Muscatine County, Iowa
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
Centennial Edition
31 May 1940

Section 4 - Page 22, Submitted by Shirley Plumb, May 14, 2012

Barry Name Is Linked With Industrial Life for Four Generations

Photo of Nicholas Barry, Sr. - The name of Barry has long been prominent in the civic progress and industrial development of Muscatine. Nicholas Barry Sr. the first of the family to come to Muscatine, was born in Kilmore, county of Wexford, Ireland, June 25, 1819. He came to the United States from Ireland on a sailing vessel in 1839 with his mother and sister by way of Quebec to Cleveland where Mr. Barry operated a tailoring shop.

With his eyes continually on the new and fast-growing west, Nicholas journeyed with his wife, the former Alice Potts, who he married in Cleveland in 1847, to Rock Island, then the head of navigation on the Mississippi and a booming river port.

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Within a short time, he was offered the superintendency of the Rock Island gas works and held this position until 1866 when he moved with his family to Muscatine to become superintendent of the gas works in this city. The family located in a brick residence on the southeast corner of Second and Orange Street where the Huttig warehouse now stands.

In 1869, Nicholas began to fully realize that his sons were growing up and that they could be of material help to him in a business of his own which he could turn over to them later. So the following year, N. Barry and Sons was started in a building which was rented from William Held at 421 East Second Street.

The firm operated a plumbing and heating business, which was the only one in this section, and soon was contracting to in Waterloo, Mt. Pleasant, Grinnell, Iowa City and other points, even going as far east as Pittsburg to do work for the H. J. Heinz Co.

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In 1886, a patent was secured on a lead trap for sinks and wash bowls, an invention which proved extremely popular. By 1890, business had grown to such an extent that a building was rented on Fulton, near Jefferson Street, in Chicago, and traps were made there as well as in Muscatine.

The company bought out the Barry rotary niagra hydrant in 1890, which was sold to lumber yards, grain elevators, fireboats and docks, and was also used to hydraulic mining. The four inch stream would travel 465 feet and was so powerful it could tear off roofing and siding and peel down a pile of lumber, board by board. In the catalogue appear testimonials from fire chiefs in the largest cities of the country.

Nicholas Sr., Patrick, Jr., Nichols, Jr. and Thomas F. Barry were all active in the firm at this time. Then it was that the first whisperings of the start of a new industry, button manufacture, began to be heard here with the discovery by J. F. Boepple, a German emigrant, that buttons could be made from mussel shells taken from the bed of the Mississippi River.

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The first machinery was so crude that it was impossible to go into commercial production, so the Barrys went to work on the idea and perfected the machines that meant the transforming of the industry – cutting machines, classifiers, hand facing and drilling machinery and polishers.

Then came the single automatic, with the buttons being faced on one machine and drilled on another, and in 1904 the Barrys invented the double automatic which is still being built, in an improved form, today.

With button manufacturing costs reduced and a more salable product turned out as a result of the advancements in machinery, prices dropped, and business boomed. The Barrys became to the button business what the McCormick reaper was to the grain business, the Whitney cotton gin to the textile industry.

In 1888, N. Barry and Sons incorporated as the Barry Manufacturing Co., and in 1904 moved from the building on Mulberry avenue, at the corner of Third streets (now occupied by the Automatic Button Co.) and moved into larger quarters in a new plant erected on Poplar street which covered a half block in area. The building included a foundry for making grey iron castings.

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Power transmission equipment was added to the line, and in 1912 experiments were begun to develop a split pressed steel pulley, lighter in some cases but in all instances stronger than the wood pulleys then on the market. The possibilities of this new type pulley led to erection in 1814-1815 of a new plant on Poplar and Fifth Street for manufacture of the pulleys.

Nicholas St., who had retired in 1885, died at the age of 93 in 1885, and his wife, also 93, succumbed one month later. In 1815, the firm name was changed to the Barry Co., and incorporated for $ 500,000. Following the death of Patrick J. Barry at the age of 80 in January, 1929, and the retirement of N. Barry Jr., in 1838 at the age of 82, Thomas F. Barry became president of the firm in 1838, an office he still holds.

The fourth generation of the family, which for 70 years has given its labors and efforts to promote the best interests and general welfare of their employees and at the same time aid in the development of the entire community is now associated with the firm.

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Bitzers Identified With Carriage Making Industry

Photo of Mrs. Barbara Bitzer, Henry Bitzer and Mrs. Henry Bitzer - The name of Bitzer was associated with the carriage making industry in Muscatine back in the early days. Mrs. Barbara Bitzer, born in Lancaster County, Pa., in 1825, and married to Henry Bitzer, Sr., in that state in 1825, came to Muscatine with her five sons in 1853. Her death occurred Jan. 30, 1878. One of her sons was Henry Bitzer, born in Cumberland County, Pa., Oct. 19, 1844, who accompanied his mother here. He was married here in 1877 and died Nov. 27, 1909. Mrs. Henry Bitzer was formerly Mrs. W. H. Simpson, nee Henrietta Wetmore. She was born in Connecticut and died on Feb. 6, 1895. [dates typed as written in article]

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All decked out in natty uniforms for the first time, the marshal and police force of Muscatine were strutting their stuff on April 23 in the year 1878. “They are made of navy blue cloth and decorated with bright brass buttons and are, withall, very imposing and becoming,” a Journal news item reported.

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STATISTICAL – Mr. R. Cadle, our worthy postmaster, has kindly furnished us with the following:

Number of letters received at, and sent from, the Post Office at Muscatine, Iowa, for the year ending June 30, 1852:

    Number of letters received, 23,771; number sent, 33,384; - total 58,155.
    Number of newspapers and periodicals received, 28,208.
    ---July 17, 1852

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Photo of Mill - OLD FLOUR MILL – The old North American Roller Mills, for many years an important business firm in Muscatine, was situated at the corner of Fourth and Oak streets on property which is now occupied by the William Glatstein business firm.

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