An important extension of my passion for the use of design in crafting expressions of tribute is my selection of artisan partners that design and produce the artistic symbols. Do my partners share that passion?
Wendell August Forge which began in Brockway, Pennsylvania in 1923, was not even a company when the founder Wendell McMinn August, a coal mine owner, “commissioned” a set of hand forged door latches for his home with the help of one of his blacksmiths. Four family generations and 90+ years later the company is the only hand-forge decorative and gift manufacturer in the US. Hence, a 90-year overnight success!
Well, not quite. I skipped over a chapter in their history that “forged” a renewed commitment to the artistry by the company leadership and their employees.
In 2008, the recession found financial advisors recommending to Will Knecht, the president, and his family “sell the business assets and move on”. But Knecht resisted. “We are the oldest and largest forge. We felt a great feeling of stewardship. Rarely do we disregard advisor’s advice, but we said no way. We’re not just a company. We’re making things in America.”
The deeply religious Knecht saw it as a sign from above when just a few short years later the company wrote its biggest order, for a commemorative giveaway commissioned by the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team.
But just two days later, Knecht was out on a job when he got a call that the forge was on fire, kindled when a lacquer use to spray bronze pieces ignited and the fire suppression system failed. “It was tested just a month earlier and given the okay. It should have been a few hundred dollars in damage, not millions. The worst part were those first couple hours when the fire was raging. That was the lowest point. My coworkers are wondering how they’re going to feed their families.” Knecht organized a prayer circle for his teary eyed employees even as the inferno blazed in front of them, and that’s when Knecht says he felt an incredible calm, a supernatural peace, come over him. “I wasn’t anxious. I wasn’t stressed. I knew why I was there; it was clear as day. I knew we had to rebuild.”
Fast forward almost 4 years to the October 29, 2013 ribbon-cutting attended by hundreds of friends, customers, local and state leaders, including Govenor Tom Corbett. A week after the ribbon-cutting Knecht said “This amazing team put forth dedication and effort and love, and this was the culmination of four years of tiresome work. We accomplished what we were told we couldn’t and have opened a flagship that’s beyond compare”.
When this company receives an order for one of our customers, I know that somewhere deep within the production process there are individual craftsmen and craftswomen who love the company and the tasks that they perform. That pride gets transposed into each piece of artistry because those employees are inspired by their part in the company’s story.
They are the only hand-forged foundry that works in aluminum, copper and brass … and USA-union made!