My hope in creating this blog is to learn more about the history of Risdon Iron Works. But a blog about such a narrow topic could very well have a short shelf life. So its perfectly okay with me to talk about other aspects of San Francisco waterfront history including its contributions to shipbuilding and heavy manufacturing, or even the relationship of its historical heritage to present-day development plans. Also, the photos in the James A. Brandt collection demonstrate the diversity of industrial manufacturing along the turn-of-the-century San Francisco waterfront and the contributions made by the companies that operated here to the development of the West. I’d like to learn more about this history, too. So if you also have an interest, don’t be shy.


69 thoughts on “”

  1. My hope in creating this blog is to learn more about the history of Risdon Iron Works. But a blog about such a narrow topic will probably have a very short shelf life. So its perfectly okay with me to talk about other aspects of San Francisco waterfront history including its contributions to shipbuilding and heavy manufacturing, or even the relationship of its historical heritage to present-day development plans. For instance, the photos in the James A. Brandt collection demonstrate the diversity of industrial manufacturing along the early waterfront and its contribution to the manufacture of mining equipment, pumps, locomotives, water wheels and steam-driven engines. I’d like to learn more about this equipment, too. So if you also have an interest, let me know.

    1. I was very pleased to find your blog last week. Over the last 25 years I have tried to research this cool old Fire Hydrant without any luck. Even with the firefighter memorabilia crowds and San Francisco Historians. Within an hour of finding your site I was able to piece together a rather exact history of this Hydrant. It was obviously made after the 06 Quake and before 1911.

      I will try and get some better pictures to share but this thing is so heavy to move into an more appropriate surrounding for photographing. In all my reading about Risdon Iron Works I find nothing regarding manufacturing Fire Hydrants for the City of San Francisco. I would guess the Number 4 cast into the top must mean the district it served. I would love to know more about this if anyone out there has the knowledge. I’m not sure how to upload the photos. Please teach me.

      Mike Knoy
      San Jose California

    2. Hi Bill!

      I’m an historian in Honolulu working on a context study for our upcoming Honolulu Rapid Transit Authority National Register nomination for historic properties that the rail line impacts as it is constructed across the landscape. I have been doing some research on Risdon as they were in direct competition with Honolulu Iron Works to produce cane harvesting and processing equipment. Unfortunately, Honolulu Iron Works had business all over the world and they probably couldn’t compete here. They are listed the following way in the Polk’s Commercial Directory for Honolulu in 1905-1906: Husted’s Classified Business Directory of Honolulu and the Hawaiian Islands. Honolulu and Oahu first and other Islands following. 1905-1906., Honolulu: F. M. Polk Co. Publisher. [pg. 323]. Their representative married a daughter of management of the Oahu Plantation Company. Their nuptials can be found in the newspaper for 1898 (I think–I didn’t save it) but can easily be retrieved through the digital newspaper site “Chronicling America”. Maybe if you find the names, you can do more research from your end on the groom. The firm didn’t last long here as that is the last entry for the company, but they did have offices in downtown Honolulu. You might also like to go onto the State of Hawaii Department of Accounting and General Services, go to Land Survey and download the registry and take a look at the Oahu Plantation in Aiea. They began in 1904.

      If you would like, and I have time, I can check the yearly directories at our archives and try to give you a spread of time that Risdon was here. So you or anyone else have any photos of any equipment related to the processing of sugar cane? (crushing mills, boilers, evaporation pans, centrifuges, etc.) It would be great to add that info to our database.

      Thanks, Mahalo,

      Wendy Tolleson MA
      Historian and Archaeologist

      1. Wendy,

        Thanks so much for the information. It always amazes me that so much of Risdon’s work was for activities that were outside of California (Africa, Australia, Canada, Nevada and Hawaii).

        I’m generally aware of the connection that Risdon Iron Works had with the Hawaiian sugar industry, but I’m not familiar with the details or the time period. In the James Brandt Photograph Collection, there are several pictures of pumps and steam-driven engines that were slated for use at sugar plantations in Hawaii. These were all very large-volume water pumps, with very high pumping heads. I’m not familiar with how cane sugar is refined and processed, so I don’t know how these pumps fit into the scheme of things – but they were very large pumps! I’ve included some photos.

        The Brandt photo collection includes photos of equipment for the following Hawaiian sugar companies:

        Honolulu Plantation Company
        McBryde Sugar Plantation Company
        R.R. Hind
        Hutchinson Sugar Plantation Company
        Spreckels Sugar Company

        It’s easy to speculate that the connection Risdon Iron Works had with sugar processing in Hawaii came about through business connections in San Francisco. As you know, the social and economic connections between San Francisco and Hawaii were very strong in the 19th century, and many (most?) of Hawaii’s businessmen were residents of San Francisco or split their time between the two locations. Of course, Claus Spreckels comes to mind immediately, and it’s an easy for me to make a direct connection between his son, John D. Spreckels, and John Risdon, the founder of Risdon Iron Works.

        It’s also interesting to note that John Risdon was a co-founder of the California Sugar Beet Company in Union City, California. This company became Holly Sugar. It may be pure coincidence, but the President of the California Sugar Beet Company was named “General Hutchinson.” I wonder if there is any connection with Alexander Hutchinson who established the Hutchinson Sugar Plantation Company in Hawaii (one of Hawaii’s earliest sugar companies)?

        What is the name of the person you mentioned, who was married in Hawaii? Was this a Risdon, or someone else?

        I certainly would be interested to learn anything you might find about Risdon’s activities in Hawaii. I’m more than happy to help in any way I can.



      2. Hi Bill!

        Honolulu Plantation is one that spanned a large area along the rail line, and is the one we are interested in. I couldn’t find your pictures–I’m not a blogger–in fact yours is the first that I’ve gotten on, so maybe walk me through it to retrieve them? or e-mail me the pics–that’s easier. Yes, Claus Spreckles was a famous man here for trying to take over the government (literally!) by lending King Kalakaua opver 1 million. Of course he never was paid and left the islands permanently selling his Maui plantation to Alexander and Baldwin. He also was involved in the California Beet Co. organization. Because he controlled sugar refining in California, where much of Hawaiian sugar went to be refined after processing, he held sway over the price. He was not well loved here to be blunt. By the way the last harvest for the last sugar cane plantation in Hawaii will be happening soon, if it already hasn’t. I will try to look for the wedding announcement for you.

      3. Wendy,

        I’ve emailed the photos to you. I’ve also created a new menu tab on this blog entitled “Sugar Processing”. The photos have been placed there.

        I’ve read a little bit about Claus Spreckels and know some of his history in Hawaii. I guess he was a pretty tough old bird! Some members of the Spreckels family had equally colorful lives here in San Francisco.

        If there is anything more I can provide, let me know.


  2. Hi Bill, I am a long way from San Francisco but new research has revealed a very interesting connection between the Risdon Iron Works and the Yukon. I am with the Yukon Transportation Museum in Whitehorse, Yukon and have been heavily involved with the work at the wreck of the “A.J. Goddard” a small steamer that sank in Lake Laberge, Yukon in 1901. The wreck site was found in 2008 completely intact and much underwater archeology work has been done since. We did know from historical accounts the hull of the Goddard (and it’s sister ship F.H. Kilbourne) came from San Francisco but we had no information on who built the hull. Detailed surveys of the hull found no markings…and none of the research we had done could solve this mystery. That changed this week…..we have now substantiated the hull came from the Risdon Iron Works. In searching the web I came across your blog site. We are, of course, looking for any background on the company for the period of 1897/1898 and if any archives exist that could be searched further. Any help you can provide would be most appreciated.

    1. Doug,

      Thanks for your posting. What an interesting connection between Risdon and the Yukon!

      You asked about the records of the Risdon Iron Works and, if they exist, where they might be located. Unfortunately, I don’t have any information about the records. But I suspect the best place to search for them might be the San Francisco History Center at the main San Francisco Public Library. They’ve been very helpful in the past and I’ve included a link below.

      That being said, I did find some newspaper articles about Risdon Iron Works and its contributions to shipping and dredging activities on the Yukon River. I located these on-line at the California Digital Newspaper Collection and I think you will find them very interesting. Clearly, the first two articles are about the Goddard and the Kilbourne! In fact, the first article is very informative and includes a sketch of one of the boats! I attempted to paste this picture onto my reply, but I apparently have not yet mastered the WordPress blog-ware. I will e-mail the sketch to you.

      The following are abbreviated excerpts from much larger articles. I’m sure you will want to read the complete articles – they tell a pretty cool story. They can be found at the California Digital Newspaper Collection,

      San Francisco Call, Volume 83, Number 50, 19 January 1898
      A Wild Rush for the Yukon
      At the Rlsdon Iron Works they are working night and day to fill Klondike orders. Two steel steamers for use on the Yukon are almost ready, and will be shipped north in sections next month. They will be fifty feet long, ten feet broad and will draw fifteen Inches of water loaded. They will make an average speed of ten knots, and will be used simply as passenger boats. They are built on exactly the same lines as were the steamers used in the British military expedition up the river Nile. They will accommodate forty passengers and their baggage, and are guaranteed to maintain their speed in spite of the current of the Yukon. The iron works will send men to St. Michael to put the vessels together when the various sections reach there.

      San Francisco Call, Volume 83, Number 97, 7 March 1898
      A New Record for Coasters
      The first steamers for use on Lake Bennett and the waters of the upper Yukon are to go to Skaguay on the steamer Dirigo. They have been built by the Risdon Iron Works for the Upper Yukon Transportation Company, and are 50 feet long, 10 feet broad and 2 feet 6 inches deep. They have been built in sections, and will be taken over the Chilcoot Pass to their destination. Twelve men are going up with the boats to put them together at Lake Kennett.

      San Francisco Call, Volume 83, Number 129, 8 April 1898
      Are Playing Hide and Seek
      The paddle steamer Tiger is now almost ready for her voyage to St. Michael and as soon as all the equipments are aboard Dollard will be ready to start at a moment’s notice. The inspectors of hulls and boilers tried her under steam yesterday and found everything in first-class order, and Marine Superintendent Tabrett of the Risdon Iron Works says the Tiger’s engines and boilers are one of the best jobs ever turned out of their shop.
      (Bill’s Comment: The Steamer Dirigo carried the sections of the Goddard and the Kilbourne to Shagway. But I wonder if the Tiger also carried some of the gear and equipment for the two boats?)

      San Francisco Call, Volume 100, Number 179, 26 November 1906
      Greatest Dredge Ever Built
      George L. Hurst of San Francisco, mechanical engineer for the Risdon Iron Works, who has designed many of the largest dredges now in use on the upper Yukon. He says that the substitution of steel for wooden hulls, manganese steel for castiron, and other changes, giving greater strength at less cost, will give an additional impetus to gold dredging in the Yukon country.
      (Bill’s comment: These are comments by a Risdon engineer about the value of using steel for boats and dredges plying the Yukon River.)

      In addition to the California Digital Newspaper Collection, the following web sites and organizations might also have information about the Risdon Iron Works.

      San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco History Center

      Pier 70 San Francisco, History of Potrero Point Shipyards and Industry

      San Francisco Maritime Museum Library

      University of California, Bancroft Library

      California Historical Society

      California State Library

      Since your posting, I’ve been looking at information about the Goddard on the internet. What you’ve found is just outstanding! Congratulations! As you read some of the news articles I’ve referenced, I’m sure you’ll begin to see that Risdon’s connection with the Yukon is notable. In addition to the Goddard and the Kilbourne, they seem to have built several ships, boats and dredges used in the Yukon and in Alaska around the turn of the century.

