To meet growing customer demand for fire-retardant products, in the early 1900s Mesker Brothers Iron Works began to offer fireproof hollow metal windows. In the early 1910s, the product line was extended to include solid section steel industrial sash and casements although the windows remained a minor component among a myriad of still primarily galvanized sheet metal products. However, by the end of the decade, Mesker abandoned manufacture of nearly all other metal products except for windows, doors and stairs. This very focused product line continued through the 1920s with continual improvements and refinements, such as introduction of “cruciform bars,” or extra heavy, arc welded solid rolled steel sections that Mesker advertised as “indestructible from rust or corrosion.”
A major shift occurred in 1929 with the development of genuine wrought iron sash, touted as the best corrosion resistant ferrous metal available and, therefore, of superior quality over steel windows (though the company continued to offer windows in both materials). According to 1936 company literature, “only Genuine Wrought Iron contains the three essentials for resisting progressive corrosion, essentials that the old-timers never knew, but which modern chemistry and photomicrographs have revealed to us: FIRST, slag content of about 6% by volume. SECOND, purity of base metal “Fe” free from excessive impurities. THIRD, exclusive process of manufacture—puddling below the melting point.” Calling themselves the “wrought iron sash originators,” Mesker Brothers emphasized weight and quality in metal window construction.
On October 11, 1932, Mesker was also granted a patent for improvements to window pivot construction (patent no. 1,882,249). The Mesker Cup Pivots for ventilator sash construction were made of “malleable iron cup and bronze disc design riveted on the center line of ventilator bars” and were said to be weather-tight, rust proof, with a large bearing surface, and providing simple screening and maximum ease of operation for the life of the window.
Without detailed accounting records from this era, it’s impossible to determine the number of buildings with Mesker-supplied windows. While Mesker Brothers does not appear to have rivaled the giants of steel sash industry such as Detroit Steel Products Company (Fenestra), they clearly attained enough commissions to sustain, and in fact, grow the company during these decades. The wrought iron may not have been for everyone, but not everyone was making it either—in the 1938 Sweet’s Architectural Catalogue, Mesker’s wrought iron sash was one of just two—therefore allowing the company to thrive in this market niche.
Unlike their distinctively designed 19th century metal building fronts, at street level Mesker steel or wrought iron windows are practically impossible to distinguish from countless others. Only the company’s catalog advertisements provide a few verified locations and hint at the scale of Mesker window production. A prominent commission was for the U.S. Treasury Department Procurement Division Building in Washington, D.C., advertised at least twice in the company’s 1936 and 1938 catalogs. Aside from featuring a few dramatic photographs of completed installations, the catalogs sought to impress by listing such “nationally known customers” as International Harvester, Chevrolet, Carnegie Steel, Seagram’s, Montgomery Ward, and Firestone, among others.
Many of the buildings listed in the catalogs survive, although often without their Mesker Genuine Wrought Iron Sash, as in the Procurement Division Building. The seven-story concrete structure was designed by William T. Partridge, consulting architect to the Office of Public Buildings and is one of the earliest examples of federal architecture in Washington, D.C., fashioned in the Art Deco/Art Moderne style. Upon its completion in 1935, the building served as the office and warehouse of the newly formed Procurement Division of the U.S. Treasury Department. Data, plans, and estimates for public buildings and projects were assembled there, as well as the direction of procurement, warehousing and distribution of government property and supplies. The ample daylight provided by Mesker’s windows was critical to the work of the building’s 4,000 employees. Following the establishment of the General Services Administration (GSA) in 1949, the building became the regional headquarters of the agency and in a 1964 renovation lost its industrial windows. This loss of exterior integrity appears to have been a critical factor in GSA’s failed attempt to obtain National Register of Historic Places eligibility for the building. No one should be surprised that historic windows do matter in establishing a property’s historic integrity.
Thankfully, the Mesker Wrought Iron Sash do survive in at least a few buildings, such as the Post Office and Courthouse in Ponca City, Oklahoma, and the Municipal Building in Portsmouth, Ohio, both outstanding Art Deco structures. Additionally, church windows—Mesker sash which was infilled with art leaded glass made by others—appear to still exist at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and at the St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, New York.
Aside from a pair of bronze casement window fasteners gifted by David Mesker, I have yet to see in person a Mesker metal window of any vintage. Are there hundreds or thousands still in existence? Some may bear a U.L. label, but most will go unnoticed, as is expected of such an utilitarian object. However, window use and appreciation of their history, design, craftsmanship, and even marketing, are not mutually exclusive; they can be seen and seen out of at the same time. Either way, we should take the time to admire the view.
2 thoughts on “Wrought iron sash originators”
Very Interesting article, glad I found it! We are restoring a residence in Austin TX designed by Charles Granger (his first residence for his young family). We have the building registered on the National Register as well as the State of Texas and City of Austin. Plans are dated 1938 and we believe the building was built in 1941. It is International Style with lots of steel (cast Iron?) casement windows. We are missing hardware for a few windows and I noticed the Mesker name on the bronze fasteners which led me to your article. We’ve been looking for parts to fill the gaps but after reading your article it seems unlikely we will find any but will keep trying.
If it has Mesker hardware is it likely then that the windows are Mesker cast iron as well? They are welded into the steel frame of the building…
I’m glad that you found the article interesting, Jeff! Yes, I believe that the Mesker hardware indicates that the windows themselves are Mesker-made too. They could be either wrought iron or steel. Although all of these various metal windows from this time period may seem the same, the construction details were often proprietary and hardware was window specific. I would love to learn more about your windows and get some basic details about the house, including photos, to add it to the Mesker database.
As far as replacement pieces, salvage is likely the only option (unless you have someone make custom castings…). I wouldn’t give up though. If you let me know what you are looking for, I can keep an eye out as well. Please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org