Rock Products 120th Anniversary – Part 2

26 120YEARS 150


In This Issue, We Cover The Years 1911-1920.

The rock products industry entered the new decade with one thing foremost on its mind: roads. The need for development of consistent, reliable roads was recognized by every industry in the United States. In August 1911, the “Good Roads” bill was passed, which established the National Interstate Highways and Good Roads Commission, for the purpose of constructing seven national highways that would radiate from Washington, D.C. The total length of the roads, according to the bill, would amount to 12,000 miles, and the cost would be about $12,000 per-mile, or $148 million.

Passage of the Good Roads bill gave more momentum to a movement that had been building for years in the U.S. Americans, not just members of the rock products industry, knew the potential of having a national system of roads.

According to the bill, the system promised to “bring better schools and greater attendance, better health and quicker medical attention, better farms and more cultivated lands, better crops and cheaper transportation, better economic conditions and more producers, better social conditions and less isolation, better church attendance and better citizens – a word, a higher life.”

Throughout the country, engineers were attempting new types of road construction. It would be a few years before any national standard for road building materials would be set.

A correspondent in Texas reported in 1912 that experiments using molasses for road surfacing were progressing nicely in the South. The editor argued seriously that this may be fine for roads in the summer, but what about the winter, when molasses is slow? Concern that the roads would be covered with flies during the summer also swayed his argument toward the use of concrete, not molasses-paved roads.

Optimistic Attitude

In January 1911, the editor of Rock Products exhibited a very optimistic attitude about the business atmosphere for the coming years. After problems with railroad transportation, including car shortages and tariff hikes, railroad terminal construction was up and optimism was as well. The cost of construction had also gone down, opening up a window of profit for the industry.

40 120th1 400Production of portland cement in the United States was steady from 1911 to 1913, showing only a minor rise from 14.8 million tons in 1911 to 17.3 million tons in 1913. Building permits also rose during that period.

But by 1913, railroad car shortages had surged once again and the industry faced the possibility of severe transportation gaps across the country. Production hit a lull in 1913, and the following few years would see a brief dip in production levels.

Labor shortages became a more important concern in these years as well, as migrant workers in big cities began to favor jobs with year-round industries like mills and railroads. Crushed stone and lime producers in particular felt a labor crunch, and would feel it more strongly in the coming years.

During the early 1910s, emphasis was placed on conserving resources. The association idea, barely a decade old, continued to prosper, and Rock Products established a “Reciprocity Club” and urged all of its readers to join.

Association is Formed

In December 1911, the National Sand and Gravel Producers Association was formed in Chicago. As a result, Rock Products urged crushed rock producers to form their own association.

While associations grew and prospered, so did trade shows. By the mid-1910s, it was not unheard of to have a large trade show or association conference taking place somewhere in the country every few weeks. The American Mining Congress held its first Convention and Exposition of Mining Machinery in Philadelphia in 1913.

The face of America was changing rapidly. As mud and brick gave way to paved roads and sidewalks, the number of cars and trucks multiplied seemingly overnight. Transportation and communication technologies were changing with leaps and bounds, and with more interconnectiveness within the country came a cultural change, an increased awareness of surrounding areas, and a greater desire to have things better, faster.

Rock Products’ editor noted in 1911 that, “we have to support a larger class of idle people, and those who do not produce, than ever before.” In 1912, the Titanic collided with an iceberg and sank on her maiden voyage, causing the editor to comment that although a tragedy, the accident also was an example of Americans’ hasty rush to achieve an excessive level of luxury, while being too lazy to ensure an adequate level of safety and quality of construction.

Safety Issues

Safety issues were growing in the minds of industry members as well. In 1912, a sizeable article about safety appeared in Rock Products. “Methods and Appliances for Prevention of Accidents in Cement Plants” cautioned plant managers against accidents, using photographs and descriptions of problem situations. This marked a serious shift in attitude; even the dust collector that had appeared in 1910 was purely for commercial gain, not for health protection.

New uses for concrete were being developed, including hospitals in underground mines to help speed the care of injured miners. Minor developments in the cement industry would lead to major developments in later years. In 1912, a decision by the Supreme Court gave exclusive rights to the General Cement Products Co. and the New York Cement and Gun Co. to use the phrase “cement gun.” The device had at first been called a “plastering machine,” and was first used publicly to coat the exterior of the Field Museum in Chicago, originally built as part of the World’s Columbian Exhibition.

In 1913, a bill was defeated that would have demanded dust-proof packages for cement. The decision was considered a win for the cement industry; “The effects of cement dust were pretty thoroughly investigated, and it was not clearly demonstrated that any actual injury had been suffered from it,” Rock Products reported.

Other equipment developments during these few years included a scrubber for washing gravel, introduced in 1912 and developed by Raymond W. Dull and Co.

