Daniel Johnson Morrell (1821-1885)

Daniel Johnson Morrell

Library of Congress

HON. DANIEL J. MORRELL died at his home in Johnstown on Thursday morning, August 20, 1885, at the age of 64 years and twelve days. Daniel Johnson Morrell was a descendant of one of three brothers who in early colonial days emigrated from Old England to New England. From these three brothers there probably descendend all the Morrells and Morrills in the United States today. David Morrell, grandfather of Daniel J. Morrell, made his home in Maine considerably over a century ago, and here, in a settlement of Friends, or Quakers, in the town, or township, of Berwick and county of York, was born, one hundred and two years ago, on the farm on which he died eleven years ago, Thaddeus Morrell. When about twenty-three years old he married a neighbor's daughter, Susannah Ayres. They were married on February 17, 1806, and were buried on the same day, June 10, 1874. Ten children were given to this Quaker couple, of whom eight grew to manhood and womanhood. Daniel was the seventh child. He was born on the farm on August 8, 1821.

The childhood and youth of Mr. Morrell were attended by such vicissitudes as are experienced by most boys whose lot has been cast in pioneer homes. His immediate ancestors were true pioneers, whose scanty fortunes had been carved from primeval forests and gleaned from the virgin soil amid many hardships and at the risk of life itself. His father's family wore homespun, woven from threads of flax and wool which had made acquaintance with the family spinning-wheel. When old enough Daniel was taught to assist in the labors of the farm, and when the winter school was in session he was a regular attendant. But the entire time spent by him in the school-room did not exceed two years. The education thus acquired was, of course, limited to the most elementary studies. The only additional schooling he ever received was obtained in a course of study at a commercial college after his entrance upon a business life. His religious training was such as prevails among the Friends.

Those citizens of York county who were not engaged in farming sixty-odd years found profitable and needed employment in some form of manufacturing industry. If they did not make iron the first settlers of York county did make it. During the Revolution the colonists had great difficulty in procuring iron, and extraordinary efforts were made to supply the want. Many Catalan forges were erected, by means of which malleable iron was obtained directly from the ore by a single fusion. One of these forges stood two miles from the farm of David Morrell, and from the farm itself was taken the ore from which the iron was made. The grandmother of the boy Daniel used to delight to tell him how the iron was made by the Catalan process in the forge that had long been abandoned. Years afterwards, in a distant State, he successfully embarked in the manufacture of iron and steel on the largest scale and by the most improved modern processes.

In 1837, when in his sixteenth year, Mr. Morrell left home and went to Philadelphia, to which city his older brother David had preceded him. David was engaged in the wholesale dry-goods trade as a member of the firm of Trotter, Morrell & Co., which occupied the building now designated as No. 32 North Fourth Street. With this firm Mr. Morrell was employed as a clerk for five years, until 1842, when the firm was dissolved and he embarked in the same business for himself, in the same building, his brother David being associated with him. The business of this firm was conducted with energy, but with some eccentricity on the part of David, the older brother, which finally led to its dissolution. In 1845 Mr. Morrell joined Oliver Martin, a dealer in fancy dry goods, at No. 28 North Fourth Street, first as a clerk and afterwards as a partner, the firm name being Martin, Morrell & Co. In 1854 Mr. Martin died and Mr. Morrell became executor of his estate. Notwithstanding the death of Mr. Martin the business of the firm continued, and Mr. Morrell's duties kept him constantly engaged until 1855, when his mercantile career ended. He retired with a small capital to assume the management of the Cambria Iron Works, at Johnstown, which had been established in 1853 for the manufacture of iron rails, and which in 1855 passed into the hands of Wood, Morrell & Co. as lessees. This position he retained for nearly twenty-nine years, until January, 1884, when failing health obliged him to retire from all active business.

Down to 1871 the product of the Cambria Iron Works was iron rails solely, in the manufature of which they had acquired an excellent reputation, but long prior to this year the time had arrived when it became apparent that rails rolled from steel made by the Bessemer process must ultimately displace those made of iron, on account of their greater durability. Mr. Morrell early perceived the coming revolution, and it was largely through his efforts and persistence that the directors of his company were among the first in this country to enter upon the business of manufacturing Bessemer rails. The company commenced their manufacture on July 12, 1871.

