Wrought iron sash originators

Cover of the Mesker Brothers Iron Company window catalog, excerpted from the 1938 Sweet’s Architectural Catalogue. Image courtesy of the APT Building Technology Heritage Library and the Internet Archive.

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.”

Mesker’s cruciform sash advertised in the 1927-28 Sweet’s catalog. Image courtesy of the APT Building Technology Heritage Library and the Internet Archive.

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.

Mesker’s logo for its line of wrought iron sash in the 1930 industrial windows catalog. Image courtesy of the APT Building Technology Heritage Library and the Internet Archive.

1930s cast bronze ashtray from Mesker Brothers Iron Works, promoting their Genuine Wrought Iron Sash. Obviously intended to be a Christmas gift, most likely for clients or sales representatives.

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.

Patent no. 1,882,249 for (window) ventilator construction by Francis A. Mesker, assignor to Mesker Brothers. Image from the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Typical window details in the 1936 Mesker Brothers Iron Company window catalog. Image courtesy of the APT Building Technology Heritage Library and the Internet Archive.

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.

Examples of Mesker window installations in the 1936 Mesker Brothers Iron Company catalog. Image courtesy of the APT Building Technology Heritage Library and the Internet Archive.

Examples of nationwide installations of Mesker windows in the Mesker Brothers Iron Company window catalog, excerpted from the 1938 Sweet’s Architectural Catalogue. Image courtesy of the APT Building Technology Heritage Library and the Internet Archive.

Examples of nationwide installations of Mesker windows in the Mesker Brothers Iron Company window catalog, excerpted from the 1938 Sweet’s Architectural Catalogue. Image courtesy of the APT Building Technology Heritage Library and the Internet Archive.

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.

U.S. Treasury Department Procurement Division Building in Washington, D.C., under construction. Photograph taken in 1932. Image courtesy of EHT Traceries.

U.S. Treasury Department Procurement Division Building in Washington, D.C. as it appeared in the 1936 Mesker Brothers Iron Company catalog. Image courtesy of the APT Building Technology Heritage Library and the Internet Archive.

“A general view of the Treasury Department’s Procurement Division showing architects at work drawing plans for the new building program under the recently approved Relief-Recovery Act. Blueprints at the rate of 30,000 a day are being made from the designs drafted by the federal architects.” Photograph by Harris & Ewing, July 6, 1938. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Interior of the warehouse at the U.S. Treasury Department Procurement Division Building in Washington, D.C. Photograph by Harris & Ewing, ca. 1937. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

General Services Administration Regional Office Building located at 7th & D Streets, S.W., Washington, D.C., without its Mesker windows since 1964. Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, March 2012. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

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.

Municipal Building (1934), Portsmouth, OH. Although the building underwent some changes since this historic photograph was taken, it still retains it’s wrought iron windows by Mesker Brothers Iron Company. Image courtesy of Local History Digital Collection.

Pair of ca. mid-1930s solid bronze fasteners for Mesker casement windows. Details of the patent application are unknown. Gift from David Mesker.

 

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