For about 120 years, Wirerope Works Inc. - in its various names and hands of ownership - has lent itself as both a local, national and worldwide manufacturer and distributor of Bethlehem Wire Rope products.
The plant, located at 100 Maynard St., sits on an industrial bed that company executive Vice President Virgil Probasco described as an unsung portion of the city that few realize is quite a powerhouse in the industry.
"You cannot believe the amount of people in this town that have never been in it," said owner Thomas Saltsgiver. "Until people actually walk through and see what we do, they have no appreciation of it. And when they do, they're just amazed by it."
John Huffman, who has worked 40 years at Wirerope Works Inc., stands by as a machine as it winds a band of product onto a large spool at the plant.
With a 46-acre footprint and more than 620,000 square feet of the complex under roof, Wirerope Works "is the single largest wire rope manufacturing facility in North America," its Web site states.
"We have signature jobs all throughout the country and a couple overseas, too," Probasco said.
Its product can be seen on the Brooklyn Bridge and inside Madison Square Garden in New York City; Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., and other structures as far away as the Dominican Republic, Africa, New Zealand, and Brazil, the officials said.
About 10 percent of its product manufactured locally is exported out of the country, Saltsgiver said.
Probasco said the company specializes in five product groupings of rope: general purpose, elevator, mining, oil and marine, and structural.
The smallest rope produced is about 1/4 inch and the thickest is 5 1/2 inches in diameter, Probasco said.
Wirerope Works is just as rich in its product as well as in its history.
The company was started in 1886 by Henry Martin Morrison as Morrison Patent Wire Rope Ltd. with a starting capital of $26,000 and 15 employees in an old hoop factory near the Susquehanna River, according to a company document.
By 1929, the company's production swelled to 13,701 net tons, the document states, with about 640 employees. By the 1950s - during World War II - the company was averaging 31,368 new tons with more than 1,600 employees, including 256 women.
In late 2003 and 2004, as the company began yet another century of production, Probasco said there were "a lot of rumors that the company would fold."
"It's obviously been in some high times and low times," he noted.
Despite the company's slump nearly a decade ago, Probasco credits Saltsgiver, who purchased the company from John Sheehan in 2004, for reviving the massive manufacturing mill.
"When he bought it, there were 247 employees," he said. "Today, there are 444 employees."
Probasco said more than $80 million of payroll has gone back into the community since Saltsgiver took the reins of the company five years ago. Also, $7 million of payroll has paid local taxes and $1 million in property taxes.
"So that's big," Probasco said. "We're talking big numbers. We doubled our hourly workforce and increased annual salaries by 20 percent."
The vice president added the company also has increased its production from about 13,000 tons a year in 2004 to 26,000 tons per year in 2008.
"We always knew we could make money, we just needed the right owner to - if you will - invest in the business," Probasco said. "Our present owner has done that. He's everything you want in an owner. And once we had a stable base to operate from, we've just grown and grown as a market."
For more information, visit www.wireropeworks.com.