During the early part of his mercantile career Mr. Morrell frequently visited the Western and Southern States as a collector, and in this way he obtained a knowledge of the extent and resources of the country which he could not otherwise have acquired. He was a regular attendant for several years upon the lectures of the Franklin Institute, and the time thus spent in a scientific atmosphere was most profitably employed. Attaching himself to the Whig party he became an ardent admirer of its great leader, Henry Clay, and from his speeches he obtained a knowledge of the policy of governmental protection to American industries, of which policy he subsequently became one of the most prominent exponents in the country.

Since 1855 Mr. Morrell had resided continuously in Johnstown and taken an active interest in its growth and prosperity. He might have kept himself aloof from its people and manifested no interest in their welfare, but he chose to regard himself as one of their number and to throw his influence in the scale in behalf of local improvements and an enlarged public spirit. During the Rebellion he greatly aided the couse of the country by encouraging the enlistment of volunteers. Almost every able-bodied employee at the Cambria Iron Works was at some period of the war an enlisted Union soldier. When the war closed his great ability, his patriotism, his intelligent and influential advocacy of the protective policy, and his many sterling qualities of head and heart were recognized by the people of the Congressional district in which he resided, who twice elected him their Representative in Congress-first in 1866 by a majority of 1,219 and again in 1868-by a majority of 1,094. In 1870 he was a candidate for re-election, but was beaten by 11 votes through the defection of a faction of the Republican party in Huntingdon County.

In his first speech in Congress Mr. Morrell uttered the following plea for labor: "The American workingman must live in a house, not a hut; he must wear decent clothes and eat wholesome and nourishing food. He is an integral part of the municipality, the State, and the Nation; subject to no fetters of class or caste; neither pauper, nor peasant, nor serf, but a free American citizen. He has the ballot, and if it were possible it would be dangerous to degrade him. The country stands pledged to give him education, political power, and a higher form of life than foreign nations accord their laborers, and he must be sustained by higher rates of wages than those of Europe. Our industries operated by American citizens must be freed from foreign interference and organized into a distinct American system, which will exact some temporary sacrifices but result in general prosperity and true national independence. In maintaining diversified industries we utilize every talent, provide a field for every capacity, and bind together the whole people in mutual dependence and support, assuring the strength and security of our Republic." No better definition of the protective policy of this country was ever written.

Upon the organization of the first Congress to which, Mr. Morrell was elected, the Fortieth, he was made chairmen of the standing committee on manufactures and a member of the standing committee on freedmen's affairs. He retained his chairmanship of the committee on manufactures during the Forty-first Congress, and was also a member of the standing committee on the Pacific Railroad and of the select committee on the decline of American commerce. The feature, however, of his Congressional career with which his name will longest be associated is his introduction on the 9th of March, 1870, of a bill to provide for the celebration at Philadelphia of the hundredth anniversary of American Independence. This bill became a law largely through his persistent advocacy of its propriety and justice, and through the happy effect produced on Congress and the country by his admirably conceived speech of the 14th of December, 1870, in favor of its passage. Upon the organization of the Centennial Commission provided for in the act of Congress the services of Mr. Morrell in securing its creation, and his superior business and executive qualifications, were recognized by his selection as chairman of the executive committee of the commission.

In January 1878, Mr. Morrell was appointed by President Hayes a commissioner to the Paris Exposition. On Tuesday evening, May 7, 1878, he was tendered a farewell dinner at the Continental Hotel in Philadelphia by leading citizens of the State, including Governor John F. Hartranft, Mayor William S. Stokely, Hon. Morton McMichael, General Robert Patterson, Thomas A. Scott, Henry C. Carey, A. J. Drexel, A. E. Borie, and many others almost equally distinguished. Over one hundred gentlemen sat down to the dinner, which was tendered him "as a complimentary testimonial on the eve of his departure to Europe as a Commissioner from the United States to the International Industrial Exposition at Paris, and in recognition of the services rendered by him to the Centennial Exhibition while he was a member of Congress, and aftewards while filling the arduous and responsible position of chairman of the executive committee of the Centennial Commission during the whole period of its existence." Governor Hartranft presided at the dinner. On May 9, 1878, Mr. Morrell sailed for Europe, returning on the 14th of October, 1878. On the 6th of March, 1879 Mr. Morrell was elected president of the American Iron and Steel Association. He resigned this office on December 15, 1884, his resignation being accepted and his successor chosen on January 6, 1885. His official retirement from the management of the Cambria Iron Works took place on January 15, 1884, owing to ill-health, as we have already stated.