      You mentioned in your posting that you are a long ways away from San Francisco. Geographically, maybe so. But as you know the historical connection is quite close. In fact, some of my ancestors raced north to the Yukon along with thousands of others – maybe at the same time as the Goddard and the Kilbourne were being sent there. To this day I still have a large gold nugget my ancestors took from your river and their really old leather-bound copy of Tales of the Yukon. Isn’t that cool!

      If you need some “boots on the ground” here in San Francisco to help with your research, I’d be glad to chip-in. I work in the City, about a mile away from the Portero ship yard where the Goddard was built. Let me know what you need. Bill

  3. Bill,

    Thanks so much for your detail reply and all of the information you have found. This is such a fascinating part of the Goddard story. We searched far and wide to try and narrow down who may have designed and built the steel hulls but were unsuccessful until new information came from our own Archives here in Whitehorse this past week. Many thanks to the Yukon Archives and Mr. Glen Iceton for providing the key bit of information and to you for creating the Risdon Iron Works Blog. The timing couldn’t be more perfect. The new details you have provided fills in many gaps in this Klondike Gold Rush adventure that began in 1897 with an idea. As explained in my email, there is much to do in the coming weeks and months ahead. The Yukon Transportation Museum will soon be bringing Part 1 of the Goddard Exhibit to the Yukon general public. I will keep you posted on the progress of the exhibit development leading up to the Nov. 4th opening.

    If you have not already done so, please visit the following web sites for more background on the “A.J. Goddard”:

    Much of the work has been done by a group of volunteers, some of it dating back to the mid 1980s. Most recently we have received a great deal of financial and in-kind support from many organizations and businesses.
    Again thank you for your interest…we will keep in touch.


  4. Hello Bill (and Doug),
    I just wanted to say thank you so much for all of the articles and resources related to the Goddard and Risdon Iron Works. I am one of Doug’s research colleagues and have written my Master’s thesis on the A.J. Goddard. I am polishing up that manuscript now for publication and it is so great to have these sources and leads relating to Risdon and the Goddard. It was always the worst hole in our research to date and I’m so glad that mystery has been solved. If I find anything new in my search efforts I will send them along to you.
    Thank you again,

    1. Lindsey,

      You are very welcome. As I have learned from my recent introduction to your project, the Goddard is a great human interest story and a wonderful archeaological resource. You and everyone connected with the project have done a great job “packaging” your discovery in a very compelling way. I was able to watch the NatGeo program about the Gold Rush Shipwrecks two weeks ago and enjoyed listening to you and Doug describe the vessel and your experiences with it. If there is anything I can do to provide further help, let me know. Good luck with your thesis. If you can, send me a link when its done – I’d love to read it.


  5. Bill,
    Thank you. The thesis is complete and I am editing it for publication with the Yukon Government. I am happy to say that the recent find at the Yukon Archives and your articles have allowed me to change some of my conclusions and correct some things. I will send you a copy of the corrected version when it is complete.
    As for help with research, I would say that our most outstanding question now is where are the plans of the vessels or any that are similar. If you ever run across plans or have any idea of where to search, that would be of great help. I am going to start searching through the databases you mention and I will let you know if I find anything.
    One question that your articles have raised are the two steel steamboats mentioned in the March and January 1898 articles. Both sound like the Goddard/Kilbourne but reference sending them to St. Michael (and we know that our two boats went to Skagway). Is it possible that Risdon had a contract from someone else to built two other steamboats to be sent through St. Michael, or perhaps the is a mistake in the newspaper? Though it is possible that Albert Goddard and the Upper Yukon Company initially considered going through St. Michael but changed their mind, I doubt this quite a bit as they’d probably have chosen a large vessel for that. What are your thoughts on this? Any chance that Risdon had a contract for a couple more that may or may not have been completed/made it to St. Michael?


  6. I just found this blog while searching my Great Grandfather’s son’s history. Oscar Henry Kurlfinke started as a deaftsman for Risdon Iron Works around 1906. He continued with the transitions to the railroad manufacturing at SP where he got noted for his steam engine designs. He was president of the Master Boilermakers Assn. and was key in the design of the boilers and engines used on the Big Boy and subsequent GS-4 class Northern 4-8-4 locomotives. Where can I view the James A. Brandt Photograph Collection?

    1. My story is quite similar. My grandfather, Louis Robinson Mercado joined Risdon as an apprentice in 1885. By 1887 he is listed as a machinist. He also worked at Union Ironworks.

      He then worked at several Mexican and American mines, then SP’s Bakersfield shop. Then on to SP Sacramento as a draftsman, I think.

      Finally he worked for SF city engineering for quite a few years.

  7. John, Click-on the “James A. Brandt Photograph Collection” in the menu bar above. There are about a dozen of his photos posted with this blog. The remaining photos reside in a binder and I’ve not yet scanned them. But the photos posted here are representative. I wonder if your ancestor may have drafted the “Risdon Improved Gold Dredge” shown in one of the photos. To the best of my knowledge, Brandt’s photos do not include examples of locomotive boilers or related engine works, although the Risdon Iron Works, as you know, was well-known for locomotive construction. As a point of interest, both my father and grandfather worked their entire careers for the SP. My grandfather started with the SP around 1918 and my father retired from the SP about 1990. Thanks. Bill

  8. Bill-A Risdon locomotive, a 0-4-0 geared type, is tipped over and is in Juneau, Alaska at Sheep Creek with some dump cars. Boiler is missing and is semi buried in berry bushes..

    1. Robert,

      Thanks for the information. I don’t know of any restored or surviving locomotives built by the Risdon Iron Works, although there may well be some and I’m just not aware of them. The only internet reference I can find to a surviving locomotive built by Risdon is a 0-4-0 machine located in Juneau, Alaska at the Silver Queen Mine. I wonder if this is the same locomotive you’re seeing at Sheep Creek. It would be cool to learn more about the engine you’ve found.



  9. Bill
    I believe the 0-4-0 at the Silver Queen Mine is a Porter locomotive that was moved from downtown Juneau where it was displayed by the Red Dog Saloon. It is going through cosmetic restoration. Unlikely that it can be restored to operate as the cylinder are broken. The Risdon 0-4-0 is on its side less boiler along a trail going up Sheep Creek.

    1. Robert,

      I found your engine on the internet, including a photograph. According to an article written in 1978 by the “Society for Industrial Archeology” (

      “Up the Sheep Creek trail are the remains of the Silver Queen and Glacier Mines. Ore cars are scattered down the hillside and one of that rare breed, the geared steam mine locomotive by Risdon Iron & Locomotive Works, San Francisco, lies bottom up beside the trail, boiler missing but frame and drive intact.”

      It seems that the Society for Industrial Archeology is a non-profit organization across the U.S. and Canada that identifies important industrial archeological sites and helps preserve them. In 1978 when the article was written, the SIA considered the Sheep Creek site to be an important site. I will try to contact the local chapter and find out what I can about your engine.

      Pretty cool.


  10. Haven’t checked back for quite awhile – but the traffic on your site is impressive (walkingsmall is your sister in disguise) Well done!

    1. Thanks Sue. It’s been fun. And as you can see, the comments have been outstanding….and none from San Francisco. I have a small list of persons in SF who might be interested in the blog and intend to send out an e-mail announcement to them, but just haven’t had the time. And Doug and Lindsey would be interested to know that I intend to make a trip to the SF Public Library to do some more searching for the Goddard, but also have not had the time – even thou I’m only two BART stops away, every day. Of course, I’m also very interested in your adventure in Morro Bay and I’m working up to 50 miles on the bike so I can do the Big Sur – Hearst Castle – Morro Bay run in two days ride. Maybe you and Bruce could join me! Talk soon. Bill (also known as your brother!).

      1. Just now checking back – love reading the comments and the history of it all. We’ll keep you posted on MB – just like you, lots of work right now, but it’s moving along. Bike ride sounds great. Go Risdon!

  11. While riding in the vast Nevada desert, we came across a large structure that had an exposed piece of metal that says “Risdon Iron Works.” It is near or possibly in Aurora, NV and is clearly visible. Any ideas of what it may be? I’ll try and attach a photo.

    1. Kelly,

      I have a good idea that it’s probably a “stamp mill”. They were usually manufactured in a single bank made up of 5 stamps – each with a very heavy, round metal end at the bottom that was connected to a long vertical rod. As part of the initial processing of the silver-laden rock (ore), the stamp mill was used to pulverize the ore into very small, uniform granules so it could be turned into a watery emulsion and then mixed with mercury (quicksilver), which precipitates the silver. A five-stamp mill probably measured about 10-feet wide, 3-feet deep and 15-feet tall or so. They were powered by steam or water, and they made a tremendous pounding noise that could be heard long distances (miles). There is a photograph of a Risdon stamp mill on this blog – check it out. Is this what you saw? Having said all that, you may have also come across the hoist-works at the top of a mine shaft, or an old boiler used to power the stamp mill and other equipment. Risdon made those, too. Plus pumps. If you can, attach a picture.

      The “Aurora Mining District” in Nevada dates back to the 1860’s – and probably a few years earlier. The principal mineral was silver and gold ore, much like Virginia City and the Comstock Lode. There was quite a large “rush” during the 1860’s and much activity there for many years, although the district never produced the same kind of silver riches that were found in the mines around Virginia City. I’m sure the population in Aurora approached several thousand at its peak. So the equipment you came across probably dates from that period, or a bit later. You might be interested to know that the American author and humorist Mark Twain tried his hand at mining in Aurora about 1862 or 1863. It wasn’t his thing, and he went on to write about other miners.

      If you can’t upload the photo – take a crack at describing what you saw.



  12. Wow! I feel like I have landed on a planet populated by my own kind! Ok, where do I start? Well, I manage a Gold Rush museum in Mariposa County, my special interest is milling machinery (I run a 5 stamp Joshua Hendy mill and am constructing a two stamp, with a ten stamp going up in 2013), currently working on a history of mills that connects the missing links from China, eastward to the Mediterranean and into the New World.
    In regard to Risdon, I want the whole story, from establishment, through mergers (particularly Risdon/Scott), product lines and the waning days. I would like to know what your recommended book list is, in relation to iron works of the bay, to compare to what I have collected.
    Thanks for any help.


    1. Ron,

      I’m glad to hear you have such a keen interest in mining and the equipment used. I bet there are a lot of us on the same planet! Unfortunately, although I have a great interest in Risdon Iron Works (obviously) my knowledge of its history is limited and I was introduced to the company only through my great Uncle’s photographs (which number about 200). I was actually hoping this blog might help me learn more about the company – and I think it will, eventually. But I suspect you have a lot more knowledge about Risdon’s history than me. So, I’ll reverse your question and ask you what reference(s) you think might be best for me to read. My background in mining history is mostly related to the men and events in 19th century Grass Valley, Virginia City and Tombstone. Maybe there is someone else out there who can help both of us with Risdon.

      BTW: Mariposa is a great place.



  13. Bill…just wanted to make sure you have this link:

    On the right panel of the web page you will find a collection of photos which include one very important image of the A.J. Goddard and the F.H. Kilbourne hulls sitting side by side at the Risdon Iron Works. This past summer we have located the boiler and hull fragments of the F.H. Kilbourne in Carcross, Yukon. The hull fragments reveal a very interesting design feature – these hulls may have been prefabricated using threaded bolts with square head nuts! Also (not shown in the online photos from the Fay Goddard collection) is a period street level photo of the Risdon Iron Works Building. If this interests you please let me know.

