Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Remmey Refractory, 1900
Hedley Street at the Delaware River, Philadelphia PA 19137

Jack J. Steelman, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

The Remmey Refractory is located on Hedley Street in Bridesburg. It borders the Delaware River on the east, and the Philadelphia Belt Line Railroad on the west. 1
The Remmey Refractory specialized in making fire brick; however, it also produced other items associated with boiler construction that had to withstand the heat of a furnace (2,000-3,000 degrees F.). One of its largest jobs was for U.S. Steel when the Fairless Hills plant was constructed. Remmey erected all of the refractories associated with the blast furnaces.
The company's origins are traced back to several brothers who emigrated from France in 1870. They arrived in New York, but soon moved to Philadelphia and began working at a pottery-making firm owned by John T. Lewis, at Cumberland and Thompson Streets in 1890. By 1900, they all left Lewis and opened up a new business on Hedley Street that also produced pottery. In 1910, Remmey was awarded a lucrative contract with the Philadelphia Gas Company, supplying firebrick for their new plant at Tioga Street. After that, much of their business revolved around steam plants throughout the area. As most businesses required steam for heat and power, Remmey's business flourished. Soon, their list of customers included the Philadelphia Electric Company (for its stations outside the area as well as in the city), major hospitals, department stores, and many factories.
Remmey's plant was made up largely of five components: the shops where the clay was formed and shaped, the kilns where the clay was fired,
2 the warehouses where the products were stored, the loading docks where it was shipped, and the administrative offices.
In 1965, A.P. Green, a large manufacturing company of related items, bought controlling interest in the Remmey Refractory and soon took over operation of the plant. They continued to produce brick until 1987, when the facility shut down—the demand for steam having steadily dwindled.
Presently, the plant is occupied by a recycling company which only makes use of the warehouse and loading docks. As of this writing, the kilns are still intact, although non-functioning.

1   The Philadelphia Belt Line Railroad was the former Reading Railroad freight spur to the area.
2   Originally coal-fired, the kilns were later converted to gas.

Update May 2007 (by Joel Spivak):

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