Monday, August 29, 2016

Linde Air Products: Extracting Oxygen and Building the Bomb

By Matthew Shoen

I think we are all well aware of Buffalo’s historic industries and the important companies that shaped this city. Companies like the Lackawanna Steel Plant are nationally known, and on this blog we’ve covered smaller industrial compounds like the Mentholatum Factory and Kreiner Malthouse. One factory complex in North Buffalo has however slipped under the radar. This factory is a nationally significant complex located at 155 Chandler Street. The complex was once the Linde Air Products Factory, the first producer of purified liquid oxygen in the United States.

Liquid oxygen isn’t flashy like steel mills, or quirky like Mentholatum ointment, but the liquid oxygen produced at the Linde Air Products Factory was crucial for the development of this country in ways that might require a bid of chemistry to understand.

Historically, pure oxygen was extracted from the decay of either potassium chlorate or barium oxide. The most common use of this extracted oxygen was the creation of limelights an early stage lighting tool used in theaters. Limelight production sustained many early oxygen-producing companies but the market was incredibly constrained by the limited uses people had for purified oxygen. In the 1890s this changed when a French scientist named Henri le Chatelier discovered that when he mixed acetylene with pure oxygen he could create a flame that burned at 3200C the highest temperature mankind had obtained to that point. Le Chatelier’s discovery sparked a growing demand in pure oxygen as new uses for oxyacetylene were experimented with. Early on there were attempts to use it in lighting but these plans quickly faded as incandescent lightbulbs and electricity became the standard bearers of illumination. Though it was an inefficient lighting source, oxyacetylene found a major market in the welding and metal cutting industries. Oxyacetylene torches became crucial to steel cutting, bridge building, ship construction, and many other industrial processes. The benefits of these new torches were felt initially in Europe as European scientists had been the ones to experiment with oxygen separation and acetylene production. One European, a German man named Carl Von Linde, whose air rectification process made him one of the premiere suppliers of liquid oxygen in the world, wanted to grow his company, and saw America as a market primed for expansion. In 1906 he began soliciting for investors and in 1907, on Thanksgiving Day, the first Linde Air Products oxygen factory was opened in Buffalo.


The Linde Air Products Factory was found quick success and quickly outstripped its German parent company. Feeling constrained by management from overseas, the American investors in Linde Air Products began pulling away from the German company. Tensions between the branches were only exacerbated by the growing tensions between America and German. The two branches separated when the United States entered World War I, and in 1917 the American Branch of Linde Air came under ownership of the Union Carbide Company a major seller of acetylene and oxyacetylene torches from Niagara Falls. The merger of these two companies, along with the addition of a  few small acetylene producing companies, made Union Carbide one of the most powerful dealers of welding equipment and industrial gases in the western hemisphere. 

Had Linde Air Products been nothing more than America’s first oxygen production company its importance would have been clear. However, Linde Air Products was an important part of one of the defining moments of twentieth century American history. Primarily in the company’s Tonawanda facility, but also with support from the lab on Chandler Street, Linde Air Products worked on the Manhattan Project, helping to enrich uranium for the atomic bomb.

By the outbreak of World War II, the Chandler Street facility had transitioned from an oxygen producing factory to a research laboratory. The Linde ceramics factory already had experience utilizing uranium for ceramic glazing and in 1943 it was chosen to enrich uranium for the atomic bombs. The Chandler Street facility likely provided support to the scientists working in Tonawanda. Though I wasn’t able to find any explanation of how the Chandler Street lab and Tonawanda facility worked together it is clear that employees at both facilities were involved in the Manhattan Project. In 1945, just after the war ended, General Leslie Groves the commander in chief of the country’s atomic division came to Buffalo and gave medals to the Linde employees who’d been involved in the Manhattan Project. Among them was Louis Ayres who worked in the Chandler Street Lab. Who is Louis Ayres and what was his involvement in the Manhattan Project? Unfortunately the intense level of secrecy surrounding the development of atomic weaponry has made researching Linde’s role in the creation of nuclear weapons difficult to pin down. The company constantly offered positions in its plants for experienced chemists and lab assistants, likely to assist in the uranium enrichment process, but these advertisements offer nothing more than hints to the scope of the company’s role in the Manhattan Project.  The Tonawanda plant’s involvement in uranium ore enrichment has been well documented, however the contributions of the Chandler Street lab have never been disclosed and remain classified.
Linde Air in Tonawanda, site of Uranium Enrichment for the Atomic Bomb.
Image from Fultonhistory.com


Unfortunately the effects of Linde’s uranium enrichment in Tonawanda have been well documented in recent decades. 37 million gallons of radioactive water and sludge were dumped into shallow wells in Tonawanda between 1944-46 providing a continued question of how to best deal with this waste and the effects it might have on future generations. Given the long half-life of so many of these radioactive materials they will certainly affect Western New York for hundreds of years.