    1. Doug,

      Thanks so much for sending the link to the photos. They are exceptional and certainly tell the visual history of the Goddard and Kilbourne. Of course, the photo of the two boats side-by-side at Risdon in SF is great. But I especially like the shot of them hauling the parts and pieces over the mountain pass (Chilkoot or White Pass?). It was an incredible idea, and pretty darn well executed.

      I continue to follow your postings and remain a Godard fan (and someday I’ll get to the library:))



    2. P.S. I also have some period shots of the exterior of the Risdon Iron Works. If it were possible, I’d love to compare mine and Fay’s photos. Thanks. Bill

  14. I can send the photo by email….I probably did have your private email in the past but since upgrading my computer this past fall I don’t have easy access to my old emails. If you can email me privately and then I will send along the image of the Risdon Iron Works.

    Also…in case you have not seen it yet, there are two documents online about the Goddard… being a Yukon Historic Sites booklet….the other is the updated Thesis prepared by Lindsey in partnership with the Yukon Government. The links are as follows:


      1. Hi Bill,
        Always enjoy reading the latest on the Risdon Iron Works! I have been meaning to send this link along to you. I know there are probably many examples of Risdon Iron Works machinery out there (in museums and private collections), but one of the more unusual examples of what they manufactured is the A.J. Goddard. Last fall I accompanied two divers from Calgary to visit and film the wreck site. They eventually produced a video of their trip and the dive. This is by far some of the best HD video of the wreck…..probably the only example of a late 1800s prefabricated Risdon Irons Works vessel anywhere.


      2. Doug,

        The video is really neat – the pictures of the Goddard really show how it has remained fixed in time. It’s almost a bit eerie. Anyone on this blog who hasn’t seen this video should take a look at Doug’s discovery. I continue to follow your efforts with the Goddard on Facebook. If I learn anything more about its manufacture in San Francisco I’ll let you know.



  15. Bill,

    Here is a little info on Risdon that was passed on to me by Mallory Hope Ferrell.



    Coffey & Risdon Iron Works Lewis Coffey & John N. Risdon Prop. circa 1859
    Works at Bush & Market St.
    Coffey & Risdon Boiler Works
    Risdon Iron & Locomotive Works incorporated April 30, 1868 $1,000,000
    Works at the corner of Beal & Howard streets.
    John N. Risdon, Pres.; Joseph Moore, Sup’t; Lewis Coffey, Sup’t of Boiler Works.
    Successors to Coffey & Risdon; Devoe, Dinsmore & Co. (San Francisco Foundry) – both of San Francisco; and Pacific Mail Steamship Co. works at Benicia.
    Risdon & Coffey gone by 1873
    W. T. Taylor Pres. Joseph Moore Sup’t.
    (still doing business as RI&L in 1911)
    Taken over by Union Iron Works 1911 (subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel)

    This is the only locomotive on which any information is available.
    1893 0-4-0G 3 tons 24” gauge
    Nowell Gold Mining Co. Juneau, AK
    Abandoned upside down on Sheep Creek near Juneau
    Photographed here 06-98 reported gone by 2001
    Nowell used the locomotive on a 4500-foot tram. In 1913 this property was taken over by the Alaska-Gastineau Mining Co. A-G operated a 3-foot gauge electric road between 1914 and 1921. They probably never used the Risdon locomotive. The property was eventually taken over by the Alaska-Juneau Mining Co.
    See The Alaska Journal April 29, 1893

    “During the first few years of the corporation’s existence, they constructed some three or four locomotives for logging purposes, also a few dummies for small suburban roads. The last locomotive was built in about 1884 (sic), for a firm in Alaska. It was of the geared type and ran on wooden rails. The company failed and the builders did not get paid for the engine.” Railway & Locomotive Engineer Vol 15 #3 March 1902 page 145

    John Taubeneck

    1. John,

      Super information. I was aware that Risdon had been taken over by the Union Iron Works in 1911. But I was not familiar with the Lewis Coffey connection from 1859. That’s really early in SF foundry/ship building history. I’ll check it out see what I can learn. Thanks. Bill

      1. Here’s a brief article from the California Digital Newspaper Collection that shows an 1856 advertisement for Coffey & Risdon, operating at Bush & Market streets in San Francisco and indicating that they had been working with Thomas Snow & Co. since about 1853. Also, thanks for the info about the Risdon 0-4-0 locomotive at Sheep Creek in Juneau. An earlier blogger had also identified that machine. Thanks. Bill

        Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 11, Number 1637, 24 June 1856
        SNOW BOILER WORKS-Corner of Bush and Market streets, opposite the Oriental Hotel, San Francisco. The undersigned, who have been foremen, managers, and active partners in the above establishment for the past three years, having purchased Mr. Snow’s interest in the same, will continue the business as heretofore at the old stand, where we are prepared to manufacture Steam Boilers of every description, Steam and Water Pipe, and do Sheet Iron Work of all kinds, at the shortest notice and on the moat reasonable terms. Particular attention paid to all orders from the Mines for Steam Boilers or Water Pipe, Engines or Pumps for Mining purposes, &c. COFFEY & RISDON. Successors to Thos. Snow A Co.

  16. Hi, do you know if there are records available for employees of the Risdon Iron Works? I’m looking for an ancestor who moved from New York to San Francisco and was some kind of boilermaker, iron worker. Thank you!

    1. Allison,

      I do not know if records of employment for Risdon Iron Works exist or not. Many SF records (of all kinds) were destroyed by the great fire immediately following the 1906 earthquake. The Risdon Iron Works location, however, was far enough away from the fire (to the south) that they might not have been affected. You might check the California Room of the San Francisco Public Library. They are very helpful. Another possibility would be to look at the SF City Directory for the year(s) in question and search for your ancestor and/or for Risdon Iron works. The directories are readily available on-line – check out the “San Francisco Genealogy” website. Good luck! Bill

      1. Allison,
        You might also try the San Francisco Maritime Museum. They have many records of the San Francisco industries. Bob S.

  17. Thank you Bill! I will try your suggestions and see what I can find and if I have any luck I will pass it on to you.

  18. I’m just re-watching HBO’s series Deadwood (2nd season episode 3 ‘New Money’), and there, bold as brass (so to speak) is a working Risdon Iron Works San Francisco, Cal. ore stamp mill pounding away.

    I believe Deadwood was filmed in Southern California, so I don’t know if they used them in 1870’s Deadwood, but the machine pattern is exactly the same as those I’ve seen in California Gold Rush era mines in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

  19. Bill,
    A friend’s father purchased a Risdon dredge and took it to Africa in the early part of the 20th century. I don’t as yet have many details. The original dredge owner’s son has a Risdon blue print of the dredge, designed by R.H. Postlethwaite. His son started work on a model of the dredge and I’m completing it for him. The blue print is an overall view, similar to the photo in the James A. Brandt photo and doesn’t show much construction detail.

    Do any of the other photos in the Brandt collection show the dredges? I think there may also be some surviving relics in the mother lode country that might help us with dredge construction details. Thank you for your very interesting blog. It’s also very interesting how much heavy industry used to call San Francisco home.

    1. Bob,

      Sorry for the long delay in responding – the holidays and a busy schedule got in my way!!

      Your inquiry and comments are most interesting….I never imagined that a Risdon dredge could make it all the way to Africa. That is amazing. I assume it was used for gold dredging operations and that it no longer exists.Do you know the history of the dredge? What motivates you to build the model, if I may ask?

      I have reviewed the other photos in the Brandt collection and found five that are black/whites of three different dredges located on waterways in California. They include a 2,000 cubic yard per day dredge, a 3,000 CYD dredge, and a 7-foot electric dredge. Don’t know if the capacity is useful information for you or not, but all of the dredges in the photos were designed by Robert M. Postlethwaite.

      Tomorrow (or as soon as I can), I will extract the photos from the album and have them scanned. I’ll post them to this blog and notify you as soon as I get that done

      Thanks for your patience.


      1. Bill,
        To answer your question about what motivates me to build the model dredge, the friend who started the model of his father’s dredge has had some health problems and is unable to complete the model and I volunteered to finish it for him. I didn’t know what I was getting into as there’s a lot more detail than I anticipated but it’s going to be an interesting and educational project.

        I have copies of some old news clippings about the dredge being shipped to Africa, but I don’t see a method here for attaching files. Can you send me an email address or some other method of transferring the old clippings?

        Looking forward to seeing the newly scanned dredge pictures!

        Thank you,

  20. Bob,

    I’ve created a new menu tab on this blog labeled “Dredges”. There are several photos of dredges and dredge-related equipment under the new tab. I hope they are helpful. The line-up is:

    Drawing 222: Drawing of the “Risdon Improved Gold Dredge”. It’s the same as the photo in the James A. Brandt Photo Collection, but there may be greater detail in this enlargement.

    Photo 135: I believe this may be a photo of the dredge in Drawing 222.

    Photo 376: Risdon Improved River Gold Dredge, 2,000 cubic yards per day.

    Unlabeled Photo: Risdon Improved Gold Dredge, 2,000 cubic yards per day. This looks like the same dredge in Photo 376, and also suspiciously like the South Fork of the American River at the town of Folsom (the bridge looks familiar).

    Unlabeled Photo: Risdon 7-foot Electric Dredge at Oroville, California

    Photo 136: Improved River Gold Dredge, 3,000 cubic yards per day. Opposite side view of Photo 135.

    Photo 295: Main winch for 5-foot dredge

    Photo 140: Power winch for 5-foot dredge

    Photo 315: Ladder, winch and engine. Looks like it was being shipped to Rio de Janerio.

    Last Photo: Three men standing in front of a building. This is completely random, but I found this in the Brandt photo album among several other photos of a hunting trip to the Sierra foothills. I suspect the older man in the middle is the naturalist John Muir. Thought it was a neat photo. Brandt took several photos of the Yosemite Valley.

    I do not know the process for uploading files to this blog. I’ll do some research and see if I can figure it out and make it more friendly. In the meantime, I’ll connect with you by email.

    I hope the photos help with your modeling project. If they don’t exactly capture your African dredge, they might give you enough ideas to make something “official” looking.



    1. Bob,

      I was able to transcribe and post your article to this blog (see the revised menu at the top), along with a few other period articles I found – one or two of which may also deal with Blockley’s dredge and journey to Africa. I was surprised to learn that Risdon dredges were operating in Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Africa, the Yukon and Alaska. Thanks for the info – keep us posted about the progress with your model!


  21. Is anyone familiar with Augustus risdon who is my relative?
    Any info you have would be greatly appreciated

    1. The only “Risdon” I’m aware of is John N. Risdon, from Michigan. He was the founder of Risdon Iron Works. I don’t know how Augustus might be connected.

  22. My grandfather’s cousin, Edward Cobb, worked as an engineer for Risdon around the turn of the century. He then moved to LA where he worked for Henry Huntington and had many patents. I believe he was involved in giant water wheels but any other info about him would be appreciated.

  23. Interesting blog. I’ve long been involved with Knight’s Foundry in Sutter Creek. Looking at some copies of historical material from Knight’s I see from the cover page of Knight’s catalogue no. three that Risdon Iron and Locomotive works is named as sole agent for Knights. There are also drawings of a stamp mill for the Central Eureka mine that have a Risdon title block. Photos of the interior of the mill at Central Eureka show stamp mortar boxes with the Knight name on them. It seems there must have been some kind of business relationship between Knights and Risdon. At this point that’s all I know about it.

