View Full Version : Wendell August Forge Burns to the Ground

03-07-2010, 07:23 AM

GROVE CITY -- The Wendell August Forge, an American institution that has furnished generations of families with its hand-cast decorative ornaments and plates, burned to the ground Saturday afternoon.

About 25 employees and 15 tourists and shoppers were in the building when the fire started. They all escaped unharmed.

The fire started around 2 p.m. in a workshop where an employee was spraying a lacquer on the company's bronze pieces. The blaze quickly spread to other parts of the 25,000-square-foot cinderblock structure, which houses the factory and gift shop.

"It was pretty well done pretty much in an hour," said Grove City fire Chief Jeff Badger.

The entire back half of the building collapsed within a couple of hours, leaving a heap of ashen rubble.

"It has been a tough day for this community and our employees. We are so thankful and blessed that no one was hurt," said company president Frank W. "Will" Knecht.

Mr. Knecht said he was relieved when he learned that the forge's more than 2,000 unique dies had been spared, preserved in a vault. The dies are shaping models made of steel that imprint designs into the items being made.

He said the company is more than a business.

"This company is not just a purveyor of goods. We're preserving history, American craftsmanship," he said.

Wendell August Forge is the only remaining manufacturer of its kind in the United States, according to the company.

Mr. Knecht said the company plans to rebuild as soon as possible.

The factory -- a tourist attraction in which people would walk among the craftspeople -- is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

According to its website, Wendell August Forge was founded in Brockway, Jefferson County, in 1923 and moved to Grove City in 1934.

The company, which employed 50 people, made fixtures for the Stouffer restaurant chain and for passenger ships. During the Depression, it made architectural pieces including aluminum grills, lights and fixtures. Two forge pieces are in the Smithsonian Institution.

The factory, which sat on Madison Avenue under a large American flag, has been owned by Mr. Knecht's family since 1978. Its craftspeople make ornaments, trays, bowls, figurines and coasters.

All products -- made of pewter, stainless and sterling silver, bronze, aluminum and copper -- are hammered into hand-carved steel dies in a process called "reposse."

Wendell August is the creator of this process and the only working forge in Pennsylvania, said Laurie Kerkering, co-manager of the Exton store, one of four the forge operates.

The foundry produced the signature "flying ducks" chafing dish known to generations of Americans, as well as a souvenir coaster depicting the Pittsburgh skyline. The forge also made 75 light fixtures for St. Bernard Church in Mt. Lebanon and 12 bronze plates for President Jimmy Carter and other signers of the SALT II arms treaty in 1979.

This really saddens me....what a terrible loss. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Wendell August Forge is one the places that I love to visit every few years when I go home for Thanksgiving. I have many pieces and some Christmas ornaments.........every time I touch them, a little piece of me goes home.

03-07-2010, 07:34 AM
OMG I am shocked to hear this! :jawdrop:

I have a bunch of Wendell August Forge plates and the clock in my living room is a tribute to Pittsburgh WAF piece.

Thank God no one was hurt and I hope they will rebuild and carry on with the great quality and unique design that is WAF. :hope:

03-07-2010, 10:51 AM
I was on their website this morning and they say that a chapter has ended but they will rebuild in Grove City and hope to be open by Christmas and that they are still open for business. ( they have two other locations) The site is down right now... the news must be generating alot of hits. I have quite a few pieces, too. The mirror I carry in my purse is a WAF and I bought Kayla her "First Christmas" ornament there. I think just about everybody from western Pa. has some WAF.

03-07-2010, 12:49 PM
They also made ornaments commemorating Mellon Arena's final season, which you can buy through their website. It's a very nice piece and is the only thing the Pens have done to celebrate Mellon's last season. Here's a picture of it:


I'm glad no one was hurt and that they are planning to rebuild.