This advertisement for George R. Jackson's Excelsior Iron Works appeared in the New York Times in 1859. The ad specifies, "Established 1839." This dates seems accurate: an entry "Jackson George R. smith, 201 Centre h. 82 Varick" appeared in Longworth's New York City Directory for the year 1839. In 1845 Doggett's New York City Directory contained the entry, "Burnet James J. blacksmith, 241 Elizabeth." These two men, James J. Burnet and George R. Jackson seem to have become partners in the iron foundry business in the early 1850s. But the first instance of their names appearing together in the business name was "George R. Jackson, Burnet & Co. Excelsior Iron Works, 201 Centre, works E. 14 n [near] Av D" in 1865. In 1869 the New York Times (13 Dec 1869, p. 8) reported a fire discovered "in the basement under the office of the Excelsior Iron Works, owned by George R. Jackson, Burnett [sic] & Co., and situated at Nos. 340-352 East Fourteenth-street." It wasn't until 1873 that a city directory entry reversed the names: "Excelsior Iron Works, est. 1839, Burnet, Jackson & Co. (successors to Geo. R. Jackson, Burnet & Co.)." A few year later, Burnet severed his connection to the company. By 1876 "George R. Jackson, Sons" were the Excelsior Iron Works at 201 Centre St., and "Burnet & Co." constituted a separate company on E. 12th St.
In 1857 George R. Jackson, of Rye, NY, secured a patent for a "Method of Ventilating Vaults." This was patent no. 17,097, dated 21 April 1857. One of his witnesses for this patent was James J. Burnet.
James J. Burnet (born ca. 1818, died ca. 1890) was recorded in the U. S. Census reports of 1850, 1860 and 1880. In 1850 he was a blacksmith, age 30, living in New York City's Ward 14. He lived with his wife Charlotte, son, Gilbert, and daughter, Amanda. In 1860 he was an "Iron Rail Maker," age 42, living in New York's 17th Ward. He lived with his wife, Charlotte, son, Gilbert, two other children, and his sister, Hannah Williams, and her son, James Williams. In the 1880 census the family was similarly constituted, except only Gilbert remained among his children. Gilbert Burnet now had his own family, including his wife, Nellie, and young son, James, age 9.
George R. Jackson (1811-1870) received the following obituary in the New York Times, 25 Sep. 1870, p. 5, "George R. Jackson, the senior member of the firm of George R. Jackson, Burnett [sic] & Co., iron-founders, of this City, expired on Thursday, after a painful illness of several months, at his residence, No. 85 East Tenth-street. Mr. Jackson was born in the City of New-York, June 4, 1811, and was consequently fifty-nine years and six months old. Losing his father when he was very young, and his mother having six children (four girls and two boys) to bring up with the resources of her own and her children's labor, the subject of this notice was apprenticed at a very early age to a person engaged in the finishing or whitesmithing business, and after passing through the various grades of apprentice, journeyman and foreman, he began business in Centre-street on his own account in 1839. Shortly afterward Mr. Cornell became associated with him, under the firm name of Cornell & Jackson, which was continued until 1846, when Mr. Cornell died. Mr. Jackson then associated with him Mr. L. Taylor (since died) and Mr. James J. Burnett [sic], and founded the Excelsior Iron Works. Recently two of Mr. Jackson's sons, a nephew and one son of Mr. Burnett's [sic] were admitted as partners under the firm name of George R. Jackson, Burnett [sic] & Co..."
James J. Burnet's name is consistently misspelled in Jackson's obituary. Most instances spell it with only one t.
The "Mr. Cornell" mentioned in the obituary was George Cornell (1807-1847). Information on his partnership with Samuel B. Althause is found on the Althause page. George Cornell was the elder brother of John B. Cornell and William W. Cornell, who formed the firm, J. B. & W. W. Cornell, one of the best known of all New York City iron foundries. Information on J. B. & W. W. Cornell is found on the Cornell page. Cornell & Jackson, at 199 Centre St. from 1842 to 1847, was succeeded by George R. Jackson & Co. at "199 and 201 Centre street above Canal street" (Doggett's New York City Directory, 1848-49).
The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission report of 7 June 2005, writing about The Smith, Gray & Co. Building at 95 (later 103) Broadway, Brooklyn, had the following about Jackson and Burnet, "Jackson (1811-1870), born in New York City, apprenticed as a boy with a whitesmith (an ironworker who performs finish work) and advanced through the iron business until he established his own firm on Centre Street in 1839. He soon went into partnership in Cornell & Jackson, which lasted until 1848. Jackson became associated with James J. Burnet, and founded the Excelsior Iron Works. The Excelsior headquarters at 340-352 East 14th Street was destroyed by fire in 1869. Before G. R. Jacksonís death in September 1870, two of his sons and nephews of his and Burnetís became partners in George R. Jackson, Burnet & Co."