    Joe Harralson

    1. Joe,

      In my studies about Risdon, I’ve not run across the connection with Knight’s Foundry. Thanks for bringing it to our attention. In addition to stamp mills, I wonder if the connection might also have been related to the Pelton Water Wheel (which Risdon built), and the water turbine developed by Knight. As a point of odd coincidence, one of my distant ancestors (not related to Risdon) used Pelton water wheels to power the mining equipment at the Chollar-Potosi Mine in Virginia City. This was the first time (about 1885) electricity was used for this purpose on the Comstock Lode. He was business partner of Alvinza Hayward. Hayward owned the Eureka Mine that you refer to. The Wikipedia article about Knight’s Foundry is great. Thanks for the info.


      1. Dennis,

        This information about Knight’s Foundry is really fascinating! I’ve lived in No. California my whole life, but I must admit I just didn’t know anything like this existed. It’s a great project – and now on my list of places to visit.



  24. First off, I would like to apologize for the length of this, as since I retired a couple years ago, I seem, at times to go a little overboard on some things, so please bear with me but since this is about the Risdon Iron Works, I thought it was worth posting. This will be a copy & paste, so I hope it works out.

    Who started “Risdon Iron Works” ?, well it was none other than John Nelson Risdon, this is what I found out about John Nelson Risdon of “The Risdon Iron and Locomotive Works” and the first the first mention of him was in 1854.

    In the 1854 San Francisco Business Directory, we see the following:

    J. N. Risdon, foreman, dwl 51 Jackson
    T. Snow, blacksmith, dwl Market 2 doors from First

    (There was no directory for 1855)

    In the 1856 San Francisco Business Directory, we see the following:

    Coffey & Risdon, boiler-works, corner, Bush and Market
    Lewis Coffey, boiler-maker, dwl 16 Melius
    John N. Risdon, boiler-maker, res Harrison between Main and Beale
    (These Works were established in May, 1853, by Thomas Snow, and changed to present style July, 1855.)

    From the California newspaper: Marysville Daily Herald, September 5, 1857, page #2 advertisements

    Lewis Coffey & Risdon’s Steam Boilers Works.
    The only exclusive Boiler-Making Establishment on the Pacific coast — owned and conducted by PRACTICAL BOILER MAKERS. All orders for new work or the repairing of old work executed as ordered and warranted as to quality. Corner of Bush and Market Streets, opposite the Oriental Hotel, San Francisco. Lewis Coffey — J. N. Risdon

    From the: “Practical Machinist” New-York, December 7, 1859, page #69

    A reader from Peoria, Illinois, writes to us to know if there are any machine shops in San Francisco and if so, what wages they pay and what the cost of living is.

    Yes, there are many very large shops, amongst the largest are the Pacific Foundry and Machine Shops, Messrs. Goddard, Hazsconi & Rankin, proprietors, the Steam-Engine and Machine Works, Messrs. Drvo & Co., proprietors, the Vulcan Iron Works, the Steam-Engine Works of William Ware, the Boiler Works of Messrs. Lewis Coffey & Risdon, the Bell Foundry of Messrs. W. T. & J. Garratt. These are amongst the largest that we now think of and pay to good workmen about $3 per day, as to living, that in now as cheap there as here.

    From the newspaper: The Golden Era – San Francisco – November 25, 1860, page #7 advertisements

    Lewis Coffey & Risdon’s Steam Boilers Works.
    The only exclusive Boiler-Making Establishment on the Pacific coast — owned and conducted by PRACTICAL BOILER MAKERS. All orders for new work or the repairing of old work executed as ordered and warranted as to quality. Corner of Bush and Market Streets, opposite the Oriental Hotel, San Francisco. Lewis Coffey — J. N. Risdon

    From the newspaper: The Golden Era – San Francisco – December 1, 1861, page #7 advertisements

    Lewis Coffey & Risdon’s Steam Boilers Works.
    The only exclusive Boiler-Making Establishment on the Pacific coast — owned and conducted by PRACTICAL BOILER MAKERS. All orders for new work or the repairing of old work executed as ordered and warranted as to quality. Corner of Bush and Market Streets, opposite the Oriental Hotel, San Francisco. Lewis Coffey — J. N. Risdon

    From the newspaper: The Golden Era – San Francisco – March 30, 1862, page #7 advertisements

    Lewis Coffey & Risdon’s Steam Boilers Works.
    The only exclusive Boiler-Making Establishment on the Pacific coast — owned and conducted by PRACTICAL BOILER MAKERS. All orders for new work or the repairing of old work executed as ordered and warranted as to quality. Corner of Bush and Market Streets, opposite the Oriental Hotel, San Francisco. Lewis Coffey — J. N. Risdon

    From the newspaper: The Golden Era – San Francisco – May 20, 1866, page #7 advertisements

    Lewis Coffey & John N. Risdon, Steam Boiler and Sheet-Iron Works
    The only first-class establishment on the Pacific Coast.
    Oil Well Tools of the latest patterns.
    All kinds of Tubing, Tanks, Retorts, Distils and Agitators; complete outfits
    Contractors for Marine and Stationary Engines, Pumping and Hoisting Apparatus.
    Corner Bush and Market Streets, opposite Oriental Hotel.

    Sacramento Daily Union, September 27, 1867, page #4 advertisement

    Lewis Coffey & Risdon, Steam-Boiler and Sheet-Iron Works.
    Owned and conducted by Practical Boiler Makers.
    High and Low Pressure Boilers, Stationery and Marine.
    Their long experience and great success attending their work entitles them to precedence as being the First-Class Establishment of the Pacific Coast.
    Corner Bush and Market Sts.
    Opposite Oriental Hotel, San Francisco

    In the 1868 San Francisco Business Directory, we see the following:

    JOHN N. RISDON, president Risdon Iron and Locomotive Works, dwl 213 Harrison
    JOSEPH MOORE, manager Risdon Iron and Locomotive Worlds, dwl 642 Second
    Lewis Coffey, (Risdon Iron Works Co.) dwl 516 Stockton

    From the: “Great Trans-continental Railroad Guide” published in 1870, page #16 advertisement

    The Risdon Iron and Locomotive Works
    Incorporated……………April 30, 1868
    Location of Works, corner Beale and Howard Sts., San Francisco.
    (Successors to Pacific Mail S. S. Co. Works at Benicia; Coffey & Ridson and Devoe, Dinsmore & Co., San Francisco.)
    Steam Engine Builders, Boiler Makers, Machinists & Foundrymen.
    All work in their Line Attended to with Promptness and Dispatch.
    John N. Risdon, President
    Joseph Moore, Superintendent
    Lewis Coffey, Superintendent Boiler Works

    In the 1872 San Francisco Business Directory, we see the following:

    John N. Risdon, president

    In the 1873 San Francisco Business Directory, we see the following:

    William H. Taylor, president
    Lewis R. Mead, secretary

    John N. Risdon, president Main Street Wharf Co.

    In the 1874 San Francisco Business Directory, we see the following:

    William H. Taylor, president
    Lewis R. Mead, secretary

    John N. Risdon dwelling at 1019 Pine

    In the 1875 San Francisco Business Directory, we see the following:

    William H. Taylor, president
    Lewis R. Mead, secretary

    John N. Risdon dwelling at 1019 Pine

    In the 1876 San Francisco Business Directory, we see the following:

    William H. Taylor, president
    Lewis R. Mead, secretary

    Risdon & Tower
    John N. Risdon and Charles Tower, managers Pacific Boiler Works, 118 and 120 Fremont
    John N. Risdon (Risdon & Tower), residing Fruit Vale, Alameda Co.

    Their ad reads:

    Risdon & Tower, managers of Pacific Boiler, Sheet Iron and Water Pipe Works
    Are fully prepared to do at shortest notice and in the best workman like manner, all kinds of Boiler and Sheet Iron Work. High and Low Pressure Boilers built and repaired. We refer to Twenty Year’s experience in the above business as a guarantee that all orders for work will be faithfully executed. Office and Works, 118 and 120 Fremont St., between Mission and Howard, San Francisco.
    J. N. RISDON, formerly of Coffey & Risdon and Risdon Iron Works.
    CHARLES TOWER, formerly of Coffey & Risdon and Risdon Boiler Works.

    In the 1877 San Francisco Business Directory, we see the following:

    William H. Taylor, president
    Lewis R. Mead, secretary

    John N. Risdon and Charles H. Tower, managers Pacific Boiler Works, 118 and 120 Fremont
    John N. Risdon (Risdon & Tower), residing Fruit Vale, Alameda Co.

    In the 1880 San Francisco Business Directory, we see the following:

    William H. Taylor, president
    Joseph Moore, vice-president
    Lewis R. Mead, secretary

    John N. Risdon, foundryman, and ironworker, office 421 California, r. Fruit Vale

    Charles H. Tower, superintendent Pacific Boiler Works, r. 108 Langton

    In the 1881 San Francisco Business Directory, we see the following:

    William H. Taylor, president
    Joseph Moore, vice-president
    Lewis R. Mead, secretary

    Risdon & Collins (John N. Risdon and James Y. Collins) millwrights and engineers, office 421 California
    John N. Risdon (Risdon & Collins) r. Fruit Vale
    James Y. Collins (Risdon & Collins) r. 210 Bush

    Charles H. Tower, foreman, Pacific Boiler Works, r. 108 Langton

    In the 1882 San Francisco Business Directory, we see the following:

    William H. Taylor, president
    Joseph Moore, vice-president
    Lewis R. Mead, secretary

    Risdon & Co. (John N. Risdon) millwrights and engineers, 24 Merchants Exchange
    John N. Risdon (Risdon & Co.) r. Fruit Vale

    Charles H. Tower, foreman, Pacific Boiler Works, r. 108 Langton

    In the 1883 San Francisco Business Directory, we see the following:

    William H. Taylor, president
    Joseph Moore, vice-president
    Lewis R. Mead, secretary

    No listing for John N. Risdon

    Charles H. Tower, foreman boiler shop Pacific Iron Works, r. 108 Langton

    From the: Railway Locomotive and Cars, Volume 61 September 1887 (under obituaries)

    John N. Risdon, for many years principal proprietor of the great iron works in San Francisco which still bear his name, died at Oakland, Cal., July 31, of paralysis, aged 69 years. He left the East in time to arrive in California in 1848 or 1849, but crossing the Isthmus of Panama, he thought he saw an unusual opportunity for a mercantile venture and opened a store at Panama. He remained on the Isthmus for nearly two years, then went to San Francisco. He was more attracted by business in San Francisco than by the mines, whither nearly all emigrants were flocking and joined with John Snow in conducting small iron works. Later, he organized a corporation to construct and operate a foundry. He was the principal owner of the stock and President of the company, which was called the Risdon Iron Works Company. The enterprise was successful and Mr. Risdon became a man of great wealth. In 1856, he was a member of the Vigilance Committee**. Several years ago he sustained heavy losses, withdrew from the foundry and since then has lived in retirement.

    ** Anyone wanting more info on the “Vigilance Committee”, try this:

    See, “History of San Francisco”, it starts on page v, the part about the “Vigilance Committee.” starts on the bottom of page, xxxvii

    In 1900 – Risdon Iron and Locomotive Works purchased the Pacific Rolling Mills, demos all the mill buildings and establishes a shipyard .

    From the: The Spokesman-Review – Apr 29, 1911

    United States Steel Corporation Acquires California Plant.

    San Francisco, April 29 – The Call reports today that the sale of the Risdon Iron works in this city to the United States Steel corporation has been virtually completed. At the same time, the report states, the corporation has acquired more than 14 blocks of land adjoining the Risdon works and a half mile of waterfront at the southern end of the city. These purchases are said to had cost the corporation a total of $2,250,000.

