Remembering the Southern Skein and Foundry Company

Tuesday, November 23, 2010 - by Harmon Jolley
Southern Skein and Foundry promotional postcard.  Click to enlarge.
Southern Skein and Foundry promotional postcard. Click to enlarge.

Here’s a vocabulary quiz. What is the definition of “skein”?

Skein (noun) can refer to:

- a length of thread or yarn, as might be used in our area’s textile industry
- consecutive wins or losses by a sports team
- a flock of geese in flight
- a metal covering over the end of a wagon’s wooden axle that serves as a wheel bearing.

It is the last definition that applies in this article. Now that you know the definition, can you use “skein” in a sentence?

“The Southern Skein and Foundry Company was one of several manufacturers formerly operating in the East Lake community.”

That’s a very good answer, and also correct on a local history quiz.

"Those are also called thimble skeins."

That's correct, Johnny, but now, you can sit quietly at your desk while I tell the history.

The Chattanooga Times reported the incorporation of the Southern Skein and Foundry Company in its December 13, 1904 edition. Capital stock had all been subscribed, and totaled one thousand shares at $100 per share.

Plans were made for a manufacturing facility in East Lake in proximity to the Chattanooga Wagon Company, which owned stock in the new skein-maker. The Racine (Wisconsin) Wagon Company was also an investor.

Directors of Southern Skein and Foundry were James K. Jones (U.S. senator from Arkansas), John G. Johnson (Democratic Party national chair during the 1896 election), Gilbert N. Prentiss (Racine Wagon), Harry S. Probasco (Bank of Chattanooga), and Frank A. Nelson (Bank of Chattanooga).

Another business with financial interests in Southern Skein and Foundry was the Illinois Bolt Company. William Henry Wilber, who had worked for Illinois Bolt for eleven years, relocated to Chattanooga to become the top manager of the new skein plant. Mr. Wilber was a native of Carpentersville, Illinois.

It took a few years for skein and foundry work to commence. In the April, 1907 edition of “The Foundry,” it was still being reported that the Southern Skein and Foundry Company would erect a plant in Chattanooga to make wagon skeins and other castings.

By the 1910’s, the company was up and running. In addition to metal parts for wagons, the workers made anvils and other blacksmith tools, irons, and jacks. A very large manufacturing building was located at Eighth Avenue and East Thirty-First Street on fourteen acres.

The advertising card shown in the photo that accompanies this article mentioned that parts for Studebakers were offered. The Studebaker Corporation was later known for making automobiles, but originally made wagons. Quite a bit of the functional design of early automobiles originated with wagons, which had axles, wheels, springs, and brakes.

Southern Skein and Foundry was able to continue operations for many years after the automobile replaced wagons in the field of transportation. W.H. Wilber stayed on as manager until shortly before his passing in 1941.

On September 6, 1957, the Chattanooga Times reported that the Southern Skein and Foundry property had been sold to a trustee. The business had ceased operations one week earlier. There had been attempts by the local Industrial Committee of 100 to interest the parent company, Illinois Bolt, in expanding production in Chattanooga. However, company officials said that the local plant was not compatible with their other operations.

If you have additional information on the Southern Skein and Foundry Company, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.

Letterhead for Southern Skein and Foundry.  Click to enlarge.
Letterhead for Southern Skein and Foundry. Click to enlarge.

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