Beckley Furnace made pig iron, way up in East Canaan, CT, right?
What could that possibly have to do with international trade and tariffs?
As it turns out, a fair amount!
You’ll recall that Beckley Furnace was owned for most of its useful life by the Barnum and Richardson Company. They used the output of Beckley largely to manufacture railroad car wheels at their Lime Rock foundries. Barnum and Richardson also effectively used a marketing technique called “product differentiation” to make its pig iron and its railroad car wheels different from the pig iron and railroad car wheels manufactured by others at that time.
“Salisbury iron” was advertised to be different from other iron — so much so that Barnum and Richardson named their iron mine in Michigan the “Salisbury Mine” even though it was mining an entirely different kind of iron ore for use in their Chicago wheel foundry just to permit them to attach a shred of honesty to their claim that all their car wheels were indeed made of “Salisbury ore”. (Since Beckley used almost entirely ore from the Ore Hill mine and another mine in the Township of Salisbury, calling it “Salisbury ore” was not a problem for the Beckley output — it was this other ore from Michigan that required a little bit of poetic license.
Back to the tariff:
Senator Barnum, a principal of Barnum and Richardson, was politically a Democrat, and in business terms a robber baron. He was disposed — both for his own economic interests and politically — to favor high tariffs on imports, especially imported pig iron and railroad car wheels, and for the most part high tariffs were in effect during this period.
Then along came a new Democratic presidential candidate, Grover Cleveland — and Senator Barnum, in his role has Chair of the National Democratic Committee, was expected to support the candidate’s policies, which happened to favor low tariffs. Senator Barnum, a good party man, swallowed his pride, subordinated his economic interests, sucked in, and supported the Democratic platform, upon which Grover Cleveland was elected President of the United States.
Where was the payoff for Senator Barnum?
Well, when Barnum died in 1889, during the four years that elapsed between the two terms that Cleveland served as President, Cleveland attended Barnum’s funeral at Trinity Church in Lime Rock. It was, presumably, a duty call — the press of the day reported that Mr. Cleveland left immediately following the services.
It would be an interesting exercise to track Beckley Furnace production against various tariff schemes in effect during the years it was functioning, and perhaps someone will eventually do that.
However, it is reasonably clear that export of Barnum and Richardson railroad car wheels, particularly to Latin America, continued strong through most of this period. It was said that as recently as 1975 Barnum and Richardson car wheels were still turning on railroads in Latin America — perhaps the last continent in which they were still in use.