Oral History

The anthracite iron industry was founded in Catasauqua in 1840. Originally called Biery’s Port, Catasauqua is often considered the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. Welshman David Thomas was brought to the area by the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company in the late 1830s and successfully launched America’s first hot blast iron furnace in July 1840. The Crane Iron Works, supervised by Thomas until he left to begin his own business in 1854, became the region’s leading manufacturer of pig iron and remained in operation until 1921.

By design, the Crane Iron Works was built next to the Lehigh Canal, making it easy for anthracite coal to be unloaded and taken directly to the company’s five large blast furnaces, and for “iron pigs” to be loaded on waiting canal boats. The boats followed the Lehigh and Delaware canals and made deliveries to iron foundries and rolling mills where the “pigs” were melted and turned into farm tools, cooking items, stoves, railroad ties, wagon parts and other products.

The wealthy, generous Thomases were responsible for many sweeping changes to the prosperity of the community. David Thomas founded the Presbyterian Church of Catasauqua, in which residents still worship today. Thomas organized Catasauqua’s first fire company, installed its first public water system, and served as its first burgess.

Remembered as “the father of Catasauqua,” Thomas initially named the community Craneville, after his former employer in Wales. In 1854, the town was formally titled Catasauqua (pronounced “Cat-uh-SAW-kwuh”), from the Lenni Lenape language, meaning “dry ground” or “thirsty ground.”

By 1900, Catasauqua boasted 5,000 residents, and had the highest percentage of self-made millionaires of any town in the United States. In 1917, while many of the young men of the town served in World War I, Catasauqua became the first community in the United States to raise $1 million in  War bonds, earning it the nickname “The Million Dollar Town.”