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Industrial Works (1873-1983)
aka: Industrial Brownhoist
  • Foot of Columbus Ave., btwn. Water St. & River - Bay City, MI
  • Marvin Kusmierz (Dec. 2002 / Updated Jun. 2007)

  • 1950s - Aerial of Manufacturing property and buildings.

    On March 4, 1873 -- a group of local businessmen purchased the MacDowell Foundry Company in Bay City, Michigan and began a new business called the Industrial Works. This small company eventually became a world leader as a manufacturer of large lifting cranes.

    Many families of Bay County have a history related to the Industrial Works which was later known as Industrial Brownhoist before becoming a division of the American Hoist and Derrick Company. Operating for over 100 years, it established itself as one of Bay County's longest running and most important businesses, providing employment for thousands of workers during its existence.

    Among the original founders of the company were George Kimball, James Clements, Edgar A. Cooley, Ebenezer Wells, Ezra Seaman and Phillip Bach. All were from Ann Arbor except for Kimball who was from Saginaw, where was head of the Pere Marquette Railroad office.

    Officers of the company were: George Kimball, president; James Clements, vice-president; Ebenezer Wells, treasurer; Charles Wells (son of Ebenezer), secretary.

    The company's initial property holding was 100 ft of river frontage that ran to Water street and included a 50 x 100 plot across Water street. An old wood building for the foundry sat on this plat. A blacksmith shop and several machine shop buildings were located on the riverside of Water street. The initial work force consisted of about 25 people. The new company continued in the line of work done by the former MacDowell Foundry, which was primarily doing equipment repair work for the many local sawmills, and supplying galvanized piping used in salt mines. In addition, they added capabilities for supplying manufacturing saws (gang and circular) and building engines and boilers used by local sawmills and shipbuilders.

    The company was formed the same year as the financial panic of 1873, and like many other businesses, it struggled financially to survive. Kimball, left his position as president and returned to the railroad business, and James Clements took over as president. This change proved to be a stroke of luck that would lead the company into a new direction.

    In 1880, Kimball returned to the Industrial Works, not as an employee, but as a customer. He needed to have a special steam shovel designed for doing railroad excavating, and he wanted the Industrial Works to build it. The company took on the new project which was completed in 1881. It was the first railroad steam shovel made in the United States.

    It wasn't long thereafter that Sam Edgerly of the Michigan Central Railroad (MCRR) contacted the company. MCRR had designed and built a prototype shovel themselves, and they were looking for an outside source to build a second one.for them. The company got the contract. It was the catalyst that launched the company into a new business direction.

    The company was very impressed with Edgerly's well designed shovel, so much so, they approached MCRR to see if they could purchase rights the patented design. MCRR was receptive and an agreement was worked out which launched the Industrial Works into the locomotive crane manufacturing business. By 1896 the company had made the transition from a supplier to local sawmills and shipbuilders, and was now a major supplier of cranes to a nationwide railroad industry.

    In 1895, James Clements died and shortly thereafer, his son William Clements and Charles Wells acquired most the company's assets.

    Each crane had a name plate similar
    to this one that helped make
    Bay City known around the world.

    Up until the entry of the Industrial Works into the crane manufacturing, Appleby Brothers of London, England was the dominate supplier of large cranes around the world, It was an ideal situation for Industrial Works since they were able to capitalize being the only crane manufacturer based in the United States. Sales grew rapidly and by 1923, Industrial Works had produced and sold 3,776 cranes, of which, 3,261 were for U.S. customers. The company had expanded dramatically. Its manufacturing facilities now covered 29 acres, which included 59 buildings that provided 490,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

    By 1931 the Industrial Works was facing plenty of competition when the company decided to consolidate its operations with the Brown Hoisting Company of Cleveland which established the Industrial Brownhoist Corporation, and helped keep the company's business strong over the following years.

    The Bay City community and workers at IB took pride in knowing that each of the cranes produced here carried a name plate with "Industrial Brownhoist - Bay City, MI" on it to points all around the world. Bay City built IB cranes were at work in major sea ports loading and unloading ships, at construction sites excavating the land and lifting the steel frame work for new buildings, digging mines, dredging river beds and any other place where large lifting or ground moving machines were in use. It was IB cranes built in Bay City that helped build the Panama Canal.

