BUSINESSES AND INDUSTRY

Means of livelihood in Lower Merion Township changed between 1880 and 1980 from agriculture to industry, and finally to retail and urban services. The chief occupation one hundred years ago was farming, and Lower Merion was the only township in the state where the farm value exceeded $4 million. Farms had ceased to be important after World War II.

In 1883 businesses included nine hotels, two confectioneries, three drugstores, one grocery, two restaurants, two dry goods, one stove, one provision, three flour and feed, fourteen general stores, two lumber, and two coal yards. These contrast with statistics of the Pennsylvania Department of Commerce, Bureau of Statistics, Research and Planning for 1977, when there were 702 retail establishments, 332 wholesale, and 1,136 service organizations.

The Pencoyd Iron Works was started by the Roberts family on fifty acres along the Schuylkill in 1852. The company became a major bridge and structural steel supplier. In 1898 Percival Roberts, Jr. (1857-1943), dispatched steel girders and six engineers to the Sudan to bridge the Nile slightly below its confluence with the Atbara River. Lord Kitchener and his railroad builders, struggling against the desert conditions and warring tribesmen, were hurrying to transport soldiers for what would be the last great cavalry battle in history at Omdurman. The bridge was built, said Emil Ludwig in The Nile, 1937, in forty-two days. The battle on September 2, 1898, was a tremendous victory for the English-Egyptian army.

When Percival Roberts, Jr., was invited to join the United States Steel Company in 1900 his Pencoyd Iron Works became the American Bridge Company; it employed one thousand men. The plant was a subsidiary of the Carnegie-Illinois Steel Corporation in 1937, functioned through World War II, and then closed. A portion of the old plant was occupied by the Connelly Containers, Inc., corrugated carton factory. Next to the Pencoyd mill was the Ashland Dyewood and Chemical Mill, later to become S. A. Rudolph's Ashland Paper Mill.

Near the intersection of Lancaster Pike and County Line Road in Rosemont, Joseph J. Derham, a native of Galway, Ireland, founded a carriage works in 1887. Growing numbers of wealthy residents along the Main Line were his customers. In 1907, when one customer requested a body to be put on his open automobile, others followed and by 1920 Derham Body Works had converted to building bodies for cars. The Derham sons turned out $20,000 custom built auto bodies for such notables as Joseph Stalin, Pope Pius XII, King Farouk, President Eisenhower, and even auto designer Raymond Loewy. Derham cars were used in fifteen coronations. During the war the factory built pontoons for navy training craft and special ambulances.

The Autocar Company had moved from Pittsburgh to Ardmore in 1900. Louis S. Clarke, founder, gave his first model to the Smithsonian Institution, but kept his seconda shiny black phaeton built in 1898--which was displayed at the Autocar plant in Ardmore. Despite the original purpose, Autocar became a manufacturer of commercial motor vehicles, powerful highway tractors, and diesel trucks. During World War II Autocar employed 2,300 workers. In 1952 sales totaled more than $31 million; Louis Clarke was eighty-six years old. Robert F. Black, president of the White Motor Company, announced in 1953 that his firm had bought Autocar. After fifty-four years Lower Merion lost its last heavy industry to Exton, Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Auto Motor Company built a plant on Maple Avenue in Bryn Mawr in 1906, only to fail. Edward L. Powers, faithful to the horse, announced in the Ardmore Chronicle of August 9, 1906, that he planned to build a harness shop next to the Bryn Mawr firehouse to be the finest in the country "containing 30 whip cases, horse blanket cases . . . the building to be heated by hot water, and illuminated by gas, electricity and sunlight." The Property Atlas, Main Line, Pennsylvania Railroad of 1908 shows the blacksmith and wheelwright shops of Luther Parsons, whose knowledge of horses was legendary, on the corner of Parsons and Montgomery Avenues.

Considerable industry was in operation along Gulley Run between Belmont Hills and Bala-Cynwyd. The articles on these towns contain this information. In 1980 Rock Hill Road, which follows the stream, was still the location of a variety of businesses as well as a condominium.