The Chicago Belting Co. was recognized in 1912 for having a 22-in. belt that ran on a cold saw. The belt’s speed was about 6,000 fpm and it developed more than 200 hp. When the article was published, the belt had been running for nine months without being touched or shortened.

The Bradley Pulverizer Co. introduced 66-in., 3-roll mill in 1913 that produced 125 bbls/h.

The Country at War

The onset of World War I in 1914 did not immediately affect the rock products industry. It would be a few years before American forces joined the fray, and at first the fighting between France, Russia, Britain, Germany and Austria-Hungary barely effected the United States business atmosphere. In November 1916, Rock Products reported that prices for building materials were higher than ever before, and at the same time building permits in cities like Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Boston and New Orleans were in at record-breaking levels. Buildings constructed during 1916 totaled $69.6 million in value, as compared to $66.5 million in 1915.42 120th2 400

But in late 1917, when American troops entered the war in full force, the effects began to be felt throughout the industry. In December 1917, when a 12-page article in Rock Products urged readers to volunteer for the 28th Engineer Regiment, a group of men who would be sent to France to operate quarries for the production of road material. Drill runners, powdermen, engineers, machinists, superintendents, electricians, hoist runners and many other workers were urged to join the regiment.

Applicants were informed that they would be given arms and taught how to use them, and that some of the quarries would be under fire – and that “red-blooded men, men who face death every day in America’s quarries are the kind to tackle” the job. The effects of the war on the road-building effort was noticeable. While passage of the Bankhead bill in 1916 made more than $85 million in federal dollars available for road building, road construction slowed considerably in 1917.

Many associations passed resolutions and developed plans to forestall business depression. At a meeting of the Ohio Good Roads Federation in conference with the State Grange, Ohio Automobile Association, State Highway Department, and other representatives, it was resolved that, “The efficiency of our industrial, commercial and agricultural activities should not be lessened or handicapped by war hysteria.” The group also resolved to urge national and state administrations, and municipal councils to “adopt and go forward with a vigorous, progressive road building program.”

In early 1918 in Chicago, the Highway Industries Association was formed to do just that sort of urging, and the industry was reminded that “business depressions are always bad, but doubly so when we have a fight on our hands.”

Once the war ended, road spending kicked back in. In mid-1918, the federal government apportioned a total of $14.55 million to eligible states for us in the construction and maintenance of rural post roads, and in 1919 Post Office appropriations included an additional $209 million for a three-year expenditure as federal aid, also to be used on rural post roads. The Bureau of Public Roads, Department of Agriculture, estimated that 1919 road spending would reach $500 million.

Standardized Legislation

The need for standardized road legislation throughout the United States was rapidly becoming clear in light of the decade’s increased highway construction. The American Road Congress resolved in 1914 to develop standardized road legislation via state highway commissions.

The rising cost of draft horses made motor trucks more economical for hauling. “Nearly every businessman with goods to deliver and nothing better than horses to haul them is making his plans to substitute motor trucks,” Rock Products reported.
In 1916, Rogers Sand Co. of Pittsburgh, had been using trucks for delivery for four years. They estimated that it cost about $20 per day to operate and maintain a Pierce-Arrow truck, and that each truck displaced five teams that normally would have cost $5 per day to operate; thus, estimated daily savings from using trucks were $5.

Increased road construction and use of trucks for materials transport brought about the need for new regulations regarding hauling. Plate glass insurance companies in Elgin, Ill., for instance, asked for regulation of gravel haulage in business areas, claiming that small stones dropped on streets from wagons were hurled through plate glass windows by passing automobiles.

Railroad transportation was also a major concern for the rock products industry. In 1914, railroad transfer rates were heavily disputed by many states. A 5-percent rate hike approved for the area between Buffalo, N.Y., and Pittsburgh, reaching west to the Mississippi River, angered members of the industry.

Western railroads in 1916 placed an embargo on freight cars to prevent transport of material cast of Chicago. While at the beginning of the war there was a surplus of 55,000 freight cars, by July 1917 there was a shortage of 105,000 rail cars.

Business Picks Up

Like road construction, building permits fluctuated during the war but picked up in 1918, and by 1919 business was once again brisk; prices and permits climbed to new records.

Labor disputes and strikes shook up operations throughout the country. Unions were growing and placing heavy demands on business owners. The possibility of offering workmen’s compensation was discussed at association meetings, and there was increased emphasis on equipment that reduced hand labor.

Immigrant workers, who had before ensured a solid labor force, were being compensated for it. It was reported that, “Fancy prices paid munition workers turned the heads of the common laborers, and in turn the bosses have had to turn their pocketbooks to meet the demands for increased wages.” While immigration levels dropped 25 percent in 1917, the average earnings of the unskilled laborer climbed 100 percent. Bosses worried that an expensive precedent was being set.