Because of this radioactive dumping Linde Air Products holds a dubious place in the history of Western New York. While the company brought oxygen extraction to America and became part of one of the most powerful chemical companies in the country, it also was responsible for creating major environmental hazards through its work on the Manhattan Project. The company’s technological advances make it one of the most significant businesses in Buffalo, but the manner in which those technologies were put to use has created lasting issues.  Further, I’m still curious to know how the Chandler Street Plant was used. More than likely it supported operations in the Linde ceramics factory and had no real impact on the Manhattan Project. Still, the plant’s status as a classified site has me curious. If we know the army was enriching uranium in Tonawanda who knows what they were doing on Chandler Street?

Image from blog.nuclearsecrets.com

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Copper and Brass: Buffalo’s other Metallurgical Industries

By
Matthew Shoen

Buffalo is one of many Rust Belt cities that lived and died by the steel industry. Companies like Lackawanna Steel employed thousands of Buffalonians, driving the city’s success throughout the twentieth century. However, in the shadows of giants like Lackawanna Steel that employed tens of thousands, Buffalo also had a vibrant copper and brass industry, which, in 1910, employed over 1,800 people. The nature of copper and brass manufacturing is the focus of this latest post.

A chunk of copper ore. Image taken from Wikipedia.

Copper and brass are two metals that have been with human beings since our emergence from the Stone Age. In fact, the widespread understanding of how to smelt copper is one of the key points of delineation between the Stone Age and Bronze Age. 

Copper is a naturally occurring metal, distinctive in appearance for its red color and distinctive in use for its malleability. Copper can be pounded flat, shaped, and sharpened, allowing for the creation of edged tools with greater durability than flint and the early stone hand axes humans had been utilizing. Around 4,200 B.C.E. Middle Eastern peoples discovered that by placing copper ore in clay kilns they could heat the metal until it liquefied, removing impurities from the copper and leaving behind a stronger, more easily shaped product.

Brass, an alloy of copper and zinc was a discover of the smelting process as both copper and zinc are frequently discovered in a natural bond with each other. Starting with this discover, copper and brass would remain critical metals in the evolution of human existence. Both metals would become important in ancient decorative arts and early coinage. Starting in the sixteenth century, brass would become the premiere metal for cannon and rifle barrels, while copper would be used for plating on the bottom of ocean vessels to keep their hulls from rotting and to prevent barnacles from forming colonies. Both metals became important for practical household use, with much of the world's copper going to kettles, pots, and eating utensils.

The Industrial Revolution created a new demand for copper and brass. The malleability of both metals made them perfect for creating pipes, valves, joints, and other pieces of equipment necessary to new industrial processes.[1] In Buffalo, the copper and brass industry contributed to the city’s industrial growth in two separate facilities, the Buffalo Smelting Works, and the Aldrich and Ray Manufacturing Company Building.

Located on Austin Street in Black Rock, the Buffalo Smelting Works was a large copper ore foundry operated by the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company from 1891 to 1914. The smelting works was used by the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company to convert its raw ore, mined from copper mines in Michigan, into pure copper. The smelting works also extracted silver from the ore, returning even more mineral value to its parent company following each successful smelting. Copper extracted from the ore shipped to Buffalo was returned by steamer to Michigan where it was likely rolled and shipped out for sale across the country to copper manufacturers.  

One copper manufacturer that likely bought rolled copper from Calumet & Hecla was the Aldrich and Ray Manufacturing Company whose manufacturing space was located on Niagara Street. Founded in 1879 by Schuyler Aldrich, the company was the largest brass and copper manufacturer in New York State by 1898, consuming over 800 tons of copper each year to produce goods ranging from copper kettles and pots, to soda fountains, and fixtures for hotels and restaurants. The company's factory stands to this day and is a four story brick building with numerous windows along the front facade and sides that allowed light to enter the workspaces. 

The Aldrich and Ray Manufacturing Company Building.

It is interesting to contrast the size and scope of operations in the Aldrich and Ray Manufacturing Company to the city’s steel giants. Despite the high volume of copper consumed by Aldrich and Ray, the company had only forty employees.[2] Further, Aldrich and Ray operated entirely out of their one building on Niagara Street. Compare that to Buffalo’s steel companies whose plants covered hundreds of acres and featured multiple buildings working together to refine and shape steel. Thousands of men were employed at each facility, allowing steel to dominate Buffalo's marketplace.

