Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Pasted Graphic

Ajax Metal Company, 1893-1944
1000-1052 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19123

Stuart Paul Dixon, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

Fishtown's industrial heritage includes several metalworking and metal-fabrication establishments that date to the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One vestige of the recent past is the Ajax Metal Company complex at 1000-1052 Frankford Avenue. Consisting of four buildings constructed between 1893 and 1944, this complex, once devoted to the smelting and refining of metals, embraces the entire block bounded by Frankford Avenue to the east, Richmond Street to the north, Allen Street to the south, and Interstate 95 to the west. In 1950 Ajax sold the site to its present owner.

The company's two-story office, five bays wide on the first story, is at 46 Richmond Street; it was erected in 1907 of reinforced concrete and brick curtain walls. Rear wings that extend to Allen Street contained crucibles, a core storage room, and a shipping and receiving department.

Facing Richmond Street, a one-story, 10-bay brick foundry with two four-foot frame round-arch monitors extends south along Frankford Avenue for 22 bays. Constructed in 1893, the foundry by 1950 contained an electric furnace department and air compressors. The faded outline of letters forming "Ajax Metal Company" remains in the brick cornice above a truck-loading bay.

The "Ajax Electric Co., Inc" Warehouse and Plant No. 1, identified in Sanborn Insurance Survey maps, stands at the corner of Allen Street and Frankford Avenue and extends 10 bays north along Frankford. Built in 1931, this two-story steel frame structure is faced in brick and has exterior pilasters and art deco-styled capitals that define window and door bays. A two-story, three-bay brick office and warehouse built in 1944 at 42 Richmond Street completes the Ajax complex. Brick curtain walls surround a steel and concrete frame, which supports a concrete roof. A rear addition contains a foundry; another rear addition that fronts on Allen Street consists of a four-story brick building that houses a receiving department on the first floor and furnace storage and laboratory rooms on the upper stories.

This part of Fishtown has long been associated with metal fabrication. In the mid-nineteenth century, before creating a huge industrial complex in
Tacony, Henry Disston & Sons was located in this area. The Nicholson File Company manufactured metal files throughout the early 1900s in the block immediately north of Ajax. By 1893, the Ajax Brass Metal Works had erected the double-monitored foundry that currently forms part of the Ajax Metal complex on Frankford Avenue.

A 1900 city directory lists Ajax as manufacturers of "Ajax Metal," probably a lead-coated sheet metal, since the Ajax Lead Coating Company appears at the site the same year. Ajax continued smelting brass, tin, copper, lead, zinc, and antimony alloys throughout the early 1900s. The company also produced "Plastic Bronze," an alloy for high-grade machinery bearings; "Manganese Bronze," used by automobile manufacturers; and "Bull Babbitt," a soft, silvery, antifriction alloy. By 1908, Ajax had become an international conglomerate with branch offices in Montreal and Paris. In 1936, it introduced the Ajax-Hultgren Salt Bath Furnace. By 1941, the corporate entity became Ajax Electric Company; its subsidiary firms were Ajax Metal, Ajax Electric Furnace Company, and the Ajax Electrothermic Corporation.

Ajax Metal had an office staff of 27 in 1916 and employed 180 men and 6 women. The company grew, diversified, and served a vital role in Fishtown's economy until 1950. Its old buildings now serve as warehouses.

Update May 2007 (by Torben Jenk):