An overview of Allentown's location, history and industry.
The Immigrant's Destination
Herdorf immigrants in this research came to the Allentown, Pennsylvania and other neighboring communities in the Lehigh Valley.
The Lehigh Valley lies in eastern part of the state of Pennsylvania and consists of Lehigh and Northampton counties.
It lies between the Blue Mountains to the north and the South Mountain on the south.
The Lehigh Rivers drains this region and supplied water and a mode of transportation to the towns and industries on its banks.
Communities in the Lehigh Valley where immigrants and their descendants settled include: Allentown, Bethlehem, Catasauqua, Whitehall, Northampton, Orefield, Salisbury and Coplay.
Most chose Allentown as their initial destination.
Allentown is located about 90 miles west of New York City and 60 miles north of Philadelphia.
The founder of the city, James Allen, laid out the street plan in 1762.
Deposits of iron ore and limestone were in close proximity. Anthracite coal fields were only 25 miles north.
Canal and railroads connected Allentown to the major population centers of New York and Philadelphia.
In 1830 the population of the town was 1,554. By 1850 the population doubled and in 1873 the city had approximately 18,000 inhabitants.
Today, the city of Allentown has in excess of 118,000 people of which 20% are of German descent.
Manufacturing opportunities attracted skilled and unskilled laborers who brought family, friends and relatives to Allentown from Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy and Ireland.
Industry in the Mid to Late 1800's
The manufacture of pig iron and associated iron products was a flourishing business.
The first blast furnace was commissioned in 1840 on the banks of the Lehigh River, just north of Allentown in Catasauqua (see photo on left).
By 1873, six iron-making enterprises were in operation along the river in Allentown.
Other furnaces operated in Salisbury, South Easton, Glendon, Freemansburg, Hellertown and Bethlehem.
The ready availability of pig iron gave birth to machine shops, rolling mills, forges, foundries, wheel and axle shops, fire brick producers and carriage builders.
The textile industry also emerged as a leading employer. Silk mills, leather factories, clothing manufacturers and tobacco factories located in Allentown.