In 1845 Mr. Morrell married Susan Lower, a daughter of Powell Stackhouse, a member of the Society of Friends. His wife and a daughter survive him.* The latter is the wife of Captain Philip E. Chapin, the general manager of the Cambria Iron Works. Mr. Morrell was never blessed with any other children.

The funeral of Mr. Morrell took place on Monday, August 24, and was attended by an immense concourse of his old neighbors and employes. Many friends from a distance were also present. He was buried at Johnstown, amid the scenes of his industrial triumphs and among a people who loved him and will miss him.

*Mrs. Morrell died at her home in Johnstown on June 7, 1887. Her daughter, Mrs. Chapin, died in Paris, France, on March 2, 1909.

From The Johnstown Flood, by David McCullough (1968):
"[Daniel J.] Morrell was one of the foremost ironmasters of the age, a ruddy-faced Quaker with gray eyes, who wore his whiskers beneath his jowls, so it appeared he was forever sporting a hair scarf. He looked upon the likes of Carnegie as parvenous in the business, brash, unprincipled upstarts who were not real ironmen at all, but harumscarum drummers who had jumped into something they knew nothing about just to make a quick fortune.

Beside the almost elflike Carnegie or Frick, He looks as though he were of another species. He was under six feet tall, but with his massive, thick shoulders and ample girth (he weighed well over 200 pounds), coming along Main Street He looked every bit the most powerful man in town.

But according to one of his contemporaries, 'With all the responsibilities of his position with all the care and concern of the great works on his hands, he never seemed worried or out of humor. When he left his desk at the close of the day he seemed to be able to shut off all thought of work; and in the midst of other person's worry and nervousness in the most distressing times, he would lie down and sleep as contentedly as a child.'

Aside from running the Iron Company, Morrell presided at most town meetings and was President of the Savings Bank and the First National Bank, the water company and the gas company. He had served two terms in Congress and was still a powerful voice in the Republican Party. For many years he was the President of the American Iron and Steel Association, an organization which did as much as any to protect the protective tariff.

He lived on Main Street in the finest house in Johnstown, a tall brick house with a mansard roof, painted white and set amoung gardens and shade trees on a lawn that took up a full city block. He had the only greenhouses in town, a full-time garderner, and all his property was enclosed with an ornamental iron fence. Children used to gather by the fence after school, hoping for a chance to look at him. 'Whatever Mr. Morrell wants, well that's it,' they heard at home. He was the king of Johnstown.

Morrell had been born in Maine, in 1821 (which made him fourteen years senior to Carnegie), but grew up in Philadelphia and started out clerking in a mercantile store. He had moved to Johnstown in the 1850's when the Philadelphia financial backers of the then floundering Cambria Iron Company sent him to see what might be done to keep the works from going bankrupt.

Backwoods iron forges had been in operation in Cambria County for fifty years and more. With plenty of ore, limestone, and coal in the locale, the prospects for turning the Conemaugh Valley into an iron center of some real consequence looked extremely bright. But until Morrell came to town the industry had been beset by repeated failures. Morrell, however, succeeded handsomely. Knowing nothing about the iron business, he reorganized the company, and despite fires and financial panic, he kept his nerve, maintaining to the Philadelphia money men that the works would one day prosper.

By the start of the Civil War the Cambria Iron Company was the biggest iron-producing center in the country. In addition, Morrell had encouraged some rather primitive and haphazard research into a new pneumatic process for making steel which contributed substantially to dramatic changes in the iron business and, for that matter, in the whole character and growth of the country.

In 1856 a man named William Kelly, a Pittsburgher by birth, moved from Eddyville, Kentucky, to Johnstown to set up in one corner of the Cambria yard some experimental apparatus which he assembled from scrap-heap parts and pieces. Kelly was in Johnstown off and on for the next three years. He became known amongst the millworkers as 'The Irish Crank,' and not without justification. His attempts to 'refine' molten iron for the rolling mill by blowing air into it had resulted in repeated failures and at least one serious fire, which became known as 'Kelly's Fireworks.' But later on, in 1862, he came back to try again, this time with an egg-shaped 'converter' made abroad, and the accepted story is that he had better luck. Kelly would later be credited with having built the converter himself and with developing at Johnstown something very close to what became known as the Bessemer process, a technique for converting iron into steel at far less cost and in considerably larger quantities than had been possible before.