The size discrepancy shows interesting differences in the business model of big steel vs. copper and brass manufacturers. Steel was utilized for construction projects and infrastructure building, meaning its was produced in massive quantities. Further, steel is much more difficult to create when compared to copper and brass. The refining process for steel wasn't made economical until the late nineteenth century. Compare that to copper, which people had been refining since 4,200 B.C.E.

While steel was used for large scale building projects, copper and brass have always been marked by their flexibility and adaptable uses. The metals are easily molded and altered and this ability partially explains why so many copper and brass manufacturers existed in Buffalo and the rest of the country, rather than large conglomerates that marked the steel industry. Each manufacturer was capable of shifting production to create a wide range of goods, molded to the specifications of the individual client. This flexibility allowed many small copper and brass manufacturers to flourish, but never to the level of the nineteenth century steel magnates who monopolized steel production in the late nineteenth century. 

Copper and brass have been with us since the Bronze Age, shaping our world as we shape these metals into the tools we needed. In Buffalo, copper and brass became major products for the city, though they were effectively overshadowed by steel production. Nonetheless, copper and brass played an important role in the development of Buffalo and the growth of its metallurgical industry.

Example of a julep strainer made by the Aldrich and Ray Manufacturing Company.
Image taken from Etsy.com.






[1] Brass gained additional significance for its inability to create sparks.
[2] “Good Times,” The Buffalo Courier, November 4, 1894, 5.

Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits: Money is the Object, Historic Preservation is the Result


By: Jason Yots, President, Preservation Studios

“Money is no object!” likely never has been uttered by a Buffalo real estate developer, at least within the last century or so.  In fact, due to an array of economic difficulties, finding enough money to consummate a real estate development project in Buffalo, NY very much is the objective.

Buffalo is the kind of place that urban experts call a “legacy city”.  Legacy cities, on one hand, endure deep population losses, concentrated poverty, lagging household income growth and rampant property vacancy.  On the other hand, though, those cities boast expansive historic building fabric, affordable real estate, economic productivity and opportunity, and community resiliency and sustainability.[1]  Your classic good news, bad news dichotomy.


Unfortunately, the “bad news” column of the ledger makes real estate development in legacy cities a tricky endeavor.  Shrinking population, surplus aging real estate and lower wages mean that citizens can’t afford top-end rents, that building values appreciate slowly and that developers earn back less ownership “equity” than their national counterparts. 

And yet, real estate development in Buffalo is booming, at least in relation to its pace during the last few decades.  What accounts for this seeming anomaly?  Two words: government subsidies.  And, in Buffalo, no government subsidy has been more effective, dollar-for-dollar, than the historic rehabilitation tax credit (HRTC).  Consider any recently renovated building in Buffalo that’s over 50 years old and there’s a good chance it was financed using HRTCs.  Apartments, hotels, offices, retail outlets, cultural destinations and educational facilities all have been developed using HRTCs.

The federal tax code offers a tax credit equal to 20% of the qualified costs incurred in connection with the rehabilitation of an historic property.  When you add a counterpart state HRTC of another 20%, and then discount for the market factors and tax considerations inherent in monetizing those credits, you’re essentially left with a government subsidy at an effective rate ranging from 20 – 30% of a project’s costs.  This effective subsidy rate happens to coincide with the funding “gap” faced by most adaptive reuse projects in places like Buffalo.  The tax credits plug the gaps, the developers reinvent the buildings, and the community reaps the benefits.

The federal HRTC program is administered by the National Park Service (NPS), for the Department of Interior and the Internal Revenue Service.  Each year, NPS issues a report of the HRTC program’s performance during the prior fiscal year.[2]  The 2015 annual report reflects the continuation of some programmatic trends of the last few years, both nationally and locally.

              A fly-over of the HRTC program confirms that it continues to be a strong economic development tool for its host communities, generating in 2015 about $6.63 billion in development activity at an average of about $5.168 million per project (median project size in 2015 was $937,856).

            On the ground, the HRTC program proves again to be a strong job-creator.  The historic rehabilitation process is labor-intensive and, as a result, inherently local.  On average in 2015, individual HRTC projects generated 98 local jobs each, totaling just over 85,000 jobs nationwide.  With average annual salaries of about $40,000 industry-wide, HRTC jobs are well-suited to low-cost legacy cities.