    From the: Spokane Daily Chronicle – May 5, 1911, page #17

    Purchase of Risdon Iron and Locomotive Works Has Been Confirmed.

    San Francisco, May 4 — The reported sale of the property of the Risdon Iron and Locomotive Works of this city to the United States Steel corporation was confirmed today by the recording of deeds for transfer of the Risdon plant. The purchase price was slightly less than $2,000,000.

    In 1897 the Risdon Iron Works, adjoining the Union Iron Works and soon to merge with it, built the first successful gold dredge in America. It was called the Archimedes and was designed by and built for R. H. Postlethwaite, chief dredging engineer for the Risdon Iron Works, who operated it in the Yuba River east of Marysville, Calif. The dredge was a success during its first year of operation. Then disaster struck. The Yuba River flooded and the Archimedes was lost.

    A year later the Risdon Works also built a second successful gold dredge. This was known as the Couch No. 1. and was built for Captain Couch and W. P. Hammon. It operated for many years in the Oroville Gold Fields and set the pattern for gold-dredging operations in California. From 1897 to 1911 the Risdon Iron Works designed and built 63 gold dredges, many of which were shipped to mining fields in other parts of the world. During one year of this period Risdon was competing with Union Iron Works, right next door, in the construction of gold dredges. Union Iron Works turned out its first dredge in 1910, and in 1911 the two concerns merged. From that year up until 1929 Union Iron Works built 20 dredges, including a single order for five for the U. S. Smelting, Refining Mining Company at Fairbanks, Alaska.

    This above section is from:

    APA: Association, Pacific American Steamship. (2013). pp. 515-6. Pacific Marine Review. London: Forgotten Books. (Original work published pre-1945, year unknown)

    Also, a picture of the “Couch No. 1 dredge” can be found here, on page #160:

    As with anything, be it Television, Books, Newspapers or the Internet, etc. you can’t always believe what you see or read but have to kinda read between the lines a little.

    In the 1856 directory, it states “Thomas Snow” but in John N. Risdon’s obituary, in 1887, it states “John Snow”

    I have found the following on the internet stating, “John Nelson Risdon was born July 10, 1822 in LeRoy, NY and died in August, 1877 in Oakland, Alameda Co., CA”

    Yet his obituary states, July 31, 1887……..keep in mind that the 7 key is right next to the 8 key, when someone is typing this out and you can’t get much closer to August that July 31 but with him listed in the directories until 1882, I would take the 1887 date to be more accurate.

    I have also found the following on the internet: “John Risdon of Saline, Michigan had come to San Francisco and established himself in iron manufacturing. Risdon and his partners William Ware and James Coffey, were involved in a succession of iron and boiler works, most notably the Risdon Iron Works. Risdon’s younger brother, Orange Risdon, Jr. joined the business in California as boilermaker and bookkeeper for the firm.”

    Nowhere did I fine any James Coffey associated with John N. Risdon but there was a Lewis Coffey as a partner in 1856 and later, in “Coffey & Risdon, boiler-works” and his brother, Orange Risdon, Jr. did join the business but not the ” Risdon Iron Works”, it was most likely the “Lewis Coffey & Risdon’s Steam Boilers Works” because Orange Risdon, Jr. died in 1865 and “Risdon Iron Works” wasn’t formed until 1868.

    As for William Ware, yes there is some about him:

    William Ware, of Whitman & W. res N. “W. cor Bush and Montgomery (1856)
    William Ware, engineer and machinist (1858)
    William Ware, engineer and machinist (1859)
    William Ware, engineer and machinist (1862)
    William Ware, steam engines and machinery, dwl 933 Bush (1868)
    William Ware, steam engines and machinery, 231 Fremont, (and Main St. Wharf Co.) dwl 933 Bush (1872)
    William Ware, machinist, dwl 933 Bush (1874)
    After 1874 there was no listings for a William Ware, as machinist, engineer, etc but there were 3 William Ware listed as, broker, carpenter, salesman but not at the above’s address.

    A little further reading on Risdon.

    I hope this is worthy of my time


    1. Dennis,

      Thanks so much for the great information. I know efforts like yours take a lot of time and energy and I really appreciate it. No apologies necessary! There is a lot of new information in the articles you cite, and lots of dates that help clarify the history of Risdon Iron Works. I keep a “timeline” about Risdon Iron Works and your info will help fill in some big gaps. I keep promising to post the timeline – and never get it done.

      Here’s a summary of some of the things I noticed as I reviewed your info:

      1. I had not heard of Practical Boiler Makers before. I’ll look into that.

      2. As a point of interest, the first site of Risdon Iron Works (at Market and Bush) was destroyed (or made unusable) by the 1868 Hayward earthquake. Hence the move to Beale & Howard.

      3. All of my work with period newspapers has been “on-line” using the California Digital Newspaper Collection or the Chronicling America site sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. Several of your period articles are from the “Golden Era-San Francisco”. I’d love to search that source, but I don’t think CDNC or Chronicling America have that source. Where were you able to access the Golden Era?

      4. In your summaries, the last year that John Risdon is listed as President of Risdon Iron Works is 1873. That coincides with information I have that he began a new business entity, Risdon & Tower, about that time. Presumably, he sold his interest in Risdon Iron Works about 1873. Coincidently, I am currently working on an article about the removal of Rincon Rock, offshore from Rincon Point in San Francisco (under today’s Bay Bridge). Risdon & Tower were awarded the contract to remove the rock – and an ensuing accidental blast of dynamite devastated the corner of Harrison and Spear. It was one of the deadliest blasts in SF history. Risdon must have got caught-up in the insurance claims and lawsuits that followed, and his business fortunes seem to flat-line after the explosion.

      5. I agree with you about John Risdon’s death being in 1887, not 1877. I bet your “typewriter key theory” is exactly right. Thanks. (BTW: Risdon is probably happy we gave him ten more years also!!)

      6. I did not know John Risdon was a member of the Vigilante Committee. Do you know which year?

      7. I had no idea about the Archimedes and it’s history. That’s great stuff. I did know that the patents and plans for the Risdon gold dredges were thought to be one of its most valuable assets when the company was sold in 1911.

      8. I was aware that Risdon Iron Works purchased the Pacific Rolling Mill. I believe I have a photograph of the giant “anvil” at the the Pacific Rolling Mill. Must be 25 feet tall. I’ll post it. (There must be a better name than “anvil” – I’m not up on my foundry terminology.) I also believe the building in which the anvil was located still exists at Pier 70 in the Potrero Hill area.

      I’ll take a harder look at the info and might need to ask more questions.

      How did you come to have such a keen interest in Risdon? My interest started with a large scrapbook of photographs I have.

      BTW – I just saw your earlier comments from a week ago. It doesn’t look like I got a notification about it from WordPress (or I misplaced it). I’ll check it out now and get it onto the blog site.



  25. 1. I had not heard of Practical Boiler Makers before. I’ll look into that.

    I think, and it’s only my opinion, that it is not a company but a way of saying good, experienced, practical, etc.

    3. Several of your period articles are from the “Golden Era-San Francisco”. I’d love to search that source, but I don’t think CDNC or Chronicling America have that source. Where were you able to access the Golden Era?

    I just typed in “Lewis Coffey & Risdon’s Steam Boilers Works” in google and those adds came up.

    If you go to they have 545 different copies of the Golden Era – San Francisco, running from Dec. 18, 1859 to Feb. 12, 1871, they don’t have all of the copies but a few of each year.

    If you go to: there is a huge list of newspapers, that can keep you reading for years upon years.

    4. In your summaries, the last year that John Risdon is listed as President of Risdon Iron Works is 1873. That coincides with information I have that he began a new business entity, Risdon & Tower, about that time.

    The last year he was President, according to the business directory, was 1872 as William H. Taylor is listed as President in 1873 until it was sold in 1911. The first listing for Risdon & Tower, was 1876.

    6. I did not know John Risdon was a member of the Vigilante Committee. Do you know which year?

    As the obituary stated: In 1856, he was a member of the Vigilance Committee**.

    BTW – I just saw your earlier comments from a week ago. It doesn’t look like I got a notification about it from WordPress (or I misplaced it). I’ll check it out now and get it onto the blog site.

    I think you already have it in the “Risdon Gold Dredges” section.

    How did you come to have such a keen interest in Risdon? My interest started with a large scrapbook of photographs I have.

    I started digging into the Klondike Gold Rush and the name of James Moore Elmer came up as running a Risdon gold dredge and it kinda got out of control from there.

    Here are a few more for you.

    Annual Report of the President of the University on behalf of the Regents to His Excellency the Governor of the State of California, 1916-1917. Gifts to the University Compiled by the Secretary of the Regents from the official records.

    Hurst, George L., an electrically-driven working model of a five-cubic-foot Risdon Gold Dredge, complete in all details and accurately built, at a cost of $750, to a scale of a half-inch to the foot.

    Lewis R. Mead, secretary for the Risdon Iron Works was the nephew of John Risdon, being his sister’s son and his full name was Lewis Risdon Mead.

    Lewis Coffey, John Risdon’s partner, since 1856, until 1872, then listed as boilermaker until 1878, no listing in1879 or later.

    Risdon Iron and Locomotive Works, first 4 dredges.

    Frank W. Griffin “Reminiscences” Western Mining News San Francisco june 1935 p 13

    Riches for All: The California Gold Rush and the World, by Kenneth N. Owens, page #307

    According to Barbour*, Risdon was aware of New Zealand’s leadership in the field. He sent a representative there to examine dredge equipment and concluded that Postethwaite’s dredge designs seemed the most satisfactory of those inspected. In 1896 Risdon enticed Postethwaite to join his firm, where the newcomer laid out plans and built the “Archimedes”, a single-lift, steam-powered dredge with three-cubic-foot buckets designed to dig to a depth of twenty-five feet. Set to work in the Yuba River near Smartsville in 1897, the rig showed great promise until it was wrecked during flood season and never reclaimed.

    Postethwaite’s presence was important. He was a leader, a booster of dredging and he came fortified with ideas and technical know-how based on years of experience. When Hammon and Couch decided to go ahead with a dredge on the Feather River, it was Postethwaite who designed it and Risdon who built it and supervised its first operations in 1898.

    * Thomas J. Barbour to Edward H. Benjamin, San Francisco Nov. 14, 1902, in “Proceedings of the Eleventh Annual Convention of the California Miners Association”

    From: page #90

    Wendell Hammon joined forces with Captain Thomas Couch, a financier who had recently sold his land holdings in the Montana dredge field, and they contracted with the Risdon Iron and Locomotive Works of San Francisco for a bucket-line dredge to be completed on February 1, 1898, at the price of $23,850.00. Hammon said that only
    after careful tests of the river gravels did he believe that there was sufficient profit to be made by dredging, calculating that there was enough gold in the gravels to garner 18 cents of gold per cubic yard. Later, when honored by the Engineers Club of San Francisco, Hammon said that once he sat down to calculate the value of gold to be had by dredging the Feather River, he “didn’t know there was that much money in the world”

    Below from:

    The first successful gold dredge in California was built in 1898 by Biggs, Butte County resident Wendell P. Hammon, the “Dredger King,” and his partner, Thomas Couch, a Montana mining businessman. This first model and those that followed consisted of a floating hull, a digging ladder, an endless chain of buckets, screening apparatus, gold-saving devices, pumps, and a stacker.

