Wendell August Forge
Wendell August Forge
Site of the original forge building
|Location||620 Madison St., Grove City, Pennsylvania|
|Area||1.8 acres (0.73 ha)|
|NRHP Reference #||96001192|
|Added to NRHP||November 07, 1996|
The original Wendell August Forge facility was a historic landmark in Mercer County, Pennsylvania. It is the last remaining working forge in the state. The company operates retail stores in Grove City, Berlin, Ohio and Wilmington, North Carolina; the forge and the stores are well-known tourist destinations. Wendell August was the first to use the repoussé process of manufacture, and has operated near Grove City since 1932. It produces a variety of merchandise, including Americana, such as bowls, figurines and ornaments,as well as commemorative items.
When it was built in 1932, the forge was a simple one-story rectangular building measuring approximately 60 feet (18 m) by 160 feet (49 m); its frame was steel, constructed on a foundation of poured concrete. That property was located in a primarily residential neighborhood.
The historic facility was destroyed by a fire on March 6, 2010 after an automatic sprinkler system failed to timely react to a sudden sparked fire from an electric ventilation fan. The fire moved rapidly throughout the structure, pressing almost two dozen local firefighters into service.
Owner Will Knecht, who had been at the company's store at the nearby Prime Outlets, was reached on his cell phone by an anxious worker telling him the forge was on fire. Knecht reached the forge to find the structure fully engulfed in flames. When an employee asked him what they would do, Knecht joined hands with the staff, forming a prayer circle outside the remains of the forge. Knecht led the group in prayer for guidance. Firefighters at the scene taking rest breaks joined the employees as they prayed.
While the building itself was a total loss, firefighters knew where the dies that were most crucial to the forge's regular operation were held and worked to keep flames away from that part of the building, and were able to save the majority of them.
Knecht told many media outlets in a series of interviews later that the support he received from the business community within moments of the blaze was "incredible." Many merchants offered work space, a hotel offered the North Carolina-based Knecht free lodging, and others pitched in to help the forge recover.
Knecht said that prior to the fire, Wendell August Forge had just completed a deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins, which had been the biggest purchase in the forge's history . The deal was to produce souvenir tickets for the NHL team's final home game at Mellon Arena before it would be demolished to make way for its successor, CONSOL Energy Center. Knecht said that team owner Mario Lemieux called, and after Knecht assured him that the order would be filled without a problem, Lemieux offered to help by advancing some of the money to the forge prior to the order's completion.
Told to expect to be out of business for at least nine months by his insurance company, Knecht and his staff had the forge up and running from temporary locations within five days with little disruption in service. "Not one employee went without a paycheck," he said.
For the next 3 years, factory and office operations were located at the old Cooper-Bessemer plant in Grove City with a temporary retail outlet at the nearby Slovak Folk Crafts.
Knecht explained that Wendell August Forge was grandfathered under subsequent zoning changes made in the borough of Grove City since it first opened. After the fire, the forge was no longer protected under these changes, and it would not be feasible for the forge to rebuild on its heritage site and be ordinance compliant. Thus, a new site would have to be found, and there was none in Grove City large enough for a new forge that could be found for a reasonable price.
After being told that the forge was underinsured, Knecht was able to secure a state grant of $4 million to build a substantially larger facility and increase its workforce from 70 to 120.
On Tuesday, October 9th, 2013, Wendell August opened their new Flagship store, factory and headquarters at 2074 Leesburg-Grove City Rd, 1/2 mile west of the Grove City Premium Outlets in Springfield Township, Pennsylvania . The new 52,000 square foot facility includes a history center and offers tours of the factory. The company pioneered the production of hammered aluminum giftware, which it first produced in 1930. Over the years, the forge's works have included ashtrays used on the Hindenburg as well as a number of customized items for Walt Disney.
- Wendell August Forge Destroyed by Fire - My Account of the Day
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - At Wendell August Forge, Fire Proves to be the Crucible of Reinvention
- WFMJ-TV - Wendell August Forge Opens New Headquarters in Grove City
- Wesex Corporation - A National Treasure Rises from the Ashes
- Allied News.com - Photo Slideshow from Wendell August Forge
- TribLive.com - Mercer's Wendell August embraces new home in return from fire
- Capacityspeakers.com - Will Knecht biography
- Allied News.com - Forge's past, future unwrapped at new locale
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- Paul, Larry R. (2005). Made in the twentieth century: a guide to contemporary collectibles. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-8108-4563-3. Retrieved 7 March 2010.
- "Fire ruins Pa. forge that made Hindenburg ashtrays". breitbart. AP, Online. March 6, 2010