Industrial Age Fed Syracuse Boom

Early in the 20th Century, the Salt City outranked New York City in products made here, including typewriters and cars.

By Tim Knauss

By the time The Post-Standard was born in 1899, the namesake industry of the Salt City was on its deathbed.

Salt production in Syracuse had been declining since the Civil War, and was no longer the driving force behind the local economy. The boiling and evaporating processes used here could not compete with the cheaper and simpler method of extracting salt from huge mines.

Although the last local manufacturer, Thomas Gale, would keep his salt business alive until 1926, Syracuse was forced to move on to other endeavors.

It did so with a vengeance.

Indeed, there was no time to mourn the death of salt. Syracuse at the turn of the century was bursting with invention and industry, a period of such rapid growth that it is almost difficult to imagine today.

The city would soon be nationally known for its cars, it candles, its typewriters, its time clocks, its china and its gears. Not to mention its soda ash, steel, shotguns, steam engines and men's shoes. And don't forget its garment presses, mincemeat, cans, boilers and radiators, and lanterns.

Franklin Chase, author of the 1924 history "Syracuse and Its Environs," summed up the early 20th century in Syracuse with this claim: "In truth, Syracuse manufactured more different articles numerically than even New York City itself."

Syracuse's enterprise was diverse and frenetic, but if any one place symbolized the era, perhaps it was the C.E. Lipe Co. machine shop at 208 S. Geddes St.

Established in 1880 by Charles E. Lipe, the son of a German-born farmer, the machine shop became a haven for inventors and an incubator of industries. Lipe himself was prolific, inventing a cigar-rolling machine, a broom-winding machine, motion picture equipment, automatic looms and time recorders.

Working with Alexander T. Brown, another engineering whiz, Lipe devised a two-speed gear for bicycles. In 1895, the two men started the Brown-Lipe Gear Co., which soon found a market supplying differentials to the automobile industry. Brown-Lipe Gear eventually became the Inland Fisher Guide unit of General Motors, which employed more than 1,300 people in Salina until GM closed that plant in 1993.

The Lipe Co., which made clutches and automotive manufacturing machinery, merged in 1942 with the Rollway Bearing Co., which Lipe's brother Willard had started in 1908. Today, Lipe-Rollway Corp. employs about 280 people in Liverpool making bearings and automated conveying systems.

Turn-of-the-century Syracuse, like the rest of America, was riding a tide of industrialism that was relentlessly transforming what had been an agrarian nation.

Railroads and trolleys crisscrossed the county, and the Erie Canal still carried cargo through downtown. Among the products advertised by Solvay Process Co. was "granulated calcium chloride for dust prevention on roads."

Kemp & Burpee manufactured horse-drawn manure spreaders. Syracuse Chilled Plow made walking and riding plows.

Ice came from local lakes. People's Ice Co. advertised its sources as Cazenovia, Skaneateles and Oneida lakes.

Most telephone numbers still consisted of just two or three digits.

Here are a few snapshots from that era, gleaned from newspaper clippings, pamphlets and history books:


In January 1899, the Central New York Telephone & Telegraph Co. moved from the Wieting Building on Clinton Square into its new building at 311 Montgomery St., current site of the Onondaga Historical Association's research center.

The phone company had 92 employees, 37 of whom were operators, and it processed an average of 21,000 local calls a day. Not bad for an enterprise started 20 years earlier as a telephone exchange for just 16 subscribers.

In July 1899, a competitor was launched by the name of Syracuse Telephone Co., later renamed Onondaga Independent Telephone Co.

In 1909, Central New York Telephone was renamed New York Telephone. In 1911, the company bought out Onondaga Independent. By then, New York Tel had some 645 employees, 48,000 miles of wire, and provided service to more than 13,200 telephones.


Also in 1899, former newspaper publisher Herbert Franklin joined forces with John Wilkinson, Alexander Brown and Willard Lipe to launch H.H. Franklin Manufacturing Co., one of the nation's first automobile makers. Their original office was in the Lipe machine shop.