Henry Bessemer, a brilliant English chemist, had devised just such a process at about the time Kelly first arrived at the Cambria works, and, deservedly enough, got nearly all of the credit. The Bessemer converter used a blast of air directed through molten iron to oxidize, or burn off, most of the carbon impurities in the metal to make steel. Previous steelmaking techniques required weeks, even months. The Bessemer process could produce good-quality steel in less than one hour.

It was one of the important technological innovations of all time, and Morrell was among the first to recognize just what its impact might be. He financed Kelly's erratic pioneering in the technique for close to five years and after the war invested heavily in new Bessemer equipment. In the late '60's and '70's Johnstown was the liveliest steel center in the country, with the most inventive minds in the industry gathering there-the Fritz brothers, George and John, Bill Jones, and the brilliant and energetic Alexander Holley.

Moreover, Morrell had Cambria Iron do something no other steel company experimenting with the Bessemer process dared try, and something that was to prove immensely beneficial to Andrew Carnegie. He used only American workers training Pennsylvania farm boys to understand and master the new technology, while everyone else in the business was importing English workers already familiar with it. At first there were months of costly setbacks and disappointments in Johnstown but the results in the long run proved Morrell right.

In 1867, from ingots made at Steelton, the first Bessemer rails to be rolled on order in the United States came out of the Cambria mill. By 1871 Morrell had one of the first really big Bessemer plants in operation, and for the next five years Cambria would be the largest producer in the country, if not the world....

To all intents and purposes, Johnstown, in other words, was a company town and an important one at that. And appropriately enough the company ran the place with an iron hand. Labor unions were not to be tolerated, nor were employees who dared talk such treason.

For example, Rule Number 9 of the plant regulations published in 1874 stated: 'Any person or persons known to belong to any secret association or open combination whose aim is to control wages or stop the works or any part thereof shall be promptly and finally discharged. Persons not satisfied with their work or their wages can leave honorably by giving the required notice...'

The Cambria Iron Company, which meant Mr. Daniel J. Morrell, left no doubts as to where it stood on such matters. So there were no unions in the mill, and inside the high, green fence that surrounded it, work went on around the clock, around the calendar without any trouble from the help.

It would be mistaken, however, to imagine Cambria Iron as an entirely overbearing or inhuman organization, grinding down its employees. By the standards of the day, it was quite progressive and looked out for the welfare of its people and the town with uncommon paternalism....

In one of its plants the Iron Company maintained the eight-hour day, a practice that had been tried and abandoned by every other steel company, which meant, as one of the trade-union newspapers pointed out, that the only eight-hour mill left in the country was a nonunion mill.

The town hospital was built by the company and anyone injured on the job received free treatment there. It was the company also which had established the library and a night school where its employees could learn elementary science, mechanical drawing, and engineering. At the company store, Wood, Morrell & Company, which advertised itself as 'The Most Extensive and Best Appointed Establishment in its Class in the United States,' prices were quite reasonable. At the time the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was organized, Cambria Iron had somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million invested in Johnstown and along the valley. So Morrell, very understandably, had special interest in what the Pittsburgh men were up to. That he held no special good feelings toward some of the clubmen also seems likely....

He [Morrell] had been ill for several years, having suffered what appears to have been an advanced case of arteriosclerosis. He had gone into a steady mental decline....In 1884 he had given up all his various civic responsibilities and retired from business. After that, it seems, senility closed in hard and fast. He was seen almost never, 'lost in mental darkness,' as one account put it years later. When he died, 'calmly and peacefully' at eight in the morning on Thursday, August 20, 1885, he was sixty-four years old.

On Sunday thousands of mourners queued up along the south side of Main Street to go through the iron gates, up the long front walk, and into the big house to view the remains. For three hours the doors were open and a steady procession filed through.

The next day, from noon until five, the whole town was shut down. The procession that marched out to the cemetery was as fine a display of the town's manhood as anyone had ever seen. Ahead of the hearse tramped men from the Cambria mines and railroads, the rolling mills and blast furnaces, row on row, like an army, followed by the merchants and professional men, the police, the city fathers, men of every sort who worked for or did business with or depended on the Cambria Iron Company, which means just about everybody. The only sound was the steady beat of their heavy boots and shoes on the cobblestones."

Morrell was buried in Sandy Vale Cemetery, but eventually removed to Grandview.