            As mentioned, legacy cities often face an aging housing stock and extensive building abandonment which negatively impact housing quality standards for their residents.  The HRTC program provides a tangible boost to the housing inventories of legacy cities.  In 2015 alone, the program helped develop 23,569 new rental housing units, over a third of which were available to low- to moderate-income tenants.  This affordability factor is key in legacy cities where unemployment generally is higher - and wages generally are lower - than the national average.

            While rental housing constituted about half of all HRTC projects in 2015, that’s only half the story.  The program also catalyzed the creation of new offices (21%) and other commercial activity such as hotels, retail and educational and cultural facilities (29%).  The lack of restrictions on end-use is one of the HRTC programs strongest assets because it helps to diversify the real estate offerings to communities that consistently access the program.

            And which communities most consistently tap the HRTC program?  The states that are the biggest users of the HRTC program primarily share two important attributes: they contain a high concentration of legacy cities and they feature established state HRTC programs.  This latter feature is not surprising when you consider that state HRTC programs enable developers to nearly double-down on the capital available to complete their projects.  On an approved-project basis, the top five users of the HRTC program in 2015 were: Louisiana, Ohio, Virginia, Missouri and New York.  From a project-cost standpoint, the top five states were: Ohio, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania and Missouri.  Clearly, New York, with top-five finishes in both categories, has figured out that the HRTC program is an important tool for reinventing its many legacy cities.  And, when money is the object, and historic preservation is the result, developers and communities alike can appreciate the impact of the HRTC program.

Jason Yots is a tax credit attorney, real estate developer and historic preservation consultant based in Buffalo, NY.  www.preservationstudios.com, www.commonbondrealestate.com


[1] Read more about legacy cities at:  www.legacycities.org 

[2] The last several years’ reports can be found at: https://www.nps.gov/tps/tax-incentives/reports.htm

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

John Neumann, Buffalo's Footsore Saint

There are eleven men and women who have been canonized as Catholic saints for their work in America. Several saints were canonized for founding American religious organizations, while others have been honored for missionary work that ultimately led to their deaths. These eleven saints played critical rolls in the story of American Catholicism and one of the saints has an important connection to Western New York. His name is John Neumann.

John Neumann who was born in Bohemia in 1811 and entered the seminary in 1831, later transferring to Charles University in Prague where he studied theology. Neumann’s ultimate goal was to be ordained a priest, however the German States were filled with young men who’d heard the call of the priesthood and the Bohemian Catholic Church refused to ordain Neumann. Rebuffed, Neumann immigrated to America and approached the Bishop of New York, John Dubois, about ordination and in 1836, in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, John Neumann became a priest.

It is important to understand that at this time American dioceses encompassed huge swaths of territory. In 1836 the Diocese of New York encompassed New York State and half of New Jersey. This massive territory was thinly seeded with Catholics eager to have a local priest. With this in mind, John Dubois sent Neumann west, to the forests around Niagara Falls where German Catholics were immigrating in substantial numbers.

When he arrived in Western New York, Neumann was confronted by some pretty harsh conditions. First, there were no parish churches outside St. Louis Church in Buffalo, save for a tiny log chapel called the North Bush Chapel in present day Kenmore, where frontier Catholics came together for Sunday prayers. Neumann made the North Bush Chapel (now St. John the Baptist Church) the base for his missionary activities and proceeded to minister to Western New York’s frontier Catholic families.
St. John the Baptist's Church today
taken from Google maps

Neumann’s flock was widely dispersed. People lived in squat huts in the woods or in small hamlets around local creeks and rivers. The challenge of ministering to all these people was only compounded by Neumann’s inability to ride a horse. Some accounts suggest that Neumann was too short to properly sit in a saddle, making him a fearful unsteady rider, while others suggest that he was embarrassed by his awkward riding style and chose to walk. Other claims suggest that he simply didn’t like horses and refused to ride them. If Neumann refused to ride horses because he disliked them, then his equine disdain must have been white-hot hatred. Without a horse Neumann walked to all his parishioners, traveling in a one hundred mile radius to preach. Neumann offered sermons to Catholics in Williamsville, Lancaster, Alden, Pendleton, Lockport, Tonawanda, Eden, Niagara Falls, Sheldon, and Java. Neumann was also the first Catholic priest to visit Batavia. All this walking was done along game trails and paths cut from the brush by hunters or Native Americans. Following these backwoods trails, Neumann gathered up Catholics from across the frontier, praying in private homes, administering last rites, baptisms, and celebrating holy days. As he was doing this, Neumann was also creating parishes and modest parochial schools for the communities he led.

John Neumann worked in Western New York between 1836 and 1840 before requesting a transfer to Philadelphia where he was very influential in the formation of the city's Catholic community. In 1852 he was made Bishop of Philadelphia and he died in the city eight years later at the age of 60. He was canonized in 1977, the fourth American to be named a saint. 


