., 1812-1899
Pingree, David, 1795-1863
Smith, Samuel
Maine Iron Company (Me.)
Katahdin Iron Works (Me.)
Piscataquis Iron Works (Me.)
Business records
Iron ore reserves
Iron smelting
Iron Mountain (Me.)
Piscataquis County (Me.)
Salem (Mass.)


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Request 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

Katahdin Iron Works Records, MSS 912, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material was donated by Pingree family heirs.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Hilary Streifer, November 2015.

Related Material

Eastman, Joel W. “A History of the Katahdin Iron Works.” Masters diss., University of Maine, 1965.

David Pingree (1795-1863) Papers, 1810-1939. MSS 901

East Branch Dam Company Records, 1845-1919. MSS 915

E. S. Coe Papers, 1844-1906. MSS 924

Jackson Iron Manufacturing Company Records, 1832-1888. MSS 910

James Wingate Sewall (1852-1905) Business Records, 1835-1919. MSS 921

John Winn Papers, 1818, 1845-1881. MSS 925

Mount Washington Summit Road Company Records, 1796-1967. MSS 911

Pingree Family Scrapbook Collection, 1849-1972. MSS 927

Samuel Smith Papers, 1844-1850, 1865. MSS 926

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