    Hammon was instrumental in founding the Yuba Construction Company in 1906, by purchasing the Western Engineering Company and merging it with his own steel from a casting foundry in Marysville. Four large machine shops were built near Oroville to maintain and build the dredgers. Hammon also founded the Yuba Consolidated Gold Fields on the Yuba River in 1904. This company became a large, profitable placer operation, a proving ground for new dredge designs and a training ground for dredge operators and others in this global industry. As many as 50 dredgers work in the Feather River/Yuba River drainage at one time. The Yuba Construction Company changed its name to the Yuba Manufacturing Company and later became a subsidiary of the Yuba Consolidated Gold Fields.
    From: Pages 37 & 38

    Samuel Harper transferred his holdings in Summit County to Revett in 1897, and on 1, September of that year, Revett organized the North American Gold Dredging Company.

    The company’s head office was in Portland, Maine, but it was formed to carry out business in Breckenridge, Colorado, with Revert as its resident agent. In November1897, Revert’s North American company contracted with the Risdon Iron Works of San Francisco, for two light, steam-powered “New Zealand” type dredges, with three-cubic-foot buckets, each with a capacity of one thousand cubic yards per day. These were the third and fourth dredges constructed by the Risdon Iron Works, the first two were employed in California and were known in Breckenridge as the Risdon No. 1 and Risdon No. 2 dredges.

    Both dredges were assembled on the Swan River, one near Valdoro and the second at the mouth of Galena Gulch. The first dredge went into operation in May 1898 and the second shortly thereafter. The steam-powered dredge boats were ninety feet long and thirty feet wide. From the top of each dredge, Revett flew beautiful silk pennants with a hand-worked representation of a swan, after the Swan River. After initial reports of great success, with the dredges moving two thousand cubic yards per day, they proved to be too light to mine the heavy gravels encountered. Another problem was that the stackers were too short, so rock fell back into the pond underneath the dredges.

    Despite the ineffectiveness of these dredges during the first season, another attempt was made to use them in 1899. However, the Risdon No. 1 and Risdon No. 2 dredges were dismantled and shipped to California by the end of 1899, in an effort to get some salvage value out of their machinery

    From the: Pacific Rural Press, August 26, 1905

    A few months later Thomas Couch and F. T. Sutherland, from Montana, were in San Francisco, Cal., looking for mining properties. To them was suggested the Feather river gravels, and there they went, and, with Mr. Hammon, after prospecting for about a year, purchased 1000 acres, which are now being worked by five dredgers. While they were prospecting this ground, R. H. Postlethwaite, a New Zealand engineer, who had come to California to look over the dredging field, had constructed by the Risdon Iron Works a 3 1/4-cubic foot bucket dredger to be used near Smartsville, on the Yuba river. While the dredger itself was satisfactory, the conditions did not permit of final success in working. The first dredger at Oroville, built for the Feather River Exploration Co., began work March 1, 1898. It was designed by Mr. Postlethwaite and built by the Risdon Iron Works. This dredger is still being successfully operated; it has been strengthened, however, in parts. Steam was used at first, but now all the dredgers in the Sacramento valley districts are worked by electric power.

    A picture of a Risdon dredge, Oroville, Calif. Aug. 1903

    Here is a good bulletin with pictures about some of the dredges:

    Bulletin #127

  26. RE: James A. Brandt Photograph Collection
    Is this collection accessable? They are MOVING the last remaining Risdon Iron Works structure at pier70 and I need to submit drawing and photos to the HABS/HAER archive before they do.

    1. Jeremy,

      The photos I’ve posted on this blog are not in a library or part of a digitized archive. Rather, they’re out of an old photograph album in my home office. There are about 150 B&W prints in the album. Typically, each print has been glued to the pages of the album. The majority deal with Risdon Iron Works (their ships, pumps, mining equipment, locomotives and such). There are not many photos of buildings or manufacturing facilities, although there are a few. I think most were taken by a professional photographer for Risdon to document the company’s accomplishments. There are some attributions to the photographers, but many have no information about who took the photo. Most of the photos were probably taken in the 1900-1910 period.

      The photos are a visual record of the history of Risdon and the activities along the southern San Francisco waterfront during a narrow time period. They tell a cool story.

      I’ve catalogued less than half of them, and only posted a handful on this blog. I’d love to digitize all of them and post them on this blog except I’m not a skilled conservationist. The book pages are very fragile, although the photos themselves are pretty sturdy and of high-quality.

      Tell me some more about your needs.


  27. Bill I have a question for you, is there anyway I can get a hold of you privately?

    I have gone through the San Francisco Directories from 1868 to 1916, to find out about Risdon Iron and Locomotive Works and the people who worked there. As you know, Risdon was sold in 1911 but it kept its name for 5 years, until 1916 and then there is no listings about it, for example, Taylor – William H. Jr. was listed as: vice-president, Risdon Iron Wks., r. Menlo Park (1916) and Taylor – Augustus B. was listed as: president, Risdon Iron Wks., r. Menlo Park (1915) and Kemperman – Nina C. Miss was listed as: secretary, Risdon Iron Wks., r. 1153 Dolores (1914). After 1911, there are no working employees listed, only office staff.

    What I did was to download all the San Francisco Directories from 1854 to 1921 and do a search for “Risdon” I have 47 files, one for each of the 47 years of the people employed at Risdon (one of those files run from 1912 to 1916) as there were not that many people.

    I have also 2 files with all the names listed in the Directories in alphabetical order, one runs from A to M and the other runs from M to Z or I could put it into one file from A to Z. I have also added the year behind the persons’s name for when they worked, see below.

    These files are by no means complete as I know I missed many people, as pages were missing, badly blurred, not copied fully or the print distorted, etc. I typed in Risdon but a lot came up as Kisdon, Bisdon, Frisdon, Risdou but a lot came up as Rlsdon……the “i” being mistaken for a “l”.

    Below are a few examples of the listings, these are in no order, just randomly selected for different types of employment.

    Conness – Thornton D.
    electrical engineer, Risdon I. & L. Wks. r. 533, 4th (1901)

    Martin – Felicia Miss
    telephone operator, Risdon Iron Wks., r. Alameda (1902)

    Cheffers – Charles Jr.
    ship carpenter, Risdon Iron Wks. (1907)

    Sankey – Charles A.
    bookkeeper, Risdon Iron Works, dwl 612 Shotwell (1869)

    Berg – J.
    riveter, Risdon I. Wks. (1902)

    Rolph – Joseph W.
    auditor, Risdon Iron Wks., r. 176 Belvedere (1910)

    Donnelly – John H.
    pipe maker, Risdon I. & L. Wks., r. 176 Shipley (1899)

    Anderson – C.
    janitor, Risdon Iron Wks., r. 1103 Kentucky (1907)

    Carson – F. H.
    warehouse keeper, Risdon I. and L. Works, r. Oakland (1892)

    Mushett – William E.
    stock keeper, Risdon I. Wks., r. Berkeley (1905)

    Sampson – James M.
    light tender, Risdon I. & L. Wks., r. 316 Jones (1898)

    Mead – Lewis R.
    secretary, Risdon Iron Works, dwl NW for Folsom and Second (1868)

    Campbell – Robert S.
    coppersmith, Risdon I. & L. Wks., r. 518 Mission (1901)

    Guilar – James
    superintendent ship building, Risdon I. and L. Works, r. 1309 Taylor (1891)

    Dougherty – Thomas
    crane man, Risdon I. & L. Wks., r. 69 Shipley (1897)

    Risdon – John N.
    president, Risdon Iron and Locomotive Works, dwl 1119 Pine (1869)

    Carsson – Felix H.
    clerk machinery dept., Risdon I. and L. Works, r. 616 Folsom (1893)

    Dugan – James
    laborer, Risdon I. and L. Works, dwl cor Fremont and Howard (1878)

    Dumpsey – John
    teamster, Risdon I. and L. Works, dwl 620 Sixth (1878)

    Galvin – Dennis J.
    expressman, Risdon I. & L. Wks., r. 221 Harrison (1900)

    Brady – Thomas
    helper, Risdon I. and L. Works, r. 34 Rausch (1883)

    Mair – William
    asst. marine superintendent, Risdon Iron Wks., r. 62 Parnassus Av. (1908)

    Atkinson – Samuel
    pattern maker, Risdon Iron Works, dwl S s 16th bet Howard and Folsom (1868)

    Millas – J.
    calker, Risdon Iron Wks., r. 1849 Mariposa (1908)

    Coffey – Lewis
    superintendent, Risdon Iron and Locomotive Works, dwl 5l6 Stockton (1871)

    Baker – George H.
    molder, Risdon I. and L. Works, dwl 705 Grove (1878)

    Haub – George P.
    plumber, Risdon I. Wks., r. 1979 Union (1902)

    Cane – Reuben
    blacksmith, Risdon I. and L. Works, r. 19 Oak Grove Av. (1884)

    Flaherty – James
    watchman, Risdon Iron Wks., r. 834 Page (1908)

    Baumgartner – Charles T.
    structural engineer, Risdon I. Wks., r. 905 Market (1902)

    Finnegan – Michael
    boilermaker, Risdon I. and L. Works, dwl 153 Minna, rear (1876)

    Tabrett – Henry C.
    marine superintendent, Risdon I. and L. Works, r. 1621, 21st (1892)

    Blake – Richard W.
    carpenter, Risdon I. and L. Works, r. 624 Fourth (1885)

    Asmussen – Oscar
    machinist, Risdon I. and L. Works, r. SE cor Fulton and Webster (1883)

    Peterson – Ivan L.
    estimator, Risdon Iron Wks., r. Burlingame (1909)

    Bernstein – Oscar
    stenographer, Risdon I. and L. Works, r. 437 Natoma (1890)

    Kemperman – Nina C. Miss
    bookkeeper, Risdon Iron & Locomotive Wks, r 1153 Dolores (1913)

    Kearney – John
    flange turner, Risdon I. & L. Wks., r. 6 Zoe Pl (1899)

    Beck – Fred
    foreman rigger, Risdon Iron Wks., r. 2722 Bryant (1908)

    Badlam – Edgar B.
    mechanical engineer and draftsman Risdon I. and L. Works, r. 1024 Franklin (1886)

    Daley – D,
    pipe fitter, Risdon Iron Works, r. 230 Grove (1907)

    Shelfin – Charles
    steamfitter, Risdon I. Wks., r. 1750, 12th Av. (1903)

    Considine – P.
    driller, Risdon Iron Wks., r. 1998, 18th (1908)

    Allan – T. J.
    naval architect, Risdon I. Wks., r. Alameda (1902)

    Peterson – Ivan L.
    accountant, Risdon I. and L. Works, r. 121 Stockton (1893)

    Kimball – R. E.
    electrician, Risdon I & L. Wks., r. 528 Ellis (1901)

    Buckman – Thomas
    tool keeper, Risdon I. and L. Works, r. 10 Boyd (1885)

    Eckmann – Emile
    timekeeper, Risdon Iron Wks., r. 665 Hampshire (1909)

    Jacobs – Tobe
    chief wharfinger, Risdon Iron Wks., r. 459 Hayes (1908)

    Miller – W. J.
    collector, Risdon I. & L. Wks., r. Oakland (1900)

    I can post the list on here if you want but it’s going to run for pages upon pages.
    Let me know if your interested or not as I have a fair amount more info.

