Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

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Northwest corner Estaugh & J Streets.

Luithlen Dye Corporation, c.1880-2003
Ward Elicker Casting, 2004-
J Street between Estaugh & Tioga, Philadelphia PA 19134

Carmen A. Weber, Irving Kosmin, and Muriel Kirkpatrick, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

In the 1880s Ludwig B. Luithlen established a dye works in rented space in Kensington. Sometime around 1895, he moved to a one story brick dye house on the corner of J and East Estaugh Streets in the Harrowgate section. The firm served the large numbers of textile industries located in Kensington throughout the twentieth century; despite the decline in these industries, it still continues to operate.
Although the Luithlen name is still associated with the dye works, it has operated under several families in the twentieth century. Under Emil Viet, the dye works employed twnty-nine males and an office work force of four people in 1916.
1 Viet ran the Luithlen Dye Works until 1919. At that date, the Wiegand family acquired the company. The firm employed between sixty and forty-two people in the 1940s. 2
Incorporating in 1948, Louis Wiegand, Jr. is now the third generation to operate the company. The one story brick building, with a monitor along its roof line, holds forty-four dye kettles. Narrow fabrics, yarns, carpet, bindings, tapes, and zippers are dyed in these kettles, which are heated by steam supplied by two 500 horsepower, oil fired boilers. The two story brick building on the corner of Tioga and J Streets holds storage space as well as the finishing department and drying room. The drying operation utilizes steam to operate a range, ten dryers, and twelve yarn winders.

1   Department of Labor and Industry, Pennsylvania, 1916, p. 1286.
2   Chamber of Commerce and Board of Trade, Philadelphia, p. 39.
3   Interview with Louis Weigand, Jr., President, (October 27, 1988).

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East facade along J Street.

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Undated map (<1900) showing "L.B. Luithlen Dye House" on the northwest corner of Estaugh & J Streets. Tioga Street is at the top, Kensington Avenue is on the diagonal. Collection of Ward Elicker Casting.

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Sections & Elevations of the Dye House for Luithlen Dye Works drawn by William Steele & Sons, April 15, 1920. Collection of Ward Elicker Casting.

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Plan of Luithlen Dye Works by Factory Insurance Association, 1973. Collection of Ward Elicker Casting.

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"Anyone Jumping The Curb Or Driving On The Pavement Will Be Prosecuted" — sign along Estaugh Street.

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"$10.00 REWARD For the Arrest & Conviction Of Anyone Defacing This Property!" — sign along Estaugh Street.

Update May 2007 (by Torben Jenk):
Luithlen Dye was sold to Wayne Mills in 2003, which then moved the dyeing operations to Manyunk.

The site was sold and is now occupied by Ward Elicker Casting. For the SIA June 2007 conference, Jeb Wood, CEO and Metalsmith of Ward Elicker Casting, offered a tour of the foundry and explained the entire process of translating an artist’s work (often in clay) into a finished sculpture in bronze or iron. Known as “lost wax casting” the process involves making the mould, making the wax casting, chasing the wax, spruing, casting the ceramic mould, burn out, casting, break out, sandblasting, assembly, chasing, glass beading, polish, patina, waxing, mounting and inspection. Elicker Casting serves emerging artists (some rent space in the building) and renowned contemporary sculptors like Tom Otterness, Julian Schnable, George Segal and Kiki Smith.
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Most of the dyeing equipment has been removed to accommodate the new sculpture foundry, Ward Elicker Casting.

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Ceramic shell molds are being burned out to remove the wax. Molten bronze will be poured into these shells.

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Some Civil War monuments were cast in "white bronze" (cast zinc). Examples like this were cast in large numbers, only the face being personalized. Now deteriorating, Ward Elicker Casting can take new molds and cast these monuments again in long-lived real bronze.

A brief history of sculpture and casting in Philadelphia. (Torben Jenk 2007)

More than just making machines, Philadelphia has a centuries old tradition of supporting the arts and artists. In 1795, the first public monument in Philadelphia was installed over the entrance to the Library Company of Philadelphia, a marble figure of Ben Franklin. The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, founded in 1805, is the nation’s oldest art museum and school of fine art. In 1872, concerned citizens who believed that art could play a role in a growing city formed the Fairmount Park Art Association to purchase, commission and maintain art works from the world’s leading sculptors including Daniel Chester French, Paul Manship, Frederick Remington, Jacques Lipschitz, Henry Moore and all three generations of the Calder family: Alexander Milne, Alexander Stirling and Alexander “Sandy.” Thousands of artworks, large and small, abstract and commemorative, are displayed throughout the city.

Philadelphia’s most famous sculpture, “William Penn” stands atop City Hall. Sculpted by Alexander Milne Calder, it is thirty six feet tall and weighs 53,000 pounds -- the largest single piece of sculpture on any building in the world. The Tacony Iron Works started casting it in 1890 and the bronze sculpture was set in place in 1894.
For the past twenty five years graduates of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts, the University of the Arts, Temple University and other art programs have sought experience and training in the comprehensive Johnson Atelier in Hamilton, NJ, founded by J. Seward Johnson who believed “There is no art more dependent on it’s technical aspects than sculpture. An ignorance of technique limits a sculptor’s creativity, wastes hours of work in bringing a cast to likeness of the original, and renders the artist captive of the foundry’s trade secrecy and commercialism. Until the Industrial Revolution, however, the opposite was true. The home of the foundry was the sculptor’s studio where the results of poor practices and errors in judgement were immediately visited upon the artist, for it was the artist who created and cast their own work. This system led to quality and efficiency.”
Johnson wanted to “restore the link and the interplay which used to exist between the sculptor and the founding of their work” with the goal “to educate and train more artisans to be available to aid the sculptor in completing their task, to develop methods for making these processes less costly and more responsive to the sculptor’s needs, and finally, to play a small part in whatever forces must come together to bring more sculpture into the 20th century lifestyle.” When the Johnson Atelier was reorganized a few years ago some of their highly skilled staff artists and artisans built their own small foundries in Philadelphia.