Business History in Northeast Pennsylvania


SC Staff Writer

On February 19, ESU’s Beers Lecture Hall hosted four speakers who presented on the early history of business in northeastern Pennsylvania.

The speakers were invited to discuss the city of Easton in the 1750s, Bethlehem Steel, the impact of the ice and tanning industries in the Poconos, and early tourism in the area.

The event was organized by the chair of the Business Management department, Dr. Sheila Handy, and was attended by ESU President Marcia Welsh.

Richard Hope, an adjunct professor of Business Management, led off by talking about early commerce in Easton. Easton was founded in 1752 and became a commercial source for much of the entire area.

It started back with the French and Indian War. After the war ended, Easton was chosen as the venue where postwar negotiations were discussed.

All the military and its staffs, the Native Americans, the Quakers, and the legislators from Philadelphia converged to Easton to negotiate the peace treaties.

Commerce in Easton then focused on the grain market. This grain was then distilled into whiskey, and merchants in Easton were able to make profit.

The leftover grain was fed to animals, so Easton became a marketplace for pigs and cattle.

At its height in the 1830s, Easton was shipping 200,000 barrels of wheat and rye flour and corn meal.

There were also four distilleries and a brewery in Easton.

The opening of the canal allowed Easton access to New York City. Thus, Easton became a commercial hub, shipping to the cities of Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.

With its pubs and taverns, Easton also became the Las Vegas and Havana of its time for the cities of New York and Philly.

It was a place for adults to get away and have fun.

The Civil War proved to be disastrous for Easton.

Railroads were built in the aftermath of the war, and that made the city of Easton less relevant.

Easton would experience something of an economic revival when Francis Walter became a congressman.

Because Walter served on the House Patronage Committee, he was able to direct a lot of commercial projects to his congressional district in Northampton County.

That ended with his death in 1963.

The next speaker was David Long. He spoke at length about Bethlehem Steel.

Bethlehem Steel is responsible for heavy forging facilities such as defense, shipbuilding power generation, and machine energy, wide-flange structural shapes that are used in building bridges, and tool steels and alloy bars that are used in metal cutting, machinery, and armory.

World War I and II put Bethlehem Steel on the map.

In 1914, Bethlehem Steel received a $135 million contract from the British navy for guns, ordnance, and 20 submarines.

In 1940, Bethlehem Steel got $300 million worth of orders from Britain for warships, guns, and ordnance.

President Franklin Roosevelt would call on Bethlehem Steel to build more than 70 warships and 100 cargo carriers for the United States Navy.

Bethlehem Steel is responsible for building the U.S. Supreme Court and a number of bridges including the Ben Franklin, George Washington, Golden Gate, and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

Bethlehem Steel is also known for having a racially diverse workforce.

In 1943, the corporation employed 283,765 people including about 25,000 women.

Next to speak was Dr. Ian Ackroyd-Kelly, a retired professor of geography at ESU. He claimed that the business history of the Poconos could be summarized as going from “bust to bust to bust.”

The Poconos were home to large forests, so logging became a commercial staple.

These forests led to the process of tanning. Tanning required tannic acid from the trees and was the process used to make leather.

Because of the cold winters, Monroe County became a leader in harvesting ice. The ice was then distributed to places as far as New York and Philadelphia.

The ice harvesting industry led to the glass making industry in the Poconos.

In the 1850s, the railroad came to the Poconos. In fact, East Stroudsburg was originally called Dansbury, but because it was located next to Stroudsburg, Dansbury was renamed East Stroudsburg.

The railroad enabled heavier items to be transported through the Poconos. The railroad also affected the tourism industry.

Eventually, Interstate 80 and the bridge across the Delaware River enabled better road access to the Poconos. More commerce led to the development of the resort industry.

The final speaker was Dr. Albert Moranville, Chair of the Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Department.

He said that prior to the 1850s, tourism was not a major factor because the Poconos were not easy to get to. That changed when the railroad came to the Poconos.

Dr. Moranville spoke about the old hotels in the area. Many hotels, such as the Kittatinny Hotel, the Water Gap House, the Montanesca Hotel, and the Mount Pleasant House, do not remain today because they were all made out of wood and have since been destroyed by fire.

World War II gave rise to the honeymoon resorts, Mount Airy Lodge, and Woodlock Pines Resort. Cove Haven Resort became one of the more famous romantic getaways in the Poconos.

The rise of the honeymoon resort correlated with the rise of the baby boom generation. These resorts were especially popular until the 1980s.

Dr. Moranville said that with travel becoming cheaper, the Poconos have become less of a place to get away. Nevertheless, the Poconos still remain an attraction for canoeing in the summer and skiing in the winter. Dr. Moranville added that more development in the Pocono Mountains is planned for the future.

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