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The Shelby Steel Tube Works
Shelby Steel Tube Company
c. 1904
The Early Days
(The following article was originally written c. 1897)
 In December, 1890, the Shelby Steel Tube Co. was organized with a capital stock of $100,000. But it was not until March, 1891, that the works were really started.On July 24th of that year, the first seamless cold-drawn steel tube was made in the United States. The occasion was a source of great local jubilation. Prior to this all the steel tubing used in this country was made in England. The primary history narrated in a simple manner will be interesting.

To Colonel D.L. Cockley, more than to any other individual does the full credit accrue to the successful founding of this industry. In a chance conversation, he gleaned the fact that manufacturers of bicycles were using an immense amount of cold-drawn seamless steel tubes, which were all imported; that if they could be
successfully made in this country there was an opening for a grand industry. With indomitable spirit and luck he set bout an investigation, and careful and extensive research was instituted. At this time there were but two plants in the world turning out this product. They were the Weldless and Credena factories in England. Two representatives of the Shelby Company were detailed on a special mission. It required persistent ingenuity to gain entrance to one of these works. Disguised as a workman, one of the representatives finally accomplished the arduous task.
Eventually, Hudson and Gay, famous tube drawers, allowed them to make draughts of their works and operations. Sticking rigidly to the task, in the face of all rebuffs and drawbacks, they in the end secured the coveted process. The gentlemen who had the project in hands did not stop here. Machinery of a duplicate character was built and much of it improved. Like all other enterprises, the start was the hardest. There was a full share of Americans who doubted and pooh-poohed the idea that the Shelby Steel Tube Co., could equal the English product, and for awhile, the introduction was slow. But the tireless workers of the Company shut their teeth down hard and their faces were set in determined lines. The triumphal end came, victory was won, and today it is an admitted fact that the Shelby cold-drawn seamless steel tubes excel in finish and quality those imported. This is due to two facts: a minute attention to the smallest details of manufacture, and a keen, careful and everlasting purpose in perfecting improvements.
Important improvements were discernible as possible in the construction of certain machines necessary to the work; and the more marked general intelligence of American skilled mechanics employed in the works brought about this result. Here is illustrative evidence.

The English preceptor of these works declared that sizes less than 3/8 inch and larger than 1 ¾ inches could not be made. But the Shelby Steel Tube Co., the first manufacturers in America, and now the largest in the world, turn it out in sizes ranging from 3/8 inch and up to as large as 3 inches in diameter, in gauge 1 to 30 English Standard.

The Shelby plant now covers an area of six acres; employees about 700 men, and last year did a gross business of over $1,200,000. The capacity of the works is slightly in excess of 2,000,000 feet of tubing per month; a quantity sufficient to make over 100,000 bicycles, if used exclusively for that purpose. The average
prevailing price of tubing at the time of the organization of the Shelby concern was 17½ cents per ft. and the same had to be paid before taking it out of bond. The price of American manufactured tubing last season averaged a little less than 12 cents.

The Shelby Steel Tube Works has consolidated various other similar concerns which came into existence since the original enterprise, and they are now capitalized at about $5,000,000. Shelby is now the seat of the greatest enterprise of the kind in the world. There was a great increase of business last year in this line with prospects excellent for 1898.

The present officers of the Shelby Tube Co. are W.F. Miller, President; W.S. Miller, Treasurer and H.H. Cockley, Secretary.

(The above article contributed by Ruby Bonecutter)
Early Growth Stage
As the above article implies, in 1897, the Tube Works acquired some competing steel mills that were springing up around the county. Purchases continued over the next few years and many of the competing mills were closed down and their equipment was moved to Shelby. By 1900, The Shelby Steel Tube Company was the world's
leading manufacturer of steel tubing.
In 1901, The United States Steel Company was formed through the merger of Carnegie Steel Company and a number of other tube steel and mining firms and the Shelby firm was associated with this organization.*
Steel tubing shipments remained strong over the next several years, with the "Tube Works" shipping tons of steel tubing to it's customers worldwide. Then, amidst all the growth and prosperity in the Shelby community that was largely attributed to the success of the tubing business, an accident occurred that was immediately devastating.
The Fire of June 18, 1908
Shelby Steel Tube Works - Early 1908
The above photo was taken in early 1908 when the "Tube Works" was Shelby's "growth" industry. Then in the evening, on June 18, 1908, a fire started somewhere in the plant. It rapidly spread, soon engulfing the majority of the manufacturing facility. Efforts were made to control it, but it was hopeless, and by the next day, Shelby's premier industry was in total ruin.

 Part 2 - Fire at Shelby Steel Tube Company
* Portions of this section are abstracted from Mayor Raymond Wilkinson's book "More About Early Shelby"
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