As manufacturing declined, retail merchandising began to grow. In 1921 the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce was incorporated. In 1928 the innovative Suburban Square Shopping Center, discussed under Ardmore, took shape. In 1929, shortly before the Wall Street crash, Strawbridge & Clothier declared its intention to open a branch department store in Suburban Square and did so in 1931. Also in that year, S.S. Kresge and Sears Roebuck and Company opened stores in Ardmore. Feeling threatened by Suburban Square, the Ardmore Retail Merchants Association was formed at a meeting held in Thom McCann's shoe store in 1931. The Great Depression and World War II both ran their courses before the Main Line Chamber of Commerce came into existence in 1945. The following year, coincidentally, parking meters were installed in Ardmore.

The Theodore Presser Company moved from Philadelphia to the site of the Pennsylvania Auto Motor Company in Bryn Mawr in 1949. The building had once been the Thomas M. Royal Paper Company. As the publisher of music for everyone from solo artists to village music teachers, Presser's inventory became sufficiently vast to require an IBM computer to locate sheet music to fill catalog orders. In earlier days, Presser published the Etude music magazine, mailing 150,000 copies each month.

In November 1950 the township Board of Commissioners held hearings to rezone a 600-foot strip along City Avenue in Bala-Cynwyd for commercial use. WCAU radio and television applied for space for its new studio. This special zoning classification required larger lots, and less ground coverage, and allowed greater heights. The result was the Golden Mile. In 1954 Lord & Taylor opened; General Refractories came from Philadelphia in 1974. It was corporate headquarters for operations throughout the world, and makes refractory, building, insulating, and fiber products. Other major operations include the Marriott Hotel complex, Saks Fifth Avenue, the Germantown Savings Bank building, Esso Building, and those discussed in the section on Bala-Cynwyd. The Marriott is now the township's only hotel.

The Wynnewood Shopping Center came to life in 1954 with the opening of John Wanamaker's new store.

Of the township's working population in 1980, over 40 percent worked in Philadelphia, 40 percent in Montgomery County, and 17 percent elsewhere. Many Philadelphians worked in Lower Merion. In 1980, while Lower Merion was the eleventh largest municipality in the state, it ranked third, just after Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, in the combined sales of its retail, wholesale, and service establishments.

Financial Institutions and Insurance

Many locally founded banks have come and gone during the last hundred years, but one remains as an independent banking organization. The survivor is the Bryn Mawr Trust Company in Bryn Mawr, incorporated in 1889. Harold E. Hennessy, who spent forty-seven years at Bryn Mawr Trust Company, and R. L. Stevens, the bank's president, attribute its survival to its being a small bank specializing in personal service. In 1980 the bank had 184 employees in four branch offices; assets were $74,275,419, compared with original resources of $25,000.

President Roosevelt closed the banks and prohibited currency transactions on Saturday, March 4, 1933. The next day, Sunday, the Bryn Mawr Trust Company bought coins from churches and wrapped them so that the bank's customers, such as retail stores, could be provided with change on Monday.

For many years Bryn Mawr Trust Company shared a building (which is now the post office) with the Bryn Mawr National Bank, founded in 1887. In the1920s the Bryn Mawr National Bank built its offices at the southwest corner of Bryn Mawr and Lancaster Avenues. In 1928 Bryn Mawr Trust built its current building on the northwest corner of the intersection. In 1954 the two banks merged, taking the name Bryn Mawr Trust Company.

An important change in banking in Lower Merion Township occurred in the period 1950-80 with the introduction of branch banking. The township had three banks in 1890 and 1900, four in 1910 and 1920; and four banks with six locations in 1930. By 1970 there were seventeen banks with twenty-six banking offices in the township, including banks and savings and loan associations. Growth has continued; in 1980 there were fifteen banks at thirty-two locations.

