Our History & Our Heritage By Bill Kiefer

Related to the development of Newell as a pottery center, perhaps even absolutely required was the Newell Bridge. The toll bridge, which is still in use today, connects East Liverpool with West Virginia just north of Newell. The Bridge is not small. Its total length is 1,590 feet, its width is 20 feet, 8 inches. It was built by members of the Homer Laughlin Pottery Company and those associated with them at a cost of $300,000. This compares with the East Liverpool – Chester Bridge built by C. A. Smith and others, a decade earlier for $200,000, and which was replaced by the Jennings Randolph Bridge in 1977 after a mere 86 years of service. As of this writing the Newell Toll Bridge is going on 120 years of service.
The following is a direct quote from the website: “historicbridges.org” in a discussion of the relationship between the town of Newell and Homer Laughlin Company.
“The bridge was built in 1904-05 by the Newell Bridge Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Homer Laughlin China Company (HLC). HLC was established in 1871 by Homer & Shakespeare Laughlin as the Ohio Valley Pottery Works in East Liverpool. In 1897, the Laughlins sold control of the company to W. E. Wells, Louis I. Aaron and his sons Marcus and Charles Aaron. Wells and the Aarons raised significant capital and began expanding the company. First they built two new works (Nos. 2 & 3) in East Liverpool between 1897 and 1903, but finding no further suitable sites on the Ohio side of the river, they chose to expand to the West Virginia side in 1904. To do so, they formed the North American Manufacturing Company to build the pottery and a real estate company at Newell. They also formed the Newell Bridge Company to build a bridge connecting Newell with the company’s works and corporate offices in East Liverpool, as well as a streetcar company to operate a 3-mile-long rail line that crossed the bridge. From 1906 to 1929, the Newell Works was expanded five times with Works No. 4 to No. 8, the last built in 1929 expressly for pottery sold by Woolworths stores. By the 1920s HLC was claiming to be the largest pottery in the world…. Although the bridge no longer served to connect active works on both sides of the river, it remained a vital transportation link for HLC employees. HLC was a major economic force in its industry, and an innovator in the design of mass-produced dinnerware, with perhaps its most famous line the solid-colored Fiestaware in 1936, ….”
That was likely a pretty good start on the relationship between the pottery and the community it leaves a lot out, like the Toll Bridge. Just typical me. I start out writing about one topic, and in doing the research, I find what to me is an interesting tangent.
While I have never been a fan of the aesthetics of the Newell Toll Bridge, (nor the Jennings Randolph Bridge for that matter.) I did uncover some interesting bits of history behind the Newell Bridge. It is stated to be the first bridge anywhere built completely out of steel. Further research led to the idea that for many years steel was so expensive that many of the parts of bridges were built of iron, and steel was used only where absolutely necessary. After the Civil War, America’s industrial expansion commonly referred to as the “Industrial Revolution” took flight. Access to steel was one of the drivers of industrial development as it was used to build the railroads that transported almost everthing. While there was still river transit, life was no longer constrained by it.
Steel was stronger than iron and more suitable for drawing and rolling than iron. Steel was mostly produced in a process called puddling. (We will save that one for another day.) Puddling was a time consuming and labor intense small batch process. However, the Bessemer process of creating steel from iron was patented in England in 1856. Afterwards, it still took a decade or more of fine tuning to develop steel of acceptable quality. By 1877 there were eleven licensed Bessemer plants in the U.S.
In 1872 the process attracted the attention of no less an industrialist that Andrew Carnegie, who saw the process as key to the success of two of his Companies: the Keystone Bridge Company and the Union Iron Works. Carnegie built his Edgar Thompson Works in 1875 which was centered on this technology. Pre-1875 America was producing 160,000 tons of steel per year. By 1910 that number increased to 26,000,000 tons. Much of it went into rails for railroads as well as girders for construction of bridges and other infrastructure items. Made by the puddling process, the price of rails was over $100 a ton in the beginning of the 1870’s with the Bessemer process rail prices fell to less than $20 a ton in the 1890’s. The drop in the price of steel caused by the increase in supply, enabled its use as THE construction material for this bridge, rather than just for its critical pieces.
Continuing further with the Newell Toll Bridge, its construction is attributed to Edwin Kirtland Morse and the American Bridge Company. Most of us are at least familiar with the latter, in a way. Its eventual headquarters was located in a nearby town named after the company much like Weirton is named for its dominant company. That town is just a few miles up the Ohio River from Hancock County- Ambridge PA. The model for the fictional town of Ampipe in the movie “All the Right Moves.”
And who was Edwin Kirtland Morse? A very good question. He was a descendant, on both sides of the founders of Poland Ohio. The family was quite well off from shipping and other endeavors. Edwin was a consulting engineer for Jones & Laughlin Steel Company (we may know it as J&L or LTV Steel) and built subways and bridges. His siblings included Henry Grant Morse founder of the New York Shipbuilding Company which built over 500 ships many for the US Navy during WWII including the famous USS Reuben James and the USS Indianapolis and Charles James Morse described as an Evansville, Illinois industrialist and collector of Japanese art as well as a sister Mary Lynn who graduated from MIT. But back to Edwin Kirtland Morse, he received a Ph.B. from Yale in 1881. He also studied in Karlsruhe Germany. He initially worked as a draftsman in the family firm, Morse Bridge Company. He later also served as the consulting engineer for both the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. He designed numerous bridges across the Ohio and other rivers including one across the Hawkesbury River in Australia. A number of his bridges were used to carry hot metal from one side of the Monongahela to the other for steelmaking. He was honored by being elected President of many professional societies.
He died in 1942 in Pittsburgh and is buried with his parents and siblings in Riverside Cemetery in Poland Ohio.