Though he was in Western New York for only four years, John Neumann’s legacy is undeniable. Catholics outside Buffalo can often trace the founding of their parish to Neumann’s activities. He provided the first semi-regular Catholic ministering the countryside had seen. In the late 1830s few Catholic priests could be found in Western New York outside Buffalo. Those priests operating outside the city were Jesuits working with the Native American population. John Neumann, walking from village to village, and even farm to farm, was the first man of the cloth many settlers had seen since arriving in Western New York. Footsore though he was, Neumann offered these people comfort in the wilderness and created the building blocks of the Catholic Church in Western New York as we know it today. For that reason and his work in Philadelphia, Neumann was canonized, giving Western New York its first and only canonized saint.
John Neumann looking extra holy
Image taken from sosf.org

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Five and Dime

By Matt Shoen

In the last blog published by Preservation Studios we discussed the Newberry Building, our project in Batavia. Built in 1881 the building was used as a storefront for over a century before closing in 1997, though rehabilitation plans are in place to ensure the restoration of this lovely commercial block. The building's history can be neatly divided into two eras, the first lasting from 1881 to 1929 when it was owned by three different furniture makers/undertakers, and the second spanning 1929 to 1997 when it was used by the J.J. Newberry Company. The last blog didn't spend too much time on the history of Newberry's and so today I think it's best to give this chain store its due and look at the history of five-and-dimes.
The Newberry Building in Batavia

The original five-and-dime was owned and operated by F.W. Woolworth, a Watertown native who began his business in Utica. The Utica five-and-dime quickly fizzled and Woolworth moved shop to Lancaster, PA where it caught on. Woolworth followed up the success of his first store by expanding rapidly, building new stores in towns and small cities throughout Pennsylvania. The rationale behind his building frenzy was with more stores he could purchase more product, earning discounts from suppliers and ultimately making it easier to sell goods cheaply. Additionally, rather than sell one consistent line of products, i.e. clothing, or groceries, Woolworth introduced the idea of the variety store, selling all manner of useful household items for the magic price of a nickel or dime. This wide product line, combined with inexpensive goods, was a new model of American shopping. Previously, people outside major cities made their own goods or took trips into cities to shop at large department stores when the occasion called for it. The five-and-dime brought downtown shopping to smaller communities and impoverished sections of cities such as Buffalo. Five-and-dime stores transformed frugal Americans into consumers, stretching dollars and allowing them to mean something. Better living, culturally and materially was ushered in by the five-and-dime store as newfound purchasing power helped connect people in small ways to the American dream of ownership.

The five-and-dime chain store offered another counterpoint to the downtown shopping experience. In downtown malls shoppers were guided through the experience by attendants, saleswomen who were responsible for making the shopping experience pleasant and encourage a shopper to make a few splurge purchases. This was attractive to to the upper crust, but a bit off-putting to less affluent shoppers. The five-and-dime, often operating in the early years out of hole-in-the wall establishments, or tiny rented storefronts didn't have the space or staff to guide shoppers around. Five-and-dimes allowed women to browse at their own leisure with only a sharp-eyed cashier watching to ensure none of the store's products slipped into a pocket or purse. In many ways it was a more familiar system for immigrant women, used to wandering through markets and picking through a vendor's goods before making their final purchase.

In these ways the five-and-dime model proved itself successful. It offered a clear counterpoint to the elite department stores of the era both in price and presentation, converting millions of Americans into consumers in the process. These Americans, often immigrants and poor took to the five-and-dime stores for the bargains they offered, and oftentimes for the travel convenience as five-and-dimes were often built in smaller communities that couldn't support a department store.

Around the Lunch Counter from reddit.com
Ultimately, the success of Woolworth's inspired many businessmen to begin their own five-and-dime chain stores, among these businessmen was John Josiah Newberry. Newberry was a Pennsylvania man who began opening five-and-dime stores in 1911. The chain grew rapidly and by 1930 there were 335 Newberry stores, including our building in Batavia. Growth peaked in the 1960s when there were 565 stores in the chain and it was the fourth largest five-and-dime chain in America. The model for the success of a five-and-dime didn't vary much from company to company. Savings were the draw, and savings were what each five-and-dime chain store offered its patrons.

In Batavia, Newberry's sold all manner of household goods, from clocks to brooms, cloth, griddles, and random knickknacks. Oftentimes these goods were not essential to the household, but for the price, they couldn't be beat.

Newberry's Popular Logo from marksimonson.com