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Cambria: First American Steel Rail Maker

Founded in 1852 for the sole purpose of rail production, Cambria Iron Co. of Johnstown, PA is considered to be one of the greatest of early iron and steel works and a pioneer of the industry. In its time, it served as a model for the mills of many of its successors and future steel industry giants. Having produced the first American-made steel rails in 1861, it grew to be one of the largest rail manufacturers in the United States by 1876, even surpassing Carnegie Steel in production volume. In 1898, it was reorganized and renamed the Cambria Steel Co.; eventually being acquired first by Midvale Steel and Ordinance Co. in 1916 and then by the Bethlehem Steel Co. in 1923. (*These rails were produced prior to the acquisition by Bethlehem Steel Co. 1861-1923. Significant Marker of Steel-Railroad-Transportation Industrial History).

The rise of age of steel was made possible by the near-simultaneous advent of the Kelly and Bessemer Converters: similar inventions that made the mass, the production of steel possible for the first time. Cambria Steel was one of the first companies to experiment with and adopt these converters into its fold, continuing to set the tone for the industry. Steel quickly became the preferred metal of rail manufacturing, its superior strength and lasting quality providing a solution to the issue of prevalent deformation and warping in iron rails.

  • Manufacturer: Cambria Steel Co. (subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel Co.)
  • Date: 1861-1923  
  • Geography:Johstown PA Plant
  • Culture:American
  • Medium: Steel Rail, 
  • Condition: natural pitting with age
  • Dimensions: 4" 8lbs
  • Classification: Work & Industry: Steel
  • Commonality: Rare