Franklin cars relied on an air-cooled engine devised by Wilkinson. The first model, produced in 1902, was a wood-bodied car that weighed 900 pounds and traveled up to 12 miles per hour.

Within four years, Franklin was the third-biggest manufacturer of cars in America. The company grew to occupy 18 buildings, with 34 acres of floor space, at its campus on South Geddes Street, the current site of Fowler High School.

During its peak in the mid-1920s, Franklin turned out nearly 15,000 cars a year and employed 3,500 people, making it the leading company in Syracuse.

Yet by 1934, the operation folded, a victim of the Great Depression. Franklin cars, expensive and lovingly crafted, could not compete with the cheaper models coming out of Detroit.


In May 1899, Syracuse Cigar & Tobacco Co. was launched as a stock company with $100,000 in capital to take over the private cigar manufacturing operation of John P. Hier, started roughly 30 years earlier.

Syracuse Cigar & Tobacco thus became the largest of more than 80 cigar manufacturers in Syracuse. It grew even larger in August with the buyout of Barton & Co., which had cigar factories on North Salina and Exchange streets. Two months later, it bought the Morris Light cigar factory, a four-story structure at 513 S. Clinton St. employing about 60 people.

According to a Post-Standard article in September 1899, Syracuse Cigar & Tobacco Co. was churning out more than 20,000 cigars a day - and falling behind on its orders. Company President George Whelan complained he had a backlog of 500,000 cigars and desperately wanted to hire 75 more employees. Whelan said he had taken out help-wanted ads in Boston, New York City and Binghamton.

Syracuse may not be remembered for its cigar industry, since its output was far exceeded by other cities, including the cigar-rolling capital, New York City.

Following the Civil War, cigar manufacturing was widely dispersed throughout the Northern states (the South focused on chewing tobacco until the cigarette industry took off). According to Robert Heimann, author of "Tobacco & Americans," there were thousands of cigar manufacturers, many of which were household operations employing three or four people.

Nevertheless, tobacco was a significant element of Syracuse's economy at the turn of the century. The crop was widely grown throughout the county, especially in Lysander, Clay and Van Buren, but also in Manlius, DeWitt and other towns. Baldwinsville was Central New York's hub for trading, where farmers sold their crop at the large packing houses where it was cured and prepared for shipping.

In 1895, 30-year-old Rudolph Bendixen quit his day job in the pension department of Solvay Process Co. to sell his own brand of chewing tobacco. Bendixen had started out by preparing "chaw" at night after work and delivering it around town by bicycle.

Bendixen Tobacco Co. would become nationally known for its Yara brand chewing tobacco.

As late as 1910, the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce listed tobacco as the city's 10th largest industry, employing more than 500 people.

But Onondaga County's cigar manufacturing dwindled rapidly after World War I, when cigarettes quickly overtook cigars in popularity.


In 1888, two Baldwinsville families started the New Process Raw Hide Co. to produce rawhide boats and canoes using their patented "new process." Within a year, they laminated rawhide gears for use in electric trolleys, and in years to come they began designing automotive gears from steel, brass and cast iron.

In 1904, the company moved its headquarters to Plum Street in Syracuse, where the New Process Gear Co. - as it was renamed in 1912 - remained until 1960. Today, New Process Gear, a division of New Venture Gear, employs about 3,400 people at its plant in DeWitt.

Electrical products

In 1897, Huntington B. Crouse, 24, joined forces with 51-year-old Jesse L. Hinds with the idea of making products to make use of what they figured would be the energy source of the future - electricity. The Crouse-Hinds Co. started out with a dozen employees in one floor of a building at 500 Water St. Their first product was a trolley car headlight, the "Syracuse Changeable Electric Headlight."

Today, Crouse-Hinds is a leading division of Houston-based Cooper Industries, employing 1,045 people at its Wolf Street plant in the manufacture of electrical products.


In 1903, Lyman C. Smith and his brothers built the L.C. Smith & Bros. Typewriter Co. at 701 E. Washington St., a business that would define Syracuse for decades to come.

