Bicentennial Belleville: U.S. Smelting was a hot innovator

News-DemocratApril 12, 2014 

The industrial area in East Belleville contributed greatly to Belleville's reputation as an industrial center in the Twentieth Century. Most of those business are gone now and only shells remain. U.S. Smelting Furnace Co. opened in Belleville in the early 1900's and closed its doors in 1988. They were a leader in rotary melting furnaces, incinerators, rotary kilns, cryogenic equipment, and refractories for industries across the world.

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Editor's note: This is part of the Bicentennial Belleville series of videos on Belleville's history that will appear in conjunction with the city's bicentennial celebration.

Travel the MetroLink bike trail between Scheel and East Main streets and you will see the ghosts of Belleville's industrial past.

The trail and light rail lines follow the old Louisville and Nashville railroad. It serviced Orbon Stove, Excelsior Foundry, Egyptian Foundry, Harrison Machine Works, Oakland Foundry, Enterprise Foundry, Ideal Stencil and other manufacturers. U.S. Smelting Furnace Co. was there, too.

In 1869, James Jones left Manchester, England, for America. He set up shop in St. Louis and established himself as one of the best brass manufacturers in the country.

He moved to Belleville and founded James Jones Co. in 1888. Jones died in 1900.

Arthur Jones, his son, left California to take over his father's business and marry a Belleville girl, Georgianna Rogers. He changed the focus from brass to developing and manufacturing furnaces for industrial use. He established U.S. Smelting Furnace Co.

Arthur Jones built a new factory at 1200 E. A St. on the L&N Railroad tracks and hired Dr. Andrew Malinovsky as a consultant. Malinovsky invented a rotating melting furnace, sort of like a cement mixer that would turn as it heated ingredients to 5,000 or 6,000 degrees. The furnace revolutionized the metallurgical and ceramics industry by evenly mixing ingredients.

The furnace was marketed for creating quality enamel -- the hard, glassy coating for metal. That would be the coating Belleville's Roesch Enamel and the city's many stove companies placed on kitchen appliances to prevent rust and ease cleaning.

In 1976 the compay produced its largest and first continuous process kiln, weighing more than 45,000 pounds as it left the shop and more than 100,000 pounds when installation was complete at the Dow Chemical plant in Freeport, Texas.

Robert Hess, president of C. E. Industries Corp., the parent company of U.S. Smelting, said: "Our current fiscal year looks like the best in our history. We are running at almost double last year's business and well over 10 percent ahead of the best year in our 58 years."

Then came its $1 million year in 1980. The company landed the contract to make incinerators to burn up construction waste from the Alaskan Pipeline. It was also selling incinerators to hospitals for medical waste.

But the end came swiftly in 1988. As U.S. Smelting celebrated its 100th year in Belleville, tougher environmental laws killed the market for incinerators.

"We survived all them years. Where the other companies kept growing and stuff like that, we kind of stayed the same and survived on what we did best," said Tom Schanherr, who ended his 24 years with the company as shop foreman.

Schanherr rescued some of the company's history from the trash bin. See accompanying images of what he carried away.

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