by Jack Weber
Col. William Henry Morgan is known for building Alliance’s iconic landmark — Glamorgan Castle.
However, years before that magnificent structure was erected, its was W.H. Morgan’s father — Thomas Rees Morgan, Sr. — who built Morgan Engineering, invented the overhead traveling crane and sparked an industrial revolution.
And it all happened from his chosen home in Alliance — a town he helped build after locating here in August 1871.
And by all accounts T.R. Morgan was beloved not only for his genius in business, but for his generosity as an employer and as a booster to the city.
THE EARLY YEARS
Born March 31, 1834, in Penydarren, Merthyr Tydvil, Glamorgan, Wales, Thomas Rees Morgan was the youngest of six children and began working in a coal mine at age 8.
At age 11, he was run over by a number of loaded coal wagons, which resulted in the loss of his left leg at the knee.
Following the accident, he was sent to school for three years before taking an apprenticeship in the Penydarren Iron Works. He later worked in some of the largest industrial plants in Wales, including the Dowlais Iron Works, where he worked for some time with Sir Henry Bessemer, whose steelmaking process became the most important technique for nearly a century. It was Bessemer who encouraged Morgan to go to the United States.
Morgan eventually left Wales with his wife, Elizabeth, and their three children in 1865, arriving in New York City on April 15, the day after President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated. The family first settled in Pittston, Pennsylvania, where William was born. They later went to Johnstown and then to Pittsburgh, where T.R. Morgan was superintendent of the Allegheny Valley Railroad shops, the Atlas Iron Works and Smith & Porter’s.
T.R. Morgan was successful in his posts, but he wanted something more. In 1868 he laid the foundation for a successful industrial empire when he began manufacturing steam hammers and other special machinery in Pittsburgh.
He carried that on for three years, but eventually needed more space.
COMING TO ALLIANCE
T.R. Morgan, who was partnered with investor Charles Marchand, started putting out the word that he was looking for a new home for his plant.
At the same time, Alliance’s Levi Lamborn was looking to sell some land along the Mahoning River right near some railroad tracks — two things that Morgan would need to run his shops.
Morgan contacted Lamborn and inquired about a program the railroads had that provided free land for industry that agreed to build facilities along the right of ways.
Knowing he had the perfect spot for Morgan, Lamborn traveled to Pittsburgh and convinced Morgan to come see the property for himself.
It turned out to be a significant turning point in the history of Alliance.
Once they arrived in Alliance, Elizabeth Morgan fell in love with it and in August 1871, Marchand & Morgan was in business along Mahoning Avenue, building steam hammers, punching and shearing machines, rail carts, gun and mortar carriages, cranes and other specialized heavy equipment.
BUILDING A TOWN
At the time Morgan came to the city, Alliance could have been considered the farm implement capital of the U.S. with such companies as A.W. Coates & Co., the B.F. Mercer Pump Company and Keystone Spike — but those industries were slowing down as the country continued to expand westward.
While growing the Morgan Engineering empire, which started with around 20 employees in 1871 and had an estimated 600 trained workers by the time of his death in 1897, Thomas Morgan was also taking an interest in other endeavors.
Morgan started the Solid Steel Company, among others, invested in and became partners in several other companies and was a member of several company boards, civic boards and was a Mount Union College trustee. He also established a Welsh Church near the plant.
With a broad sense of community, Morgan provided a living wage, knowing it would encourage merchants to locate to the town. He encouraged his workers to own their own homes because he knew that would bring in workers in the building trades. He knew it would help grow the community.
BUILDING A NATION
In 1877, Marchand retired and a new partnership was formed with Silas J. Williams, who would later hook up with Frank Transue of Keystone Spike to form Transue and Williams. Morgan’s arrangement with Williams lasted only about seven years, but one of the most notable milestones in company history took place just after the operation was named Morgan-Williams & Company — T.R. Morgan Sr.’s invention of the overhead traveling crane.
Prior to the traveling overhead crane, which was later improved upon by W.H. Morgan, a cart would be pulled underneath a pot of molten steel, which would be released into a chamber that would then be pulled along a line by a gang of men who would then pour it into ingots.
