H.K. Porter Inc. was founded in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1866 when Henry K. Porter and John Y. Smith opened a small machine shop that built and repaired industrial equipment. By the following year, the men had their first order for a locomotive. Together they would eventually build 43, four-wheeled saddle tank, locomotives, used on light industrial railroads. At that time, the company was known as Smith and Porter.
The company cornered the locomotive market 20 years later and received about 90 percent of all orders placed in the United States for such trains. In 1911, the company built its first gasoline powered locomotive as ownership belonged solely to Porter. A few years, H.K. Porter built a “fireless” locomotive, which used a large pressure vessel to hold steam and hot water in place of the traditional boiler.
The company soon dominated the fireless locomotive market and enjoyed a prosperous post-war economy that kept business booming. H.K. Porter was noted as being the largest producer of industrial locomotives, having manufactured some 8,000 of these machines. In 1921, Henry Porter died, having run the company up until his death.
Afterwards, the company began to decline and declared bankruptcy in 1939. Entrepreneur Thomas Mellon Evans purchased the company soon after and turned it around for a short time, profiting from the need for equipment during World War II.
Because of the extreme heat produced by locomotives, many of these machines included parts that contained asbestos, a well-known insulation material that was used extensively during the first three-quarters of the twentieth century. As a result of the health hazards associated with asbestos use, legal claims quickly followed the company.
After the war, railroad travel and overall use of railroads for industrial purposes declined drastically. The company finally made its last locomotive in 1950 but continued to manufacture other industrial products.
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Matt Mauney is an award-winning journalist with nearly a decade of professional writing experience. He joined Asbestos.com in 2016, and he spends much of his time reading, analyzing and reporting on mesothelioma research articles to ensure people in the mesothelioma community know the latest medical advancements. Prior to joining Asbestos.com, Matt was a reporter at the Orlando Sentinel. Matt also edits some of the pages on the website. He also holds a certificate in health writing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read More