    During the post WWII years, business began to decline. Faced with stiff competition, the Bay City operations were sold to the Penn-Texas Corporation in 1954, and five years later it was sold to a hotel group based in Miami Beach. Each of these acquisitions proved to be less than successful in revitalizing the company's business. By 1960, the Bay City operations employed only a skeleton crew of about 40 workers when the American Hoist Corporation(AHC) of Minneapolis took over ownership, and it became the Industrial Brownhoist Division. This change proved to be a positive move that brought in more work that helped to extend the life the Bay City plant for a few more decades.

    In 1983, the plant was shut down, ending a century of crane manufacturing in Bay City.

    Some of the company's historical data:

    • 1883 - Built the first steam wrecking crane.
    • 1886 - Developed the first steam engine crane with the crane and boiler mounted at opposite ends, a basic design still employed in most modern cranes.
    • 1893 - IW cranes came in first place at the Chicago World's Fair.
    • 1933 - Engineering award from the Franklin Institute for Railway Ballast Cleaner.
    • Pioneered the development of derrick cranes.
    • Developed the first steel rail saw.
    • Industrial Works cranes took first first place at the World
    • Production capacity of building upto 20 cranes simultaneously.
    • Worldwide presence with eighteen domestic and eleven foreign offices on six continents.

    [View] Pictorial which includes cranes, scenes inside and outside the plant, and people.

    Post History.

    2004: View looking s.w. at former Industrial Brownhoist property and its historical building.

    In the years that followed the property and some of its building were partially used by various small businesses. But, the atmosphere was like that of a ghost townwere used for a variety of business needs, including storage. The chorus of sounds of a once productive industry were replace by the occasional sounds of a heavy hauler moving stone or the roaring of a single machine. The huge buildings where some of the world's largest cranes were built remain as remnants that reminds us of an era when the river represented industrial wealth to our community.

    {View pdf}

    Excellent Photo Essay of IB
    by Kevin Copus

    In the early 1990s, community hope and excitement about this river frontage came when local Congressman Robert Traxler announced that the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) intended to utilize the properties in this area for a Science Park that would include supercomputers. The old IB Administration building was renovated and leased to Unisys Corporation who had the contract to operate the supercomputer. With the supercomputer installed and operating. A government grant was in place to redevelop the property and certainty set in that something good was going to happen along the river.

    The community was shocked when the government announced after Congressman Traxler retirement that they were dropping their plans for an EPA Science Park here and that the installed supercomputer would be moved out of Bay City! At the time it seemed like a tragedy and even though money granted for the project was turned over to the community allowing redevelopment the property to continue for other uses.

    {View - Updated May, 2012}
    - Extensive database in pdf format, listing cranes manufactured by I.B. and the businesses they were sold to.
    - This database is a "work in progress," by researchers:
    John Taubeneck, Ed Chambers and John C. LaRue Jr.
    - If you have a comment about the database or can contribute to its content, see contact info in file.

    A little over a decade later, hope and excitement is peaked once again. In 2002, after years of hard work on the part of city and county government, we are in the process of selecting a developer. Early proposals include a series private dwellings, a small business shopping center, an east side harbor and open areas for community use. A short distance to the north a new hotel and conference is being built. At last, dreams of what could be are becoming a reality.

    It seems fitting that the name "Industrial Works" should somehow be incorporated into the new development. Maybe to identify a road, park or an area in honor of what was once home for one of the worlds largest crane manufacturers. Maybe the name for one of IB's well built old buildings which may become a part of the new development as possibly a parking plaza, farmers market or a huge covered gathering place for community activities.

    While I never worked at IB, I did have an occasion to see the operation up close when I was considering a job as an expediter there in the late 1960s. One can not even imagine how enormous an operation it was unless you have seen it first hand. Such an experience is now lost to time and left to the words of history for the inexperienced to try and comprehend.

    Industrial Works in the news...

