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Cavert Wire Company - Ellwood City PA

The Cavert Wire Company, which produced innovative steel wire, bale ties, and wire specialties, established a plant in the borough of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, in 1913. At the time Ellwood City, founded back in 1892 by industrialist Henry W. Hartman, was a prosperous manufacturing center for seamless tubing, railroad car forgings, wire fencing, and automatic conveyors.

Cavert Wire was founded in the Pittsburgh area a few years earlier by the Cavert family of Albany County, New York. George B. Cavert, who would serve as company president at the new Ellwood City plant, moved up from Wilkinsburg-Braddock area in Allegheny County where he was heading up another wire plant. George was born in Albany, New York, and was previously employed in the wire business with Kilmer Manufacturing of New York and Griswold Wire of Ohio. Upon his move to Ellwood City he bought a large home for his family, which included his wife Lena (Cole) and children Harold and Ethel, at #5 5th Street in Ellwood City. Along with him he brought of team of trusted assistants who quickly went to work.

The company had already purchased an existing factory on the west end of town owned by the Tindel-Morris Company, which had manufactured machine tools, steam engines, and automobile parts. The factory, along the railroad tracks at Factory Avenue and 12th Street, was immediately torn down and a new two-story facility was erected in its place. Cavert started out with about thirty-five male employees but over the years employed as many as 150 men. The company was successful, but when it attempted to expand its operations (as early as 1915) it faced a battle with the borough council over taxes. The company even built a children’s play area, called the West End playground, on its property that was very popular with local children.

George Cavert died in a Pittsburgh hospital in October 1926 and was buried in Monongahela Cemetery in North Braddock, Pennsylvania. He was succeeded as company president by his thirty-one-year-old son Harold. Among the men who worked for Harold for a time was my uncle Joe LaPatka. Cavert Wire and many others in Ellwood City were extremely vital during the days of World War II. I am not sure what became of the company in the immediate post-war period, but it was sold to a businessman from Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in 1952.

That businessman, a successful dry cleaner and Jewish immigrant from Russia named Meyer L. Swimmer, bought and relocated the company – and all its machinery and equipment – to the town of Oliver just outside of Uniontown. He intended to utilize the resources to manufacture wire coat hangers to use in conjunction with his dry cleaning operation. Swimmer later bought another company, Ace Baling Wire, to expand Cavert’s revamped operations. Swimmer died in June 1974, but the Cavert Wire Company is still in business today. It is headquartered in Rural Hill, North Carolina, and has factories in Uniontown and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Atlanta, Georgia, St. Louis, Missouri, and Kokomo, Indiana.

In May 1953 the former Cavert Wire property in Ellwood City was bought by Zonolite Products Company (a division of the W.R. Grace Company beginning in 1963), which began manufacturing fireproofing materials for the insulation and construction industry. Zonolite was a brand name of insulation products that used vermiculite (which can contain asbestos) from the famous mine in Libby, Montana. W.R. Grace, which also had facilities in New Castle, shut down the plant in Ellwood City in 1969.

Harold Cavert, the former president of Cavert Wire Company from 1926-1952, died in Ellwood City on October 16, 1965, at the age of seventy. The J. I. Porter Funeral Home on Fifth Street handled the arrangements. A funeral service, presided over by Pastor John Calvin Myers of the First Baptist Church of New Castle, was conducted at the funeral home. He was then buried in Monongahela Cemetery with his parents and a younger brother who died years ago in 1908. He sister, Ethel (Cavert) Hancher of Harmony, was his sole surviving close relative.

Years later, in 2006, several agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began investigating the former Zonolite/W.R. Grace plant in Ellwood City for asbestos-related contamination. It seems the company dumped large piles of vermiculate-related products all around the property, including right at the former West End playground. The playground is now partially covered by the Moose fraternal lodge building and its large paved parking lot. Sadly enough, although the danger is downplayed, anyone who worked at the plant, used the playground, or lived in the neighborhood is potentially at risk for asbestos-related illnesses. As of mid-2010 a construction company is using the property as a storage facility.

In early 1915 the company attempted to expand its operations but met some resistance from borough officials. To read about this click on: ANNEXATION ARTICLE. To read about the 1918 death of the company’s night watchman click on: WATCHMAN’S DEATH ARTICLE. To read George Cavert’s obituary click on: GEORGE’S OBITUARY.

An early view of the Cavert Wire factory and small office building (inset) along Factory Avenue in Ellwood City. (c1920) Full Size

Photo of Cavert Wire Company picnic, July 24, 1937. The Cavert factory building is visible to the left background. I can identify a few folks. From left end of bottom row (seated): On end is Joseph LaPatka, 3rd from end is Joseph Powell, and 5th from end is Russell Mohr, seated behind and just to right of Mohr is man identified as “Jack Cavert” but I do not know who that is, 8th from end is John Quigley, and 9th from end is Bill Quigley. From the right end of top row: 2nd from end with suspenders is O.C. Bosley, 6th from end is Russell Tinek. I am thinking that the tall guy in the middle back row (with the tie) is possibly company president Harold Cavert.

An advertisement from Cavert showing some examples of their bale tie products.

Heading west on Factory Ave in Ellwood City you approach the former site of Cavert Wire. I believe the small brick building to the right, with a sign reading Ellwood City Power & Light Office, was used an office by Cavert officials. Apr 2010.

The former Cavert Wire (and Zonolite) factory is visible in background. Apr 2010.

The abandoned factory sits behind a locked gate. Visible off in the distance to the left – behind the construction equipment – is the roof of the Moose lodge. Apr 2010.

A good view of the boarded-up factory. Apr 2010.

The Moose lodge and its parking lot now sit over the potentially-contaminated former site of the West End playground, built by the Cavert Wire company many years ago. Apr 2010.

The view of the crumbling factory from the parking lot of the Moose lodge. Apr 2010.

A closeup of the old factory from the Moose parking lot. (Jul 2010)

The company that currently owns the property has been storing heavy construction equipment on the lot. (Jul 2010)


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