    1. Dennis,

      This information is exceptional. It’s quite an effort on your part. As you know, several persons have queried this blog in the past about their ancestors who worked at Risdon, Your directory-lists could be a great resource for them. It is also very interesting to look at the occupations of the individuals, and numbers of persons in the directory-lists. It tells a lot about the size of the workforce and the breadth of their skills. With a little digging, I bet a sociologist could even learn a lot about the demographics about the 19th and early 20th century workforce in San Francisco!!

      I’d love to include your lists on this blog. I suspect one way to accomplish this might be for me to create a new main menu category entitled “Risdon Employees”, or “Risdon Directory”, or “For Genealogists”……or something like that. We could include your files under this new category, by year, as attachments.

      I’ll contact you by email. No need to bore everyone with the procedural stuff about how to get your lists posted (unless someone else out there has a good suggestions about how to make this happen!!!)



  28. On July 26, 2011, Bill said:

    “My hope in creating this blog is to learn more about the history of Risdon Iron Works. But a blog about such a narrow topic will probably have a very short shelf life.”

    Well here we are almost, not quite, but getting close to 5 years later, so I thought I would give you a read about Risdon in 1901

    From the San Francisco Call, December 15, 1901 (page #70)

    Bird’s-Eye View of the Risdon Iron and Locomotive Works, Potrero, San Francisco.

    The main shops and the shipbuilding plant of the Risdon Iron Works are located on the water front of the Potrero, between Nineteenth and Twenty-second streets. The property consists of thirty-two acres, lying between Georgia street and the shore line, which is here nominally Massachusetts street, and includes the former site of the Pacific Rolling Mills.

    The main entrance is at Twentieth and Louisiana streets, four blocks east of Kentucky street, on which is the nearest electric-car line. The main line of the Southern Pacific Railway’s bay shore extension is three blocks from the entrance on Illinois street. From this a spur runs down Twentieth street through the main gateway, which is forty feet wide, and there spreads out fan shaped into four branches. All these tracks are interconnected by curves of 150 feet radius, allowing a choice of two or three routes from almost any point to any other, thus preventing the annoyance and delay of blocking traffic. For instance, there are four possible routes from the machine shop to the shear legs, the ultimate destination of all large marine work. The total length of trackage about the works is four miles.

    The general arrangement of the buildings is as follows: North of Twentieth street is located the shipbuilding department proper. It consists of the mold loft and ship tool building, plate racks and the shipbuilding ways. South of Twentieth street the first tier of buildings is as follows, going toward the bay: New office, blacksmith shop, angle-bar shed, warehouse, joiner and ship-pattern shop and fireproofing and riggers shops. The next tier south consists of machine shop, storeroom, power-house, copper shop and boiler-house. The following tier contains the erecting shop, extension to the machine shop, pattern chop, boiler shop, foundry, flask shop and flask yard. There is a complete line of wharves on the bay frontage, including a fitting-out slip, surrounded on three sides with wharfage and railroad tracks. It will be noticed that the grounds are amply provided with railway facilities—in fact a track has been laid wherever it could be of use. As all the curves are 150 feet radius, the usual flatcars and railway yard locomotives have access to all parts of the works. The complete track system also makes it possible to utilize all the space not occupied by buildings for storage. Material and all heavy articles are carried about the works by three yard or locomotive cranes, having a capacity of ten tons. These are also used for switching cars.

    The buildings are constructed of structural steel, covered with galvanized corrugated iron, thus being fireproof throughout. The foundations are concrete piers. Under the machine shop, boiler shop, foundry and blacksmith shop piers are laid upon bedrock, as the site of these buildings has been excavated from the surrounding hills. The ship tool building columns and each separate machine rest upon concrete piers nine feet deep, which, in turn, are built upon piles from seventy to ninety feet long, driven to bedrock. The joiner shop is similarly supported, though the distance to bedrock is not so great. The lighting facilities are ample indeed. Each shop is completely equipped with arc and incandescent lamps, so that work can be carried on continuously night and day when necessary.


    Four kinds of power are distributed completely throughout the works, compressed air, hydraulic, steam and electric. Compressed air is used for hoists, drills, riveters, calkers and other pneumatic tools, the provision for the ship building and repairing plant, wharves and fitting cut slip being especially complete.

    Hydraulic power is used for large riveters, punches, jacks, drop forging presses, hoists, keel plate bender, etc., and also for testing.

    Steam is used outside the power-house itself, for steam hammers and heating purposes.

    The main source of power, however, is electric. Nearly all machines, except the special hydraulic and pneumatic and the steam hammers, which require over five horsepower, are independently driven by electric motors. The smaller machines are belt driven from line shafts, each having its own motor.

    The Power-House

    This is a thoroughly modern, one-story steel structure, 75 by 100 feet, situated in the center of the plant. It is the producing and distributing point for the different power systems mentioned above, and also serves for the salt and fresh water distribution for drinking and fire purposes, as well as petroleum distribution for the boilers, blacksmith shop and boiler shop fires.

    The boilers (now being installed) are of the Heine water-tube type and will eventually supply all the power used in the works. They are oil burning, as are also those upon the locomotive cranes.

    The electrical equipment includes:
    Two 250 K. W. static transformers, 11,000 to 440 volts.
    Two 150 K. W. static transformers, 11,000 to 196 volts.
    One 50 K. W. static transformer, 2,200 to 110 volts.
    Two 25 K. w. static transformers, 2,200 to 110 volts.
    Two 10 K. W. static transformers, 440 to 110 volts.
    One 250 K. W. rotary converter, 196 to 220 volts.

    All are supplied with the necessary switches, ammeters, volt meters, watt meters and other requirements. At present power is taken from the mains of the Independent Light and Power Company, at 11,000 volts, two-phase, 60 cycles. Provision, however, has been made to install generators which will furnish all the power required.

    The direct current system is used to operate all the overhead traveling cranes and two or three small motors.

    The alternating current system supplies power to the remaining motors and the arc and incandescent lamps.

    The hydraulic power system is supplied by a 150 horsepower, triple throw, double acting pump, driven by an induction motor. This pump produces a pressure of 1500 pounds per square inch and feeds a battery of four accumulators, which automatically control the output. The power is then distributed through a system of manifolds to the various departments.

    The compressed air is furnished by a 300 horsepower, two stage, inter-cooled compressor, directly connected to a compound Corliss engine. Provision is made for adding more when required. The compressor delivers through a receiver to the mains at a pressure of 100 pounds per square inch.

    The fresh and salt water systems distribute through the manifolds throughout, the plant, the former direct from the Spring Valley mains, the latter from a 16x9x12 inch Smith-Valle fire pump which will deliver 750 gallons per minute. This is governed by a Metz pump governor, so that it keeps a constant pressure on the 5 mains. As the salt water is also used for condensing and sprinkling the grounds, the pump is constantly in operation, thus being ready at all times for emergencies. By a system of valves the fire pumps can be changed over to the fresh water system if necessary, or in case of fire will operate both until the arrival of the city’s engines, when the latter will take fresh water, leaving the salt water system for the shop force. There is also in the power-house a 100-horsepower induction motor driving a line shaft which operates a blower for the blacksmith shop fires, an auxiliary air compressor and an auxiliary hydraulic pump.

    Oil System

    The oil system is very complete, crude petroleum being the principal fuel throughout the works.

    The storage tank holds 7000 barrels and is surrounded by a brick wall 80 by 55 feet, 9 feet high, forming a reservoir with cemented floor which will contain the entire contents of the tank. One corner is walled off, forming a pumping room. Here is located a Goulds rotary pump operated by a five-horsepower motor and having a capacity of 250 gallons per minute. This is connected to the pipe lines so as to be used either to empty tank cars into the storage tank or pump oil into the supply tank at the power-house. It will empty a car in twenty-five minutes or fill the storage tank (which will last about ten hours) in fifteen minutes. Four cars can be connected to it at one time. The supply tank is buried beneath one end of the power-house. Above this are two duplex steam pumps arranged in duplicate. These pump the oil through a heater to the boilers. They also pump oil to the blacksmith and boiler shops, where it is used in the angle furnace, rivet-heating furnaces and other fires.

    Machine Shop

    This building is a carefully designed steel structure, 308 by 101 feet, is unusually lofty for such buildings and is elaborately lighted and ventilated.

    The tools have been carefully chosen to properly handle the heaviest marine and mining machinery as well as the finest and most accurate machine work. They were supplied by the Bement-Miles Company of Philadelphia, and there is no machine shop in the country that contains larger tools or a more complete equipment.

    Above the ground floor are two galleries on each side of the building. The lower galleries are each 125 by 25 feet, extending from the north end. The upper galleries are of the same width, extending the full length of the building. The lower ones are filled with small tools, vise benches, etc., as is the east upper gallery, the west being at present occupied by the electrical storeroom and workshop, office and the temporary draughting room of the works.

    In the remaining 133 feet not occupied by the lower galleries (that is, the south or erecting end) run two ten and fifteen ton electric overhead traveling cranes of twenty-five foot span, twenty-two foot lift. In the middle fifty feet, which is clear to the roof, runs a twenty-ton crane the full length of the building. It has a lift of thirty feet. Besides these a sixty-ton crane of the same type is to be installed in the south end, where the erecting shop is located. It will be above the twenty-ton crane and will have a fifty-foot span, forty-five foot lift and 183-foot run. The fifteen, twenty and sixty ton cranes all have five-ton auxiliary hoists. The ground floor is paved throughout with red wood blocks, set on end in asphalt and coated over with tar and gravel.

    The machine shop toolroom is built Into one side of the main, building about midway in length. It is 30×60 feet, two stories high, encased on three sides, with the fourth separated from the main shop by wire netting only. It contains a complete equipment of the finest machines for making tools and a large assortment on hand of all the tools necessary for a modern shop.

    Boiler Shop

    The boiler shop and foundry adjoin end to end, allowing space through the partition for the railroad track, which runs through the boiler shop close to this partition and serves as an outlet for both. The shop is a thoroughly substantial, high, well-lighted building, 137.5×185 feet. It also is paved with wooden blocks. Adjoining is the foreman’s office, 14×14.5 feet raised eight feet above the floor and so situated as to command a view of the entire shop. A toolroom 61×14.5 feet is situated under and to one side of the office. It is separated from the shop by wire netting, the other three sides, being cased in. There is also a room 45×30 feet, fitted with racks for bolts and rivets. The main shop has three overhead electric traveling cranes, one 60-ton, with 56-foot span and 41-foot lift, one 20-ton, 50- foot span and 41-foot lift and one 10-ton, with 33.5-foot span and 30-foot lift. All have 5- ton auxiliary hoists.

    Among the principal machines are a large punch with a 60-inch jaw, capable of punching a 6-inch hole in a 5/8-inch plate. Here are also located 12-foot 6-inch rolls capable of rolling a 1 1/4 inch plate. There is a gang drill for drilling large boilers on which three men can operate at one time; large flange punch for punching heads, the latest improved pattern.

    Besides there are drills of all sizes and kinds, the latest improved types of bevel angle and plate shears, post Jib cranes with hydraulic hoists, hydraulic flanging clamps and bending machines, bending slabs, five forges, rivet-heating furnaces, etc. Outside the building and alongside the. railroad tracks are the plate racks, also tube racks sixty feet long by eighty feet high.

    Air is furnished the forges by a No. 8 Sturtevant steel pressure blower belted to the line shaft.


    This is a steel building practically matching the boiler shop, which it joins. It covers an area of 160×178 feet. It is provided with traveling cranes of ample capacity for handling the heaviest castings, besides various post jib cranes distributed throughout the shop. The principal crane has a lift of forty feet. The building is well lighted and ventilated throughout. The molding floor space is about 20,000 square feet.