Rock Products entered an “age of cooperation” when it joined with Dealers Building Material Record in 1914 and began to publish twice-monthly, with an increased emphasis on the economics of the industry.

The issue of cooperation in the industry continued to occupy much discussion. Allegations were made by members of different trades that certain associations were not only uncooperative, but were, in fact, harming each other’s interests. Again, Rock Products called in its readers to join together and cooperate for the greater good.

The Portland Cement Association was formed in 1916, with offices in Chicago and eight district offices to serve the 100 plants then in operation in the Unites States.

Year Crushed Stone Sand & Gravel Cement
1911 N/A N/A 14.76
1912 N/A N/A 15.50
1913 N/A N/A 17.31
1914 N/A N/A 16.59
1915 N/A N/A 16.15
1916 N/A N/A 17.21
1917 N/A N/A 17.45
1918 N/A N/A 13.36
1919 N/A N/A 15.19
Source: U.S. Geological Survey
million short tons

The National Sand and Gravel Association was formed in 1917, and 1918 saw the formation of the National Crushed Stone Association in Chicago in 1919, the Wisconsin Mineral Aggregate Association was formed, the first such partnership between gravel and stone producers.

Southern Development

Development of the rock products industry in the South had been slow, but in 1916 the Southern Cement Users Association was formed in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Texas was proclaimed the state with the most growth potential.

Concrete construction in this time period continued to grow, with both new and vastly bigger applications. Throughout this period, farmers were strongly urged to consider the use of concrete in their operations. Concrete construction could be applied to floors, troughs, gutters, tanks, ditches, dams, paths and building blocks, and dairy farmers especially were viewed as a vast potential market.

In 1915, the Tunkhannock Viaduct, the largest bridge ever built with reinforced concrete, was completed in Nicholson, Pa. Five hundred workers labored for three-and-a-half years and used 167,000 cu. yd. of concrete to complete the 2,375-ft. long, 242-ft. high project.

The Panama Canal, which had been under construction since 1904, was completed in 1914. Six pairs of locks, each 1,000 ft. long, 110 ft. wide, and 40 ft. deep were built side-by-side, consuming 4.5 million cu. yd. of concrete. The project used a total of 5 million sacks and bbls of cement.

Tests during the 1916 Cement Show demonstrated the superiority of concrete made with clean, well-graded aggregate, and the weakening effect of excess water in the mix. Improvements in the equipment of sand reclamation and washing operations also helped to improve the quality of concrete.

Technology Evolves

Sand and gravel producers witnessed significant changes in their production methods during this decade. Until about 1915, sand and gravel were not often very clean, nor were they governed by standards. The earliest method of screening involved a worker shoveling material onto an inclined stationary screen, while another worker would spray the material with a garden hose, wetting it down but not really washing it. Then gravity screens were developed and were arranged over bins so sand and gravel would separate; these were routinely sprayed once or twice.

43 120th3 400In 1915, the largest pair of screens in existence was handling 400 yd., or approximately 500 tph of rock, receiving minus 3-in. stone. The screens weighed 110,000 lb. Then came the development of revolving cylindrical screens, made up of different sizes of perforated sections. Introduced in 1916, the pair of screens weighed 270,000 lb. They incorporated the latest washing methods, including scrubbers.

With better methods for washing and sorting, producers soon recognized a need for standardization of size and grade, terms, and mixtures, to even out the market.

Other equipment developments during the period included a 60-in. gyratory crusher designed in 1919 for crushing limestone. Symons developed a vertical disc crusher for an intermediate grinder in the same year.

Michigan Limestone and Chemical installed a K-VS crusher, the largest in existence in the world at the time, at their plant in Rogers City, Mich. With two receiving openings of 60 in. x 18 ft. and capacity of 2,500 tph, this crusher, manufactured by Traylor, was designed to accept the whole output of the quarry, then the biggest in the world.

Armstrong Manufacturing Co. introduced a special blast hole cable drill in 1914. Also, a new type of blasting machine developed during the war was introduced to the public in 1919. The hand-operated firing machines were capable of firing a maximum of either 300 or 500 electric detonators.

A sack baler introduced by Alva B. Wright in 1914 could bind together 50 sacks, making them so rigid they would support their own weight for ease in transport.43 120th4 400

In 1915, locomotive cranes were gaining popularity, economizing storage by moving along tracks and dumping into mobilized hoppers.

In just under a decade, the United States had gone full swing into developing a national system of highways and participated in what was then believed to be the war to end all wars. Production had slumped and begun a slow climb back up. Equipment was evolving to fit bigger productions and to meet the needs of a rapidly growing infrastructure. The country was gearing up for a period of growth and prosperity.

Next Month: The 1920s and the Production Explosion.

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