In 1860 the George R. Jackson Iron Works was recorded in the U. S. Census (non-population schedules) as owning $200,000 in capital and raw materials valued at $83,500. These materials consisted of 900 tons of coal, 2000 tons of pig iron, 500 tons of bar iron, and 50 tons of lead. The company employed as many as 250 workmen who were paid average monthly wages of $6000. Annual production consisted of "castings of front of buildings" valued at $200,000 and "railings, skylights, and other articles" valued at $50,000.
In 1870 the Excelsior Iron Works, consisted of G. R. Jackson, J. J. Burnet, G. H. Jackson and G. J. Burnet. This company was recorded in the 1870 U. S. Census (non-population schedules). The foundry used one steam engine with 40 horsepower, and 25 machines including lathes, planing, drilling, punching and blowing machinery and fans. They owned $250,000 in capital and raw materials valued at $108,100. They employed an average of 100 workmen, and paid annual wages of $67,000. In the past year they had produced 2710 tons of castings valued at $275,000.
George H. Jackson (born ca. 1841, died 1879) was the son of George R. Jackson. His death was reported somewhat mysteriously in the New York Times, 4 May 1879, "A young man was found dead at the Compton House yesterday afternoon, and is supposed to have committed suicide. His name is believed to be George H. Jackson, a guest at the Coleman House, who is said to have been missing since Friday night... The deceased is reported to have been connected with a firm of iron founders in this City."
Gilbert J. Burnet (1841-1918) was the son of James J. Burnet. Gilbert Burnet was a member of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York from 1875 to 1916. He was president of the Society in 1887. Gilbert Burnet can be traced through six successive U. S. Census reports, starting in 1850 and ending 1910. The 1900 census specified that he was born in New York July 1841. In 1880 he and his wife, Nellie, lived with his father at 89 W. 10th St., Manhattan.
In 1871 the Real Estate Record and Builder's Guide, Saturday, April 22, 1871. Vol. VII, No. 162, p. 199, reported the Projected Building, "Walker St. (No. 59), one five-story marble front first-class store, 25x86.4; owner John D. Wolfe; architect, John B. Snook; builders, Jno. Demorest, W. McKenzie & Burnet, Jackson & Co." Burnet, Jackson's contribution, the vault lights pictured above, were approximately 138 years old in 2009.
George R. Jackson, Burnet & Co. were in business approximately 1865 to 1871. They were succeeded by Burnet, Jackson & Co. who were in business from 1871 to 1875. By 1877 the Burnets, consisting of father and son, James J. and Gilbert J. Burnet, formed their own company, Burnet & Co., which from 1879 to 1888 was located at 704-706 E. 12th St. The foundry at that address was known as the Atlantic Iron Works, and from 1868 to 1877 had been the property of Daniel D. Boyce and John R. McIntire. (For more on Boyce & McIntire see their history at the Boyce & McIntire page.)
The 1880 U. S. Census (non-population schedules) recorded Burnett [sic] & Co., Iron Foundry, with $20,000 capital and raw materials valued at $45,000. They employed as many as 160 hands and an average of 100, and paid annual wages of $46,348. Skilled workmen were paid $2.75 a day and ordinary laborers $1.40. The foundry was in operation full time 12 months of the year. The ordinary day was 10 hours. Annual production in the past year was valued at $100,000. These numbers indicate a somewhat smaller facility than the Excelsior Iron Works ten years earlier.
In 1888 business troubles hit Burnet & Co. As reported in the New York Times, 4 March 1888, p. 12, "Six judgments were entered against Burnet & Co., iron founders, 704 East Twelfth-street, yesterday in favor of Mary J. Odell aggregating $12,080, for money lent the firm. Jacob Fromme, her attorney, said that the Sheriff had taken charge of the foundry. The firm had been promising to pay the money, but were unable to, although they hoped to raise money to extricate themselves. The firm is composed of James J. and Gilbert J. Burnet, the former being the capitalist and the latter his son. The present business was started on May 1, 1878, succeeding to the trade of Price & Fairfield. James J. Burnet had previously been in the iron business in the firms of George R. Jackson, Burnet & Co., and Burnet, Jackson & Co., which latter firm dissolved in 1875. He was also Vice-President of the Eleventh Ward Bank and a Trustee of the Dry Dock Savings Bank." The sequel to this story followed on 20 March 1888, p. 2, "Burnet & Co., proprietors of the Atlantic Iron Works, at 704 East Twelfth-street, were sold out by the Sheriff yesterday on executions for about $12,000 in favor of Mary J. Odell for money loaned. The business, which was established about ten years ago, had gradually declined, and some time ago James J. Burnet, the senior partner, received a paralytic stroke and has since been very feeble."
Additional vault lights for Burnet Jackson & Co. and Excelsior Iron Works are found at 477 Broome St.
G. R. Jackson, Burnet & Co., 201 Centre St., have left foundry marks on vault lights at 180 Duane St. and 47 Walker St.
G. R. Jackson & Co., 201 Centre St., have left foundry marks on vault lights at 58-60 Reade St. and on sidewalk treads at 83 Leonard St.
A foundry mark for Excelsior Iron Works / Burnet, Jackson & Co. is found on the cast-iron facade at 446 Myrtle Ave., Brooklyn.
Copyright © 2010 Walter Grutchfield