Ferracute Goes to China

Mint Officials at Ferracute

Ferracute engineer Henry Janvier (L) and friend Sidney Bowen (R) were members of the Bridgeton Camera Club

Introduction

In 1897 Ferracute was awarded a contract through the American Trading Company to supply the Imperial Government of China with coin stamping presses and support equipment for two locations in inland China, one at the Hupeh Province at Wu chang and the other at Chentu in the Szechuan Province. The Chentu facility was to be a scaled-down version of the Philadelphia mint, with Ferracute handling all aspects of the project including design of the buildings to on-site installation of the equipment and operator training. Ferracute proceeded to design and build all the equipment and set up temporary working mint at the Bridgeton plant.

On March 24, 1897 officials from the Philadelphia and Washington DC mints attended a demonstration of the new presses and test strikes of the Chinese coins at Ferracute followed by grand reception at Oberlin Smith’s Lochwold estate adjacent to the plant. After a few adjustments, the equipment was lubricated, crated and shipped nearly a year in advance to help guarantee a smooth constriction project.

Mint Officials at Ferracute

March 24th 1897. Mint Officials from Philadelphia and Washington DC watch a demonstration of Coin presses before being sent to China. Oberlin Smith is in the top hat and Henry Janvier is behind him.

Thirty-Six year old engineer and press designer Henry Janvier, already a twenty-year veteran of Ferracute, was asked to make the China voyage and represent Ferracute as a special consultant to the American Trading Company. Janvier asked his friend Sidney Bowen to accompany him on the trip. Both men were founding members of the Bridgeton Camera Society, and in a few days they packed their bags and cameras for a and left Bridgeton, New Jersey on December 27, 1897 for journey of a life time... TOP

Journey Across the United States

Janvier and Bowen started in Philadelphia, PA and headed west with stops at Chicago, Denver, Omaha, Colorado Springs, San Bernadino and finally San Francisco to board a steamer to China. Janvier wrote often home to his mother and sister and described several aspects of his experiences while away.

“safe and sound in San Francisco today after a most delightful trip across the continent and we will sail tomorrow on the China – 5-Jan-1898

Henry on Train

Henry Janvier on Train

Trouble on the Ocean

Hardly out of sight of the western shores of the United states, Janvier and Bowen, on board the SS ‘China’ experienced the first of several mishaps:

“We sailed….from San Francisco on January 6th in very nasty weather. The fog was so dense the captain anchored his ship in San Francisco Bay. When we decided to proceed, we encountered waves sky high just outside the Golden gate. I wanted to make a snap shop of ‘Frisco…[I was] almost washed overboard in the course of the business [and] was saved only because I fetched up against a deck-house on the way to Eternity.”

During the rest of the mid-winter trip the China was struck by lightning and got in a typhoon and was blown off course. Janvier wrote of the incident:

“After the typhoon the life boats…..were mashed all to pieces, and were hanging from the upper deck. So you can judge a little about the height of the waves and their force”

Captain of the China

Captain of the China

On January 26, Janvier and Bowen arrived in Yokohama, their first stop on their way to inland China.

“When we arrived on Yokohama, our first stop, we could hardly walk. We navigated like drunken men….we rode rickshaws all over…” April 11, 1898

At Shanghai, Bowen decided to turn back, and re-boarded the China back to the United States. Whether Bowen ran out of money or simply had enough of the harrowing journey was not made clear...TOP

Traveling up River

At Shanghai, Janvier picked up a young English employee of the American Trading Company, Henry Everall, who would serve as his interpreter, companion and assistant for the next six months.

“So I received for my guide a first prize of a man named Henry J. Everall, an Englishman with a lifetime of Oriental experience…He trimmed my personal pack down to….all else with the exception of my camera, and certain fundamental necessities, we set aside. Everall packed a rifle-I had a revolver”

In addition to Everall, a special traveling companion was added to the group. Janvier wrote:

“Just before we started, we were joined by a third member of our party. Everall borrowed a dog. This stout fellow, whose parents were bull terrior (mostly) had plenty of verve, nerve and personality..He provided comedy by day, was a faithful guardian by night” BEN 1939

Janvier, Everal and Snooks

Henry Everall (L) Janvier and "Snooks" the dog aboard the house boat

One order of business was to rent a houseboat. Janvier wrote:

“We selected a boat suitable for our purpose…Our boat is about fifty feet long and ten feet wide with a house high enough to stand in comfortably, covering most of it……There are twenty-four Chinamen to run the boat for us……

Boats on the River

House Boats for Rent on the Yanzee River

On Foot to Chengdu

Janvier described the last leg of his voyage to Chengdu being slightly unnerving: TOP

“Often there would be a path, barely wide enough for a man to walk around a very high cliff and where the Cooleys would turn a corner the chair would sing out into midair. The forst one of these places nearly turned me green and when I spied one of them in the distance, I would have greatest kind upon my Cooleys and ask to walk”

Janvier and party on Foot to Chengdu

Problems in Chengdu

Unknown to Janvier, the building blueprints got hung up in Shaghai and never made it to Chengdu, so when his party arrived on April 3rd he found two smaller unconnected buildings rather than the large structure Ferracute had designed the equipment for. As a result the entire belt and shaft system to power the plant had to be redesigned, but that was only the start.

The machinery, shipped now a year earlier, had not yet arrived in Chengdu. Two weeks later the first parts of the machinery started to arrive. To Janvier’s dismay, boxes of parts started arriving without their protective crating, the crates being broken up and stolen for firewood. Far worse was the discovery that the raft carrying much of the precision press equipment had been unloaded on the dry river bank of the Yangtse, at low water. The river had proceeded to flood before the equipment could be moved and had laid submerged for about six weeks.

“some of the machinery has arrived here and the most of it has been soaking in water for the dear knows how long, until it has a coat of rust nearly one thirty-second thick and if some of the coining presses have fared the same way……..”

Rusted equipment being moved into the Mint

For the next several weeks, Janvier knocked apart the badly rusted machinery with a hammer, and with the aid of a rare find of a can of kerosene, carefully soaked the precision bearings and shafts and began reassembling the equipment TOP

Broken Down Machinery

Henry Janvier with a room full of damaged equipment

Success and Trip Home

On July 12, 1898, Janvier wrote home that the machinery was in operation and he was occupied in training the Chinamen workers on operating the equipment.

Machinery on its side

Janvier Poses with recently installed equipment at the Chengdu Mint

Epilogue

Henry Janvier was born April 25, 1861, in Daretown New Jersey. The Janvier family moved to Bridgeton when Henry was thirteen. In his early teens Henry attended Tremont Seminary in Norristown, PA and began to study law. Discontent caused him to abandon his law studies and start work as an apprentice for Oberlin Smith in the fall of 1878 at the rate of five cents per hour.

The young man rose steadily through the company, and took evening mechanical engineering classes in Philadelphia after work. He eventually rose through the positions of draftsman and engineer to general manager and Vice President of the Ferracute Machine Company. Upon the passing of Oberlin Smith, Janvier assumed the position of chief engineer, the position Smith personally held for sixty-three years.

In 1885 Janvier was introduced to the camera and continued this interest for the rest of his life. By February of 1890, he and his friends, including Sidney Bowen, organized the Bridgeton Camera and Wheel Society, which combined two popularities at the time, photography and bicycles. The society had its own upper room headquarters in the city of Bridgeton on Commerce St, and Janvier served as its first president. Eventually this gathering spot became a center of Bridgeton social life with the latest magazines and techniques of the photography hobby and darkroom supplies.

Not the initial choice for the trip, Janvier was quick to say yes to the 1897-98 trip of a lifetime around the world. Janvier took advantage of his photography skills to capture sights and scenes never before captured on film and glass.

When the Ferracute factory was totally destroyed by fire in 1903, the newly built office held an ingenious darkroom on the upper floor.

Henry last exhibited his photographs in 1950 at the 60th anniversary of the Bridgeton Camera Society. His lifelong passion for photography resulted in a collection of thousands photographs, many receiving state and national awards.

Henry Janvier late 1940's

Henry Janvier late 1940's

Henry Janvier retired from Ferracute in 1943 but continued to work for the company without pay. He passed away at his home on East Avenue in Bridgeton, across the lake from the plant, at the age of 90 in 1952. TOP

Further Reading

Read the account of the Ferracute China Trip in the words of Oberlin Smith and Henry Janvier themselves.