    1899 - Modern Machinery, Vols. 3-4.


    One of our traveling representatives, Mr. Charles Polscher, who visited last month the cities of Saginaw and Bay City, Mich., writes: "There is a rush of work in all machine shops here. Every machine in both buildings of the Industrial Works, Bay City, is in operation. This institution makes railroad machinery as a specialty. At the present time they are at work on four 30 ton cranes for the New York Central, two 30 ton cranes for the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, one for the Philadelphia & Reading, and one for the New York, New Haven & Hartford. Besides this they are building two cranes of 40 tone capacity for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. A portable rail saw for the Atchison, Topeka & santa Fe, and in extension steam pile driver for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Road are also in process of Construction."

    1910 - Michigan Manufacturer & Financial Record, Vol. 2, Issue 31

    June 11, 1910.

    Starting on New Work.
    ---- The Industrial Works at Bay City is removing old buildings on the site of the new office building the construction of which is to begin at once. The location is Eleventh and Washington.

    Video from photos of the manufacturing facilities and yard.

    I invite and encourage you to share your family's connection to the history of the Industrial Works (aka. Indusrial Brownhoist) of Bay City, by providing information and where possible a pictures, that will add to its history.

    Viewers Comments:

    Feb., 2013 - by Robert G. Jerore, former employee.

      It's been 47 years since I worked for I.B. (as I remember being referred to). I started there in July or August of 1965 ... continued (pdf)

    Industrial Works Menu
    1918 Bay City Map. Plant located at bottom. (click to enlarge)
    Related Pages:
    Pictorial: Industrial Works
    Clements, Wm. L.
    Cullen, Wm. F.
    Cooley, Egar
    Dicey, George
    Garland, Michael
    Dicey, George
    McCrickett, Thomas F.
    Perry, Ernest B.
    IB Old Articles
    Pattern Makers Strike -1914
    {Memories (McDowell) -1927}
    People Referenced
  • Bach, Phillip
  • Clements, James
  • Cooley, Edgar A.
  • Edgerly, Sam
  • Kimball, George
  • Seaman, Ezra
  • Traxler, Robt.
  • Wells, Ebenezer
  • Subjects Referenced
  • American Hoist & Derrick Co.
  • Ann Arbor, MI
  • Applby Brothers
  • Cleveland, OH
  • Financial panic 1873
  • First R.R. steam shovel
  • Flint & Pere Marquette R.R.
  • Industrial Brownhoist Co.
  • London, England
  • MacDowell Foundry Co.
  • Miami hotel group
  • Michigan Central R.R.
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Panama Canal
  • Penn-Texas Corp.
  • Saginaw, MI
  • Unisys Corp.
  • Related Images

    William L. Clements.
    President, 20 years.
    Son of James Clements,
    founding partner.

    Edgar A. Cooley
    Founding Partner
    Images from Pictorial.

    View Pictorial

    Related References

    [MyBayCity.com] article by Dave Rodgers on IB history presentation by Ron Bloomfield, curator at Bay County Historical Society Museum.
    William Clements
    Son of James Clements and an engineer at IB who established the Clements Library at Univ. of MI.
    Clements Library History
    Additional reading material on William Clements and the building that Albert Kahn designed to house this library.
    Article Sources
    Bay County Story - Footpaths to Freeways, book, by Leslie Arndt.
    History of Industrial Works, 1873-1903, paper, Univ. of Michigan.
    Bay City Times, article Feb 14, 1988, by Jeff Phillips.
    Bay City Times, article Oct 11, 1992, by Dave Hardy.
    Internet Resources
    [Google Search] Images of IW & IB cranes.
    [Train Magazine] article by McDermott Gibson on wrecking cranmes, references Industrial Works (Brownhoist) crane history.
    Railfan.net [IW history] [Pic.: IW pile driver]
    [Alberta Railway Museum] Details of IW lifting crane made in 1914 by IW.
    [Railroaders Memorial Museum] photo of 250 ton IB crane.
    [ChicagoL.org] 1972 photo of self-propelled diesel crane built by IB.
    BAY-JOURNAL.com -- Putting Local History Online.