What Did That Building Used To Be: Samuel Stamping and Enameling Company

Tuesday, April 13, 2004 - by Harmon Jolley

On April 6, 2004, the Chattanoogan.com reported that the city of Chattanooga is acquiring property from the GE Roper Corporation in order to expand Coolidge Park. The transaction includes 28 acres bordered by the Market Street Bridge, the Tennessee River, and Manufacturers Road. Several buildings of a former manufacturer will be torn down. For over 40 years, this was the domain of the Samuel Stamping and Enameling Company.

The founder of the company, William R. Samuel, was born in 1885 in Swansea, Wales. He was always proud of his Welsh heritage, and sometimes sang the songs of old Wales at family and business gatherings. His family moved to the United States when he was nine years old, and settled in Pittsburgh, Pa. where his father went to work for United States Steel. When he reached adulthood, William landed his first job as an accountant with U.S. Steel, followed by a position as a salesman for an enameling company in Ohio. In 1913, he moved to Chattanooga, and took a job in sales with the Chattanooga Stamping and Enameling Company.

By 1926, having several years of experience in the finished metal products business, Mr. Samuel started his own company, Samuel Stamping and Enameling. The company initially manufactured stove parts and related equipment. Mr. Samuel pioneered the replacement of nickel-plated stoves with ones with enamel finishes. In 1929, the first continuous enameling furnace in the southeast was installed at the plant. Using some of the same concepts as used in the continuous kilns of chinaware companies, the equipment allowed the company to double its production. In the mid-1930’s, a second furnace was installed at the plant. The Samuel company joined with neighboring firms on Manufacturing Road to make Chattanooga a national leader in manufacturing.

In addition to making products under its own name, Samuel also did stamping and enameling work under contract to other companies. During World War II, many American manufacturers were transformed into defense plants, and Samuel was no exception. They made blitz containers, the large fuel cans used by the military. For his work in this area, William R. Samuel received the Outstanding Performance Medal of the Quartermaster Corps.

Samuel continued to expand after WWII. A 1960 city directory advertisement listed their product line:

* Suburban Built-in Ranges, electric and gas
* SAMCO gas floor furnaces
* Suburban gas wall furnaces
* SAMCO gas space heaters
* SAMCO patented steel burners
* Porcelain enamel stove stampings

The company held sales meetings at the Tivoli, where the newest stoves and heaters would be the main attraction on the stage.

My uncle, Hoyt Hickman, worked at Samuel Stamping and Enameling, and it was through my cousin, Karleen Holloway, that I first learned about the company. She recalled that she and her mother would ride with my uncle to work from their home near Powells Crossroads: “Daddy worked the night shift; Mama and I would go there as he went to work. We would walk over Market Street Bridge into downtown and "window" shop. After we had drooled over the things we couldn't afford, we went back to a Kroger on the Samuel side of the bridge and bought blueberry preserves. We saved the jars(glasses) they came in and still have them. We then slept in the car till he finished his shift. I can only remember of his work experience that he worked long hours for minimum wage(60 cents per hour, I think).”

William R. Samuel passed away in 1964 at the age of 79. Financial troubles at the Samuel company brought about its demise by November, 1967 when creditors began to liquidate the assets. Approximately 250 employees were affected. Roper bought the Chattanooga plant in 1968, and manufactured gas and electric stoves and ranges under contract to Sears and under the Roper name. The company also operated an outlet store next to the plant, where they sold Roper lawn equipment. The Roper plant closed in 2002.

If you have memories of the Samuel Stamping and Enameling Company, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@signaldata.net.


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