    The space for cleaning castings is 40×50 feet and is well equipped with emery wheels, rattlers, scales, etc.

    The foundry equipment includes four cupolas for melting iron, with an aggregate capacity of fifty tons and a reverberatory furnace. The core department contains four core ovens, 12×18 feet. 14 feet high; one core oven 18×25 feet, 14 feet high; one small core oven with turret and shelves, and a cement core floor 35×80 feet.

    There is a large cupola, deck having ample space for storing material for immediate use, while adjoining the cupolas is room for storing practically unlimited quantities of pig iron and coke which are easy of access. Under the cupola platforms are large bins with cement floor for storing loam. There is a large Chili mill for loam work. The blower plant consists of one Root blower No. 6, geared. to a 30-horsepower motor, and one Roof blower, No. 5, geared to a 20-horsepower motor.

    Blacksmith Shop

    This shop is intended and designed to handle all work of that character for both machine and ship work. The building is of steel, 58×307 feet, and is especially designed as regards ventilation. The sides and ends are made up entirely of sliding doors, which can be moved in either direction, securing a cool shop in the hottest weather and allowing large pieces to be swung in easily or carried out at any. point.

    The following are among the tools included:
    Hydraulic press for making and welding bands and for drop forging.
    Electric beveling machine, for angle iron.
    One 3-ton steam hammer.
    One 2-ton steam hammer.
    One 1-ton steam hammer.
    One 1500-pound steam hammer.
    Two 1100-pound steam hammers.
    One belt hammer.
    Two 20-ton steam jib cranes.
    Two 10 and 6 ton wood jib cranes.
    One 10-ton steel jib crane.
    One forging furnace from which the waste gases are utilized in a steam boiler, for supplying steam to the cranes.
    It also contains bending slabs 45×45 feet, has a full equipment for forging cranks and heavy shafting, ship-smithing, machine forgings, etc.
    There is room for forty-five fires arranged along the center and on either side.

    Pipe Shop

    This shop immediately joins the boiler shop on the opposite end from the foundry and extends north to the powerhouse and copper shop. These form the ends, the sides being open. The roof covers a space of 133×186 feet, which is not excessive when we take into consideration the fact that the Risdon Iron Works make more sheet pipe than any other single firm in the world.

    This shop is also used extensively for doing light pipe work, making smokestacks, dredger buckets, etc. Narrow gauge tracks connect it with the boiler shop.

    Ship Tool Building

    The mold loft and ship tool building has been very carefully designed and is perhaps the most thoroughly and elaborately equipped for saving labor and turning out work rapidly of any in America.

    It is of steel, 320 feet long by 65 feet wide, with an additional 15 feet of overhanging shed running the full length. This side is open, the columns being 40 feet apart and facing the shoreward ends of the shipbuilding ways.

    The mold loft floor, having a perfectly clear expanse of 65×320 feet, is probably the largest in America. Being supported every ten feet by latticed girders five feet deep, it is practically rigid.

    The most noticeable feature of the ship tool shop is the elaborate system of trolleys and crawls for distributing material and handling it at the machines.

    There are twenty-four crawls, ranging from 6-foot to 17-foot span and are supplied with cross trolleys for handling plates and angles, nine 3-foot gauge trolleys running, on the through tracks for distributing material and two narrow gauge trolleys for handling angle bars at the double angle shears and angle planer.

    Down the center of the shop is a row of six large double-ended punch and shearing machines, over which are two lines of track carrying twelve crawls of 11-foot span each. Completely around these runs a through track carrying four 3-foot trolleys for distribution. Just outside this oval are 6-foot gauge tracks for the four small single-ended punches or shears and the two 30-foot plate planers; 13-foot gauge tracks for the mast rolls and straightening rolls, and clear across one end are two 17-foot gauge tracks completely covering the large 30-foot bending rolls, which will take a plate two and a half inches thick, and the hydraulic keel bender, which, will bend a plate four inches thick. Material is brought in on a 3-foot track running the entire length of the overhanging shed and extending beyond enough to take from the Gantry crane running over the plate racks. The 3-foot, track is twenty-three feet from the ground, allowing the locomotive trains to swing underneath the railroad track, paralleling the trolley just outside the shed. All the other trolley tracks are fourteen feet from the ground. All the cross-tracks run out to meet this through track, so that material can be taken to any machine, in the shop or the finished work, removed without disturbing any other machine even when all are in use. Besides the machines mentioned above, there are two radial counter-sinking and drilling machines working over a long roller table and various smaller drill presses.

    Miscellaneous Buildings

    Besides the principal buildings mentioned above, there is a completely equipped joiner and ship pattern shop, two stories high, 160 by 81 feet, at present supplying all the pattern work; a copper stop, 110 feet by 45 feet; a brass foundry, 80 feet; by 110 feet; a two-story pattern storage warehouse, 80 feet by 170 feet; miscellaneous warehouses aggregating; 133 feet by 200 feet; an emergency hospital 23 feet by 75 feet; a stable, 35 feet by 123 feet, and a Babbitt melting and fitting shop, 16 feet by 25 feet.

    Water Front

    The wharfage facilities include nine wharves, with frontage as follows:
    No. 1— 387 feet long.
    No. 2— 300 feet long.
    No. 3— 48. feet long.
    No. 4— 300 feet long.
    No. 5—138 feet long.
    No. 6—235 feet long.
    No. 7— 42 feet, nine inches long.
    No. 8— 300 feet long.
    No. 9—150 feet long.
    The total frontage is 1900 feet.

    All are connected by railroad tracks and have hydraulic, compressed air and electric connection with the power-house, besides salt and fresh water, plugs.

    The 100-ton shear legs are, located on wharf No. 1. Besides the main lift of 100 tons , there is a masting hoist of twenty tons capacity. The shear legs have an overhang of thirty-six feet, a spread of forty-five feet, and a clear lift, of ninety feet.

    Shipyards and Ways

    There is room at present for building five vessels 600 feet long and one 700 feet long, or a greater number of smaller vessels occupying the same length. Provision is made for handling all material in the course of construction by overhead traveling cranes.

    Plate Racks

    These are located along the ship ways and extending up to the blacksmith shop and the ship tool building. They will be covered by a Gantry crane, with a span of sixty, feet, running their entire length and delivering material to either the blacksmith shop or the trolleys of the ship tool building. Railroad tracks pass through them underneath the Gantry, which will be high enough to allow the locomotive cranes to pass underneath.


    The Risdon Iron Works is well supplied with launches, having three operated by gasoline, for service between the Potrero Works and the downtown office and branch. They are fifty-five feet, fifty feet and thirty-six feet long, respectively, and are very swift, the largest being equal in speed to anything on the bay of the same dimensions.


    The total ground owned is thirty-two acres, while the aggregate area under cover at present is approximately eight acres, with another acre provided for in the near future. This leaves twenty- three acres for ship yard, storage and future expansion. The total floor area, with what is provided for, amounts to ten and one-half acres.

    City Office

    The new city office and branch machine shop is a handsome building, located at the corner of Steuart and Folsom streets, near the Folsom street wharf. It contains a storeroom for made-up stock, an exhibition of sample machines and a small shop for hurried repairs, and other work of similar nature.

    The Growth of the Risdon

    The Risdon Iron and Locomotive Works though entering upon a remarkably era of expansion, so extensive and divergent that the old landmarks of its development are quite lost sight of, is yet one of the oldest and best established manufacturing institutions on the Pacific Coast. In the early days, when mining was the crime source of wealth on this coast, its machinery was the most important manufactured. The Risdon, being a pioneer In this field, has grown up with it, expanding as it developed and contributing its full quota of original inventions, improved forms and labor-saving devices, which have made California’s methods a model of mining on a large scale as a practical science the world over. Though this will always remain an extensive and lucrative field other lines are developing into even greater magnitude— shipbuilding, for instance. Into this the Risdon is prepared to bring the same energy, improved methods and conscientious workmanship which have built up its remarkable trade in the former branch.

    The work which this company is now prepared to do lies in five broad fields, each complete in all its branches. They are shipbuilding, marine engineering, mining machinery, structural iron work and miscellaneous engine and, machine work.

    The Shipbuilding

    In the first the equipment is entirely new and up. to date and includes facilities for building six steel vessels at once, 600 or 700 feet long and up to eighty feet beam, or a larger number of smaller vessels. There are also provided seven wharves for the repair and fitting out of steamers.

    Marine Engineering

    The second department is that of marine engines, high pressure, condensing compound, triple or quadruple expansion; marine boilers of the latest improved Scotch, locomotive type or water-tube, for burning either coal or crude petroleum; condensers, feed pumps. disitilling apparatus, evaporators, refrigerating and ice machines, steering engines, windlasses, winches, coal and ash handling machinery—and, in fact, all that goes to operate an ocean-going steamer of the largest and most elaborate type.

    Mining Machinery

    The third or mining machinery class is so broad that only a bare mention can be made of the various types. For mining proper there are hoisting and pumping engines, steam, hydraulic and portable, and rock-drilling, tramway and ventilating machinery. For ore reduction there are smelting furnaces for silver, lead and copper, reverberatory and mechanical roasting furnaces, revolving and kiln ore dryers, stamp mills, roller mills, concentrators and chlorination works. Among the specialties in this line manufactured by the Risdon are Bryan roller mills, Johnson concentrators, steel whims. Hoskins’ giants, Wright calcining furnaces, Pelatan clerici process machinery and Evans’ hydraulic elevators. Among the different methods of mining one in particular has become of paramount importance in the last few years. It is working the gold-bearing river beds by means of , bucket and even caisson dredgers.

    The Risdon has built a great number of those and holds the exclusive rights for building the R. H. Postlethwaite dredge, undoubtedly the most successful one on the market. As evidence of this might be stated the fact that four years ago there was no successful dredger working in California, although many were left as failures on the banks of rivers throughout the State.

    Since the first Risdon dredger was built on the Feather River there have been over thirty of them made, and the Risdon is now building nine of these machines. The dredgers have not only been used in California but are in operation all over the Western States and among the gold districts of Africa, Alaska and Mexico.

    Structural Iron Work

    In the fourth class— that of structural iron and steel work— the Risdon has contributed to the most important recent building operations of San Francisco, notably the Union Depot, or ferry building and the Claus Spreckels building. Mention should also be made of the Spreckels Sugar Company’s plant at Spreckels, Monterey County, California. The main building is 582 by 103 feet, six stories high and contains over 3600 tons of structural steel.

    Engine and Machine Work

    The last class, comprising engine and machine work, contains many diverse branches, some, notably sugar machinery and hydraulic machinery, being almost of sufficient importance and magnitude to rank with the main group. The former includes most of the machinery used on the sugar plantations of the Hawaiian Islands, consisting of crushers, vacuum pans, filter presses, settling tanks, etc., besides engines trash burning boilers, pumps, water wheels, motors, etc.

    In hydraulic machinery the Risdon is a pioneer, having built the real prototype of the modern tangential water wheel with reaction buckets, frequently called the “Pelton type” water wheel. They have built these extensively, for many years, the later example being three, 3000 horsepower water wheels, directly connected to polyphase alternators for the Bay Counties Power Company. Another important branch is that of hydraulic steel pipe building, of which they are the most extensive builders in the world.

    The miscellaneous group is too extensive and diversified to allow of specifying more than a few types. For instance, Corliss engines, Risdon air compressors. Heine safety water-tube boilers, Smith-Vaile pumps, all sorts of manufacturing and special machinery, boil«r fixtures, all kinds and sizes of valves, pneumatic and hydraulic tools.

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