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British Industrial History

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William Cowin

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William Cowin (1825-1874) of Laver and Cowin, of the Lambertville Iron Works, New Jersey, USA

William was born in Yorkshire on 19 March 1825, the son of William Cowin Sr. and Sarah Mackin [Makin]. He and some other family members emigrated to America about 1849 [see below]. He was naturalized on 24 Sept 1852.

1850 Census: William Sr. was an iron moulder, living with his wife Sarah, 47, and Sarah’s father, Charles Makin, age 69, and their children, William 25, (pattern maker), Eliza 20, Charles 11 (born in Pennsylvania), and Frances 6 (born in NJ, about 1844).

William Jr. and his uncle, Lambertville ironfounder John Laver (born in England 1807), formed the partnership of Laver and Cowin. The partnership was dissolved in 1859, and the business was carried on by William and Charles Cowin. Charles died within 6 months. Later the business became the Lambertville Iron Works, producing various kinds of wrought and cast iron work, including steam engines, railway wagons, millwork, iron bridges, machine tools, etc.

William died in 1874, and the business was carried on by his widow, Caroline Corson Welch, the daughter of engineer Ashbel Welch, with William Johnson as manager.

For an excellent account of the Cowlin and Laver families, and William Johnson, (from which the above information is condensed) see the website of Marfy Goodspeed[1][2]

Biographical information from other sources: The 1841 UK census shows William Jr., age 15, living with Charles Makin (59), Betty Makin (60) and Betsy (30) in Rockingham Street, Ecclesall Bierlow, Sheffield. The description of William's occupation is almost illegible, but may indicate that he was an apprentice cabinet or case maker. US immigration records show that he arrived in New York from Liverpool on 15 June 1846 on the ship Roscius, with Elizabeth Makin, 68, spinster. William's occupation is given as a joiner. Perhaps they were joining other family members who had emigrated earlier. In the 1850 UK census John Laver is listed as an iron moulder (implying that he was an employee, not a foundry owner at that time), living with his wife Hannah (b.1805), Elizabeth Makin (age 40, presumably Hannah's sister), and Emmala Cowin, age 8).

Cowin's contribution to the development of cast and wrought iron truss girder bridges is placed in the broader context in the New Jersey Historic Bridge Survey[3]. It states, inter alia, that Francis C. Lowthorp, designer of the early cast and wrought iron pony truss bridges in Hunterdon County, and William Cowin, the fabricator, are famous in the annals of metal truss bridge technology in the country, and highlights the significance of three surviving c.1870 bridges in Hunterdon County.

Technical information on Lowthorp/Cowin bridges here[4]. This focuses on the Main Street Bridge over the Raritan River, South Branch, and the article notes that the three surviving Lowthorp/Cowin truss bridges are among the most important bridges in the country. The webpage also provides links to other related information, including an interesting 1920 article which includes drawings of details of the Main Street Bridge.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] 'The Lockatong Bridge on Raven Rock Road, part one'
  2. [2] 'The Lockatong Bridge over Raven Rock Road, part two'
  3. [3] The New Jersey Historic Bridge Survey, prepared by A. G. Lichtenstein & Associates, Inc., 1994
  4. [4] Historic Bridges website, Main Street Bridge