Smith's shotgun factory on Walton Street was selling about 5,000 guns a year during the mid-1880s, when he loaned his mechanic, Alexander Brown, to another company to work on problems they were having with their typewriter, according to documents at the Onondaga Historical Association. In the course of his work, Brown (the same man who would later partner with Charles Lipe at Brown-Lipe Gear) conceived his own design for a typewriter. Brown convinced the Smiths to manufacture his typewriter, which had separate keyboards for upper- and lower-case letters and was marketed as the "Smith Premier."

Smith eventually sold his gun business and plunged into the typewriter business with a move in 1903 to the new factory on East Washington Street. In 1926, the Smith Typewriter Co. of Syracuse merged with the Corona Typewriter Co. of Groton, which had developed the first portable model. The company abandoned its Syracuse factory in 1960 for a new plant in Cortlandville. And just last year, the city of Syracuse demolished the former Smith Typewriter factory, which had become an abandoned and contaminated site known as Midtown Plaza.


G. Lewis Merrell and Oscar F. Soule, who started a company to can vegetables in 1868, later discovered a way to make low-moisture, marketable mincemeat from dry ingredients. Merrell-Soule Co.'s "None Such" brand mincemeat became a national success. The company later produced powdered milk, too.

In 1904, Merrell-Soule built a five-story plant in Franklin Square. By the 1920s, the company had 26 factories and employed 900 people, about half of whom worked in Syracuse. Borden Inc. bought the company in 1928.

Top industries

In 1910, the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce ranked local industries in this order:

1. Iron, steel and related products accounted for 75 factories and 10,759 employees.

Examples included Halcomb Steel Co., where 800 workers made 12,000 tons a year; Globe Malleable Iron & Steel Co., which had 300 employees; and Archbold-Brady Co., which had 125 employees and turned out 3,000 tons of structural steel a year for building construction.

2. Textiles, including clothing: 29 factories and 4,770 employees.

W.S. Peck & Co. had 862 employees and turned out 400 suits a day. A.E. Nettleton Co. was the world's biggest manufacturer of men's shoes.

3. Chemicals and related products: 25 factories and 4,282 employees.

Examples included General Chemical and Solvay Process.

4. Vehicles and land transportation: 10 factories and 2,225 employees.

5. Metal products other than iron and steel: 22 factories, 1,439 employees.

6. Leather and related products: nine factories, 1,159 employees.

7. Cut glass and stone products: 22 factories, 1,119 employees.

8. Lumber and related products: 28 factories, 974 employees.

9. Food products: 26 factories, 945 employees.

10. Tobacco: 10 factories, 511 employees.

11. Paper and printing: 11 factories, 510 employees.

12. Liquor and beverages: 10 factories and 448 employees.

Businesses of 1899
Here are some of the other organizations that were operating in Syracuse in 1899 and continue today as gleaned from the 1899 City Directory and other sources.

H.C. Bainbridge, flags and banners
Bond, Schoeneck & King, lawyers
Cathedral Candle Co., candles
Church & Dwight Co., soda maker
J. R. Clancy Inc., manufacturing
George Clark, piano sales
Crouse Hinds Electric Co., manufacturer
Equitable Life Insurance Society, insurer
Frazer & Jones Co., bicycles and metal castings
Edward Joy, plumbing and gas fixtures
Lipe-Rollway Corp., manufacturer
Sanderson Bros. Steel Co., Crucible Steel
F. H. Ebeling, agricultural supplies now pet supplies
G.C. Hanford Mfg. Co., extract maker
John Marsellus Mfg. Co. Ltd., cabinetry
Moses Oberdorfer, foundry
Mutual Life Insurance of New York, insurer
Onondaga Pottery Co., now Syracuse China
Paragon Plaster Co., brick maker
Pass & Seymour, manufacturer
Pastime Athletic Club, gym
Penfield Manufacturing Co., bedding
Prudential Insurance. Co., insurer
Gustave Stickley Co., furniture
Syracuse Supply Co. Ltd., construction supplies
Syracuse Ornamental, now Syroco
Tompkins Brothers Co., industrial sewing machines
Travelers Insurance Co., insurer
Will & Baumer Co., candles

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