Fire destroys historic Pa. metal forge that made ashtrays for Hindenburg airship; no injuries

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Fire ruins Pa. forge that made Hindenburg ashtrays

GROVE CITY, Pa. — A historic metal forge that made ashtrays for the ill-fated German airship the Hindenburg and did custom work for Walt Disney has been destroyed by a fire.

Saturday’s fire at the Wendell August Forge workshop and gift shop is believed to have started in the workshop, where lacquer was sprayed on bronze pieces such as awards and trophies, spokeswoman Danielle Elderkin said. All employees and customers escaped unharmed.

The Wendell August Forge had been in business in Grove City, in the heart of scenic western Pennsylvania, since 1932. Its building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wendell August, which has other locations in Exton, Pa., and Berlin, Ohio, produces heirloom-quality personalized metal pieces. It made ashtrays for a Hindenburg trip called the Millionaires Flight, a promotional autumn 1936 cruise over New England for about 50 rich and powerful people including Nelson Rockefeller and World War I fighter pilot Eddie Rickenbacker. The ashtrays, each made of aluminum and featuring a moveable glass replica of the Hindenburg filled with fuel, were given to the passengers as gifts.

The next year the hydrogen-filled Hindenburg burned and crashed in Lakehurst, N.J., killing 35 of the 97 people on board and a Navy crewman on the ground.

Wendell August said among the other rare pieces made in its Grove City workshop were 12 bronze plates commemorating the SALT II weapons treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union and towel basins that looked like turtles for a pool at one of the Rockefeller homes.

It also did customized pieces for some of the most well-known companies in the world, including Coca-Cola, Hershey, Walt Disney, Pizza Hut, MetLife and Walmart.

Police said the cause of the forge fire hadn’t been determined.

Wendell August president Will Knecht said he was thankful nobody was hurt in the fire and he wouldn’t give up on doing business in Grove City.

“We plan to rebuild as soon as possible to provide our customers and the people of this region with the workshop and gift shop they have come to know and love,” he said.

The company, started in Brockway, Pa., in 1923, said its operations outside the Grove City location and online will continue.

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(This version CORRECTS SALT II treaty was with Soviet Union, not Russia.)

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