Overview of our Industrial Heritage

The industrial heritage of Crawford County and the surrounding Northwest Pennsylvania region began as many did along the frontiers of the original colonies of the newly formed United States. Settlers relied almost exclusively on natural resources to produce goods in self-sustaining agrarian economies. In the years that followed, however, Crawford County would become the birthplace of diverse industries that would go on to impact the world’s economy into the modern age.

Among the first businesses established in the area were the saw and grist mills of the pioneer, David Mead, who recognized the opportunity offered by the fertile soils of the French Creek Valley. Soon Meadville would become both the region’s governmental center and transportation hub.

Meadville Depot Image 1900s

Grain harvests were plentiful, livestock thrived on the land, and game animals fed the populace. Raw materials such as flax and wool were made at fulling mills. By 1820 a paper mill was established as were facilities for producing wood and leather goods. A decade later, the first foundry was in operation, and the French Creek Feeder Canal opened in 1837, let merchants transport these goods to new markets.

On August 29, 1859, Colonel E. L. Drake successfully drilled a well which produced oil, an event the citizens of Titusville region could not have realized would change their community and the world. The quantity and quality of a better lubricant aided in the rapid development of machines that could speed up the pace of manufacturing.

As the region moved into the 1850s, utilities companies were founded, and the modern oil industry took off.  Oil and the need to export local goods would lead to the coming of the railroad, and with it, manufacturing took the leading role. Foundries and locomotive shops were joined by manufacturers of boilers, bricks, glass, chocolate chips, and stereopticons buoyed by an entrepreneurial economy thriving on inventive genius and local investment.

A new industrial revolution brought mass production in the early 1900s. Companies with an international reach like Spirella Corset, Talon, and American Viscose joined the Erie Railroad as the area’s major employers. The Tool and Die Imagefoundries of Phoenix Iron and Meadville Malleable forged the path for heavy metal products while new companies like Champion Tool and others formed the beginnings of today’s tool and die industry which flourished in the aftermath of World War II. Champion would eventually become Channellock while Phoenix Ironworks would later be today’s Seco-Warwick.

With the advent of the traction companies, residents suddenly could ride the length of the Crawford County and beyond in hours, not days. Trolleys ​hauled, not only passengers from place to place, but also produce and goods from farms near stops in the surrounding villages and boroughs. The trolley even contributed to people’s personal enjoyment, transporting crowds to and from popular leisure spots like Mystic Park (Titusville), Oakwood Park (Meadville), and Exposition Park (Conneaut Lake) up to the 1920s.

The communications industry also held a prominent role in the area beginning with the region’s first newspaper, the Crawford Weekly Messenger. In the years that followed, a slew of newspapers and prominent periodicals like the Chautauquan and Pennsylvania Farmer were being churned from presses for readers around the country. By 1848 telegraphs were transmitting news from the area, and a caller’s voice could be heard courtesy of the first telephone company in 1881. A decade later, county residents could connect to cities such as Boston, New York, and Washington D.C. via long-distance service.

In the 1920s a local radio station briefly began broadcasting, but it took until 1947 before WMGW went on the air for good. And a pioneering television company name Master Antenna established themselves in Meadville in 1953, eventually becoming the pioneers behind modern cable TV.

The legacy of these industries remains strong today, forming Crawford County’s industrial backbone.