Ferracute Goes to China
Exhibit at the Burton Showroom Gallery
Opened in the summer of 2011, this, our most ambitious to date, presented a glimpse of the now famous trip to China made by engineer Henry A. Janvier in 1897-1898 to inland China. Janvier was sent to set up coin minting equipment for the Chinese Government, manufactured by the Ferracute Machine Company that Oberlin Smith founded in 1863.
Bunting and Chinese lanterns attempt to recreate the atmosphere of the 1897 open house demonstration at Ferracute
This is the most interesting chapter of the Ferracute and Oberlin Smith story, though not the most important scientifically significant, or very closely related to the industrial changes Smith introduced. The uniqueness of this exhibit lies in its high visual content, due to the photographs and memoirs of Henry Janvier, engineer and friend Sydney Bowen. Janvier and Bowen, were experienced amateur photographers, and members of the Bridgeton Camera club. Their combined images and letters tell the story without words.
Images along the western wall of the gallery describe the Ferracute Machine company and the person of Oberlin Smith
Over thirty rare images, some never before published, have been gathered with background material, to present this important event in the history of Bridgeton. Worldwide interest in Ferracute and Oberlin Smith has been fueled by the 1985 publication of Cox and Malin, "Ferracute, the History of an American Enterprise" and the 1988 breakthrough paper by German audio engineer, Frederick Carl Engel establishing Smith as the Father of Magnetic Recording.
Jack McGowan (R) tells a boyhood story of riding in one of Oberlin Smith's cars to exhibit curator Art Cox
This chapter falls in the small space of time when the Emperor wanted to bring western influence to the wilds of inner China. Ferracute took advantage of this eastern trade opportunity and won a bid to supply coin minting machinery to three new mints in inland China. Already experienced in providing coin presses for the Philadelphia Mint and others, Ferracute engineers took on the task in planning, building, shipping and setting up the three modern coin press mints. Within four years, a coup replaced the young emperor with the Dowager Empress who reigned until the Boxer Rebellion when the western countries forced the modernization of Imperial China.
Most interesting are the four parts of the trip:
- Cross country by train from Philadelphia to San Francisco
- By ship across the Pacific Ocean to Japan and China
- Up the Yangtze River and across land for two weeks by sedan chair
- Life in Chentgu, Szechuan Province.
Janvier slighted the trip home with only a few photos of the return trip that completed his round the world adventure. This exhibit brings together Janvier's and Bowen's letters home, news articles from Bridgeton, Philadelphia and New York City newspapers, a log that Janvier kept of his cross-country and ocean adventures and the articles published later in his lifetime. Unfortunately all the correspondence to Ferracute, were lost at the breakup of the company.
Bob Hearn, Great-nephew of Sidney Bowen, shares stories during the exhibit opening reception
The efforts and generosity of the Burton family have made this venue possible.
The volunteers who work consistently to research, collect, plan, create and present our exhibits; Maria Cedra-Moreno, Art Cox, Debbie Del Collo, Jay Gandy, Bob Hearn, Joan McAllister, Chris and Rachel Meyers, John Oesterling, Sue Smith and Russ Woodward.