The History of the Pencoyd Iron Works
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The History of the Pencoyd Iron Works

In November of 1683, John Roberts, gentleman farmer, acquired 150 acres from William Penn as part of the Welsh Tract in present day Lower Merion Township and immediately began clearing the land for farming. Roberts named his property Pencoyd (meaning “head of the woods”) after his family’s ancestral home in Wales.

The Pencoyd Iron Works was the creation of two Roberts’ heirs, Algernon and Percival, who had entered the hardware business in Philadelphia. The pair quickly recognized the opportunities that the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad provided for their property situated along the banks of the Schuylkill River. In 1852, working with family capital, they began the construction of a specialty foundry under the name A & P Roberts company, joining an array of specialty iron works along the Schuylkill - uniquely situated to take advantage of the railroad’s transportation of raw materials and finished goods.

Pencoyd Iron Works historic printA & P Roberts Company’s focus at Pencoyd Iron Works quickly shifted to the manufacture and shaping of soft wrought iron specifically suited for railroad axles and bridge parts. In 1859, the Pencoyd directors added ‘Bridge Company’ to the roster of activities and hired engineers to provide technical support for the design and erection of wrought and cast-iron bridges. With the industrial expansion in the late 1800’s, Pencoyd Iron Works became a leading bridge producer, constructing hundreds of bridges across North America, including the famous Upper Steel Arch Bridge across Niagara Falls as well as sending a pre-fabricated bridge across the Atlantic to Africa at the request of the British military.

By 1900, Pencoyd Iron Works had attained an international reputation for the quality of their iron and steel, and as a result, was ultimately acquired by JP Morgan’s US Steel Corporation in 1902. The original founders, Algernon and Percival, were retained as members of the Board of US Steel.

The former Pencoyd Iron Works ultimately succumbed to the Great Depression and was later divested amongst several industrial users in the 1940’s and has continued with industrial uses until today.

Images courtesy of Lower Merion Township Historical Society.