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Determining the Facts

Reading 2: Owner and Ironmaster

Clement Brooke was Hopewell ironmaster from 1816-1848 and part owner from 1827-1861. A good ironmaster had to be a combination of capitalist, technician, market analyst, personnel director, bill collector, purchasing agent, and transportation expert; Clement Brooke seems to have had all the necessary qualities. Liked and respected by his employees, his partners, and his customers, Brooke earned a reputation as one of the best ironmasters in Pennsylvania.

In 1800 at age 16, Brooke began his iron-making career as assistant clerk at Hopewell Furnace, which his father and uncles had recently purchased. He also worked part-time at night supervising the filling of the blast furnace. By the time he was 20, he had become the clerk and kept the records of all company operations. He followed that job with one as caretaker of the property, supervising general maintenance during a period when the furnace was not operating. He was also in charge of the stamping mill, which crushed slag to reclaim the small amounts of iron contained in it. Although he lacked formal education, his practical experience embraced all aspects of furnace operation. In 1816 he became resident manager and ironmaster at Hopewell Furnace with a salary of $600 a year plus rent-free use of the ironmaster's mansion. By 1827, he was part owner as well.

During Brooke's early years at Hopewell Furnace, the United States was embarking upon an era of economic expansion. Warfare between England and France during the first years of the 19th century, the Embargo Act of 1807, and the War of 1812 restricted access to imported products and encouraged the growth of domestic industries such as textile mills and ironworks. Once peace was restored, Congress enacted high tariffs to protect these "infant industries" from foreign competition. The Federal Government also encouraged "internal improvements," like turnpikes and canals, which made shipping industrial products to market quicker and cheaper. These changes combined with technical improvements made by the new owners to make Hopewell Furnace a highly profitable operation. Between 1820 and 1825, iron production nearly doubled. It had doubled again by the mid-1830s, the most productive and profitable period of Hopewell's history.

Much of Hopewell's success during the 1830s and '40s can be credited to Clement Brooke. He found new markets for the furnace's products and was responsible for the decision to concentrate on castings rather than pig iron. He purchased additional woodlands for charcoal and sought other sources of iron ore. He increased the labor force by half, expanding production without sacrificing quality. He enlarged the Big House (the ironmaster's mansion) to include room for 15 servants and for itinerant workers. He built more tenant houses; enlarged the company store, spring house, and barn; added a formal garden; and built a schoolhouse across the creek from the furnace.

In 1837, a financial panic led to a five-year depression. The furnace was just coming off the longest continuous blast in its history--from January 3, 1836, to April 10, 1837. At the same time, charcoal-fired iron furnaces were becoming obsolete, replaced by new ironworks that used hard coal to produce iron more efficiently. In 1844, probably because of declining demand and increasing costs, Clement Brooke ended large-scale stove-plate casting. During its last four decades, Hopewell mainly produced pig iron, for which demand was growing in a rapidly industrializing society. Although the furnace managed to turn a profit most years before it closed in 1883, it never again enjoyed the prosperity of the 1825-44 period.

Brooke retired as ironmaster in 1848, at age 64, and moved into a house in nearby Pottstown. He was a wealthy man for his time; besides his half share in Hopewell, he owned shares in five other furnaces and forges, had an interest in coal mines in Schuylkill County, and owned stock in several railroad companies. In 1859 he moved to Philadelphia, where he died two years later at the age of 76. Clement Brooke's association with Hopewell spanned more than half a century.

Questions for Reading 2

1. How did Clement Brooke become involved in the iron business?

2. In what ways did he improve Hopewell Furnace?

3. How did he contribute to the development of the Hopewell community?

4. How did national events affect Brooke and his employees?

5. Because Clement Brooke was part-owner as well as ironmaster at Hopewell Furnace, he was actively involved in both managing the day-to-day work of the furnace and making policy decisions about such things as investing in new land. Do you think combining these two roles would help the success of the furnace? Why or why not?

Reading 2 was adapted from the National Park Service's handbook, Hopewell Furnace: A Guide to Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Pennsylvania (Washington, D.C.: Division of Publications, National Park Service, Handbook 124, 1983).

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