Can you remember the sound of the hammer ringing out across town? How about the clanks and clangs of the presses or the scrape of the cold chisel? The plumes of steam and smoke rising into the sky on the east side of Titusville? These were all hallmark signs of one of Titusville’s most lucrative non-oil industries: steel-making.
Steel companies can trace their history deep into our collective past in the Oil Region. In large part, the establishment of steel in Titusville began with Charles Burgess.
Charles Burgess was born in England in 1841 and dropped out of school at the tender age of nine to begin working. He apprenticed in steel-making as a young man and eventually immigrated to the United States in 1866. Though Burgess would travel back and forth to England many times throughout his young life, he finally settled with his wife and family in Titusville in the 1880s.
Burgess purchased the failing Eames Petroleum Iron Works and converted it into what became Cyclops Steel Company in 1884. With his secret formula, Burgess invented the first high-speed, self-hardening tool steels in America. He was an artist, scientist, and engineer, all in one. The commemorative fifty year booklet for Cyclops Steel described Burgess as a master craftsman of his medium. It states that those whom he trained “exhibit a love for thoroughness and for finished work, accompanied by that pride in execution which is characteristic of the artistic instinct” (5). That level of quality in steel-making was a valued part of his company’s reputation throughout its history.
At Cyclops, steel-making was an art. “There is romance in the manufacture of steel as there is in every line of endeavor originated and propelled by men of vision, action and determination,” the company wrote in 1934 (3).
While steel-making was certainly an art, it was also incredibly dangerous. In the early years of the company, there were multiple reported injuries. In 1900, a man named William Joyce had his hands mangled by a hammer. Then, in 1905, a seventeen-year-old worker named John Hartwell was permanently blinded in one eye by a flying metal fragment from a cold chisel. Danger and art walked hand-in-hand in the Oil Region.
Despite the danger, steel-making provided a good, steady job. At this time (turn of the century), those who worked in the steel plant labored for nine-hour days making 12.5 cents an hour for unskilled work and 15 cents an hour for skilled work.
As Burgess neared retirement, he sought out investors who could grow the company. In February 1916, Burgess sold the company to Carl Boker & Sons of New York. Still operating under the name Cyclops, the new owners built larger facilities, furnaces, and mills. The company also grew as it acquired government defense contracts in making materiel, such as shells and airplane motors, for World War I. Though Burgess died in 1919, his death marked the end of the first stage of Cyclops’s development and the beginning of a new era.
In the post-war years, Cyclops went through hard times financially and needed a change of direction. In 1926, the company hired metallurgist Charles T. Evans to develop new specialty steels. Evans became a driving force in the success of the company over the coming decades.
Evans was the inventor of Cyclops’s two most important steels: No. 17 and K Steel. No. 17 Steel was used in seamless periscopes and oil industry tools. It was resistant to corrosion and fatigue. This steel was used by the U.S. Navy in their submarine periscopes and provided a long-lasting contract for the company. K Steel was primarily used in pitch propellers, air navigation, fast transport, and diesel engines. Cyclops sold these steels across the country with the company assurance of quality personal workmanship.
In 1935, Cyclops expanded by buying out the American Radiator Company in Titusville. The next year, it merged with Universal Rolling Mill Company out of Bridgeville, Pennsylvania and changed its name to Universal-Cyclops Steel Corporation.
Cyclops again contracted with the government during the Second World War and homes were created on Sunset Heights to house the influx of defense workers. Housing there is used still today. During World War II, Cyclops used the former Radiator Company site to produce items for ship turbines and airplane engines. This production continued during the Korean War in the 1950s. Throughout this period, and into the next, heavy-duty steam-powered steel hammers could be heard echoing through the valley up to five miles away. Steel-making was life now in the oil valley.
After Evans’s death in 1949, Cyclops continued to operate at full capacity, supplying specialty steels to industry throughout the U.S. and abroad. In 1971, sales were over three hundred million dollars and continued to rise.
A large change to the organizational structure came in October 1984 when the company decided that Titusville would be the new headquarters for the Cytemp Specialty Steel division. At that time, the Cyclops name was discontinued and Cytemp was born. Throughout the 1980s under the direction of president John E. Buser, Cytemp was successful in producing high temperature alloys in bar, billet, sheet, and strip forms, as well as stainless and high-speed steels in bar and billet forms.
The company hit hard times in the late 1980s and Armco, Inc. was supposed to buy it out in 1991. In April 1992 the companies finally did combine, albeit somewhat unsuccessfully. As a solution, former Armco managers formed their own company, Universal Stainless & Alloy, and in 1994 took over the Titusville and Bridgeville facilities. They remain operating as Universal Stainless & Alloy still today.
The history of Cyclops and Cytemp in the Oil Region are integral to our collective past and memory. Most everyone in this region can name a family member or friend who worked at at least one of the two operations or grew up during the heyday of steel-making in Titusville. Cyclops & Cytemp hosted company picnics, sponsored sports teams, and even had a founders club of employees who had dedicated at least thirty-five years of their lives to the steel industry. See below for a 1984 company photo – do you recognize anyone there?
The legacy of Burgess, Evans, and steel-making live on in Titusville. Burgess’s daughter, Helen Burgess Doty, gave the land that countless people have since enjoyed and which is named for her father: Burgess Park. The Specialty Steelmaker Statue that sits on the front lawn of Burgess Park was modeled after Cyclops hammersmith Frank Clark, who dedicated more than fifty years of his life to steel.
I tell this story not to hearken to the “heyday” of Titusville with forlorn eyes and memories, but to explore, illuminate, and enjoy the collective past from which we come. While our town might be smaller, and we may no longer hear the clang and clash of hammers, nor the screech of the barker or the hammering of the oil drill, our best days are not behind us. Our history unites us, but the best is yet to come.