Beneficial Savings Bank has a branch in Ardmore. Central Penn National Bank has a branch in Bala-Cynwyd, as do Lincoln Bank and Industrial Valley Bank and Trust Company. Fidelity has branches in Bala-Cynwyd, Wynnewood, and Rosemont. Girard has branches in Bala-Cynwyd, Haverford, and Wynnewood with an automated teller in Bryn Mawr. First Pennsylvania still has its Ardmore office and has added an office in Bala-Cynwyd. Provident National Bank has an office in Bryn Mawr and one in Gladwyne. Germantown Savings Bank has its headquarters at the GSB Building in Bala-Cynwyd, with one branch there, one in Bryn Mawr, and another in Wynnewood. Jefferson Bank has an office in Haverford, and Continental has one in Bala-Cynwyd. The Philadelphia National Bank has branches in Bryn Mawr and in Ardmore, and an automated teller in Bala-Cynwyd. Philadelphia Saving Fund Society has an office in Ardmore and another in Bala-Cynwyd. Western Savings Bank has offices in Bala-Cynwyd, Gladwyne, and Haverford.

Among the banks that did not retain their identity, the Bala-Cynwyd National Bank saw its deposits increase from $51,772.44 when it opened in 1925 to $381,245.35 in 1928. After the stock market crash in 1929 it was absorbed by the Merion Title and Trust Company of Ardmore, which also took over the Ardmore Title and Trust Company (1930). The Counties Title and Trust in Ardmore survived from 1927 to 1931, the same year the Merion Title and Trust encountered financial difficulties, and became the fourth local bank to succumb. At the request of the Pennsylvania Banking Department, which felt a bank was important to the business community in Ardmore, the First Pennsylvania Bank in Philadelphia, then known as the Pennsylvania Company for Insurance on Lives and Granting Annuities Bank and Trust Company, took over operations of the Merion Title and Trust Company in 1932, and its Ardmore branch remains an integral part of the Ardmore business community.

Savings and loan associations with branches in the township are Bell Savings and Loan Association in Bala-Cynwyd; Crusader Savings and Loan in Rosemont; Main Line Federal Savings and Loan Association in Ardmore and Bryn Mawr, Metropolitan Federal Savings & Loan Association of Eastern Pennsylvania with headquarters in Bala-Cynwyd and a branch in Ardmore; and Public Federal Savings & Loan Association in Wynnewood, a division of Trevose Federal Savings and Loan Association.

The banking industry has advanced from handwritten bookkeeping to mechanical, to electric, and now to electronic machines. Large banks in the big cities are providing centralized computer service. A Pittsburgh bank, for example, does the computing for the Bryn Mawr Trust Company.

One of the earliest types of insurance in the township had its beginnings in an old association still meeting today: the Lower Merion Society for the Detection and Prosecution of Horse Thieves and the Recovery of Stolen Horses. By 1981, in its 163rd year, it may have changed its objectives of 1818, but the menu for its annual meetings still included the same first four courses: oyster cocktails, oyster stew, escalloped oysters, and fried oysters.

Solomon S. Huebner (1882-1964), international pioneer in finance and insurance, lived in Merion for fifty years. While professor of insurance and commerce at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, a post he held for forty-nine years, he established an Insurance Department that gained world renown, attracting large numbers of international students. An author and editor of many textbooks on the stock market, and on life, property, and marine insurance, he envisioned a professional designation for the life insurance business similar to that of Certified Public Accountant. His dream was actualized in 1927 when the American College, a fully accredited non-traditional educational institution awarding the Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU) designation and the Master of Science in Financial Services degree, was founded in Bryn Mawr, Delaware County. Later the CPCU designation was added for the Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriter.

Dr. Huebner served the United States government as an expert adviser to committees concerned with risk and insurance in shipping during World War I. During World War II he served on the War Department Advisory Committee on Insurance and as a special adviser to the Aeronautics Board. He lectured on finance and insurance in many countries of Europe and Asia. The emperor of Japan awarded him one of Japan's top honors for his contribution to the welfare of the Japanese insurance industry.


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