Daniel Morrell found the Club's activities up above Johnstown highly suspect. In 1880, he arranged for the Cambria Iron Company's engineer, John Fulton, to inspect the dam. Fulton discovered numerous flaws in the dam and published a report on November 26, 1880 explaining the problems he discovered. A back-and-forth between the Iron Company and the Club occurred. Daniel Morrell sent the last recorded communication, dated December 22, 1880. In part, he wrote:
"We [Cambria Iron Company] do not wish to put any obstructions in the way of your accomplishing your object in the reconstruction of this dam; but we must protest against the erection of a dam at that place, that will be a perpetual menace to the lives and property of those residing in this upper valley of the Conemaugh, from its insecure construction. In my judgment there should have been provided some means by which the water would let out of the dam in case of trouble, and I think that you will find it necessary to provide an outlet pipe or gate before any engineer would pronounce the job a safe one. If this dam could be securely reconstructed with a safe means of driving off the water in case any weakness manifests itself, I should regard the accomplishment of this work as a very desirable one, and if some arrangement could be made with your Association by which the store of water in this reservoir could be used in time of great drought in the mountains, this Company would be willing to co-operate with you in the work and would continue liberally toward makeing the dam absolutely safe." To which, no recorded response can be found.

Daniel Morrell purchased a membership in the Club presumably to keep an eye on the dam, however it is uncertain how many times he visited the Club. Upon his death his membership was transferred to Cyrus Elder, chief counsel for the Cambria Iron Company.

On Tuesday, May 7, 1878, a dinner was held at the Continental Hotel in Philadelphia in honor of Daniel J. Morrell. Many speakers gave remarks in honor of Mr. Morrell. The following is, in part, from Samuel J. Reeves, in regards to Morrell's interest in the wellbeing of steel workers and their families:
"The magnificent growth was almost begun and was fully matured under the management of Mr. Morrell, and he may well feel proud of such an achievement in twenty-three years of an active and persevering business life. But his ambition was not limited to the perfecting of a great ironworks only. His broad humanity always compelled him to have a constant regard for the individual welfare of the community of which he was the chief and head. It did not satisfy him that the men were provided with occupation, but he was equally solicitous to provide the means of earning wages for the daughters and sisters of those muscular miners and ironworkers. To this end large woolen mills were erected at Johnstown, capable of turning out 50,000 yards of woolen cassimeres and cloths monthly, and giving employment to 300 women.

We find him also providing schools, libraries, and even theatres for the rational amusement and edificiation of the people of the town. Johnstown is largely indebted to Mr. Morrell for the introduction of an abundant supply of pure water at cheap rates, and also for gas in its streets and houses. His relations with the numerous employes of the company have always been of the most friendly kind. He established for their benefit a system for providing for their sick and wounded, through small monthly contributions, by which a choice among twelve good physicians, residents of the town, could be had and their services obtained at the slight cost of a dollar a month.

He encouraged the men to build and own houses, by making easy payments through small reserves from their wages. A man who could give so much personal attention to the services of others without compensation is worthy not only of esteem but of affectionate regard-full of tender-heartedness, benevolence, and good offices. At the same time he possesses a firmness of purpose which cannot be diverted by ordinary obstacles, when bent on the accomplishment of any undertaking that his judgment teaches him to be right. This strong feature of his character was well exemplified in the year 1874, when the contagious influence of the trades-unions of Pittsburgh had reached the employes of the Cambria Iron Works, and demoralized some of the oldest and best hands in the establishment. For a long time Mr. Morrell's friendly admonitions prevented the men of Cambria from forming societies of this kind. They had always enjoyed steady work and satisfactory wages, and their condition hitherto had been one of contentment and happiness.

But the evil influence and bad example of the Pittsburgh trades-unions at last prevailed. The men forget or did not know that it was through Mr. Morrell's concern for their welfare that he obtained the consent of the directors of his company to keep the works going through the previous winter when they had no orders on their books, solely in the interest of the workers and their families. It was under the circumstances a most ungrateful return, and can only be palliated on the ground that men once infatuated by the mad theories of trades-unionism are no longer rational beings. A general strike was organized and precipitated by the Johnstown societies. During this trying ordeal, lasting several months, Mr. Morrell was calm, cool, and self-possessed. Firm in his adherence to his principles, he won a victory by his straightforward conduct and determination. Through his firm stand on this critical occasion he put an end to the formation of trades-unions in the Cambria Iron Works, and nowhere else in the country can there now be found a more contented or prosperous community than that of Johnstown."

Last updated: November 10, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

733 Lake Road
South Fork , PA 15956


814 886-6171

Contact Us

Stay Connected