Using the overhead traveling crane, it took maybe one man to operate it and another to guide it. One could go down a line with two people where before it took 10 or 15. Then one could remove the pot and pick up the ingots and stack them with the crane — all with two people. It reduced labor and time.
Morgan Engineering had several other notable achievements during the lifetime of T.R. Morgan Sr., including the first electric overhead traveling crane in the world (1881), the first electric overhead traveling crane installed in a steel mill (13 cranes of 10-ton capacity for Homestead Steel Works in 1893) and a 25-ton double trolley overhead crane exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, earning the company a Diploma of Achievement.
T.R. Morgan also started a long association with the U.S. Ordnance Department, constructing the Gordon 10-inch Disappearing Gun Carriage in 1894. Designed for coast defense, it weighed more than 300 tons.
T.R. Morgan Sr., who made his home at the corner of Liberty Avenue and Oxford Street where a portion Thompson-Snodgrass Park is now located, died suddenly on Sept. 6, 1897.
According to some historical accounts, the city shut down for his funeral as a crowd packed the town square near the Sharer undertaking rooms to pay their last respects. It is said that when the funeral procession reached Alliance City Cemetery more than a mile away, there were still people waiting to step off in the funeral procession.
It was said that Thomas Morgan was a man who loved his community, and in return, the community loved him back.
Approaching 125 years after his death, the eyes of Thomas Rees Morgan Sr. still casts a steady gaze over Alliance.
Motorists and pedestrians traveling along Union Avenue pass through his view every day, and don’t even realize it.
Of course, those eyes are set in bronze in a monument dedicated to Morgan, the founder of Morgan Engineering and inventor of the overhead traveling crane, that sits in front of Glamorgan Castle.
The 15-foot, 13-ton structure stood for more than 80 years at the Morgan Engineering plant after being unveiled Oct. 31, 1899, a little more than two years after the death of T.R. Morgan, Sr.
The statue, commissioned by the officers of the company, is a fitting testament to T.R. Morgan Sr.
Designed and constructed by well-known Cleveland sculptor Joseph Carrabelli, who owned the Lake View Granite and Monument Company, the top of the front of the monument is adorned with three reliefs, including a circular portrait of T.R. Morgan in the center.
To the left is a brief sketch of his life that, in part, states he “was an example of what in this great country may be obtained by honesty, skill, energy and perseverance.”
To the right is a eulogy delivered by President William McKinley from a special train passing through Alliance on Nov. 1, 1897, about two months after Morgan’s death.
It reads, in part, “I will never be able to look into the faces of an Alliance audience again without thinking of that tried and true friend of mine, your friend and fellow citizen of Alliance, Thomas R. Morgan. A man so noble, with much integrity and charity. Let us all try to emulate the example set before us by him. … I shall always remember him as one of the staunchest and best friends I had. Such friends cannot be replaced. If ever a man deserved an immortal crown, Thomas R. Morgan Sr. deserved one.”
Two bronze angels, one on each side of the circular relief, also are on the monument. One holds an engineer’s square and a set of drawings, while the other holds a hammer, both representing his profession as an engineer.
The front facing center panel has one of the Morgan steam hammers sculpted on it. The columns hold sculptures depicting events in Morgan’s life, such as a miner’s pick, shovel, pry bar and rope, reminding viewers he got his start in mining; a T-square and triangle, representing his engineering skill; and other engineering symbols and gear.
At the top portion of the backside is a depiction of the overhead traveling crane Morgan patented in 1881, along with additional reliefs of various Morgan Engineering products.
The monument, which consists of seven pieces, was moved in front of the Glamorgan Castle grounds on Aug. 28, 1984, according to a Review article.
It had stood at the Morgan Engineering entrance gate of East Broadway at the time the company was acquired by AMCA International.
According to the article, that company, which closed the plant in 1984 and sold the manufacturing facility that had been a prominent employer since 1871, donated the monument to the Alliance City Schools to place at its administrative facilities on the Glamorgan Castle grounds so it could be shared with the community as a reminder of its rich history.