1956 The First Roller

January 10

The Joseph Kavanagh Company is a little slow to start this year. They have work but only a week’s backlog. Eddie is not very concerned as the winter can be a quiet time for jobs. Any pause between customer’s orders is filled with making parts for stock. Today Louis Votta, one of their most experienced coppersmiths, makes some washer unions in the Gunther Style. Eddie knows sooner or later, Gunther’s will need them.

The Shop’s job book entry. Stock Gunther’s Brewery parts made. January 10, 1956.

February 13

Things pick up at the Shop today when E. J. Codd orders a few parts for a boiler repair and this one is a rush. A building downtown has no heat and that has to be fixed as quickly as possible. Copper sheet is annealed which warms the place up, then bent slowly around to form a circle. Quite a few fittings, couplings and valves are made too. There is a rush charge applied to this job with Jack and five fellows working extra hours to get this one finished in three days. Things can change very quickly at the corner of Pratt and Central. It can change from slow to fine to swamped in a day.

March 27

Two Eccentric Copper Reducers are finished today for Calvert Distilling. Calvert is one of their regular customers who send work to the Joseph Kavanagh Company nearly every month. The Shop has been doing business with them for years and they do get special treatment. Their work is always given a priority by the Kavanagh’s. Jack and two other members of the crew are bending some 90 degree elbows from 2” tube that are also for Calvert. These take a lot of heat and slow pulling around blocks to finish. Jack thinks there must be a better way to bend these and begins to look into it.

The Shop’s job book entry. Calvert Distillery job. March 27, 1956.

April 14

A sunny Spring day is busy at the Shop for the ten man crew. They have more orders for parts to fabricate including a custom “Y” connector for National Brewing. Two sizes of tube, 3” and 2”, are cut and reshaped then soldered closed to created the “Y” shape. The reshaping is the slowest part of the process as careful hammering is done to round out the finished product. The purpose is to create a split or fork in the line to allow the passing of beer from one line into two. It has taken two days for two men to finish this short union. It’s only a small connector but it is a lot of work to get it right.

The Shop’s job book entry. National Brewery job. April 15, 1956.

April 15

Jack has been giving a great deal of thought to purchasing a metal rolling machine for the Shop. This machine has three rollers or round dies that are used to bend metal into circles, half-circles or whatever is needed. Jack thinks it will make things much easier for them to bend and curve sheets, pipes and tubes. It should pay for itself in several years and also open up other avenues for work. This machine can roll steel not just copper. It can roll any metal given the right tools. Jack is sure that John Benser can make tools for this machine and it will bring in even more jobs and money. He thinks this may be the way of the future. He feels they will have to learn to work with other metals besides copper and brass and this roller will help them do just that. He also knows that it will be a tough sell to Eddie who can be very obstinate especially about the Shop. Jack has his arguments in favor ready and decides to bring it up today. While eating their lunch, Jack suggests to his father that they purchase a metal rolling machine.

“Eddie, I think it’s something we should consider buying. With this three shaft roller, we can bend things easier and with more control. I know it will make things faster too,” Jack says while his father eats his sandwich.

His father places the sandwich down and takes a swallow of coffee, “Jack, it seems like a waste of money to me. I mean we can bend things well enough now. We’ve been doing it for years and it’s always worked out okay. I don’t see where we need it for anything.”

“We don’t need it but it will make things easier. Can you imagine if we had grooved rollers for pipe and tube sizes? All the pulling and then re-hammering will be eliminated. We can just set the machine up and get to it. When they come out of the machine, there won’t be any fixing of the tubes. They will look good,” Jack counters as he sips his own coffee.

Eddie answers back, “I don’t know that it will save us much time, Jack. These machines aren’t perfect and no one here is familiar with one. Who’s going to run it?”

“I will.” Jack replies immediately, “I will learn all about it and I promise it won’t take me long. I know it will speed jobs up Eddie. I know it will and with it we can roll steel too. The stiffeners and steel rings we make for people will all be easier and we’ll be able to roll heavier steel because it won’t be by hand. I think it will bring us more work.”

“Do you really think it will save us much time? I have my doubts, son. After you learn how to run this thing, you’ll have to show someone else how to do it. That will take some more time away from working on jobs.” Eddie sits back in his chair and places a cigarette between his lips.

Jack counters, “I’m telling you, Eddie. This will make us money. Like those 90’s we bent for Calvert last month. We might be able to do those in half the time with a roller. I know Benser has to make tools but from wood, it won’t take long. He makes those bending dies we use and that’s worked out great for us. The more tools we have the more sizes we can bend. This roller will be the same way. I am sure it will pay for itself fast. It’s gonna save us time on a lot of things and I know we’ll be able to find other work for it.”

“You think so?” Eddie lights his cigarette and takes a long puff, “Well, I’m not convinced, Jack, but if you think we should buy it, then go ahead and buy it. I don’t think you’re ever going to make any money with this thing. I don’t but I’ll go along with it.” Eddie is thinking to himself that these decisions will be Jack’s to make so he might as well let him make this one. “Go ahead and order it. Try to get the best deal you can, of course.”

“I will. You know that. I’ll call around and find the best price. You’ll see. I’m telling you, Eddie. This machine will help us and make us money.” Jack says as he tosses the last of his lunch into the trash. He’s happy with his father’s answer but not thrilled about his doubts. Jack orders the machine and plans on proving Eddie wrong when it arrives.

April 20

The Orioles welcome the Washington Senators to Memorial Stadium for Baltimore’s home opener. The Birds win 3-2 while the Kavanagh’s are listening on the Shop’s office radio. Jack gives game updates every time he steps into the Shop from the office which is about ten times during the ballgame. Each bit of news he passes along is welcomed by the workers and they too follow along. The win is cheered at the end of the day as the gents file out of the building. It was a very typical day at Central Avenue with several orders for brewery parts being made including some brass flanges for National Brewery.

May 18

The rolling machine arrives and is placed very carefully in the back section of 201 S. Central Avenue. It is moved slowly with blocks and tackles and strength. The men take their time setting it because they don’t want to have to move it again. The machine has a hydraulic motor that will pull the pieces between the three rollers. The front shaft of the machine spins and pulls the piece through while the two back rollers apply the pressure that makes the curve. There is a wheel on the side that is used to manually crank the back rollers closer to the front. As they are brought in closer the radius of bend will be tighter. Jack loves the machine and begins planning on tools to be made immediately. Eddie is still skeptical but he has confidence in his son and if Jack thinks it will work, Eddie will give it a chance.

May 31

The Kavanagh’s and crew discuss last night’s doubleheader as they work on a few jobs in the Shop today. The Orioles swept two from the Red Sox and are only a game under .500 for their record. It’s been a good start for the Birds and fans are enjoying it and it makes talking baseball even better when you win. The crew are making some manifolds for Clark Concrete Co. today. Something a little out of the ordinary for them but well within their capabilities. Copper tube is annealed and bent, fittings and couplings attached to make the two manifolds. This job takes a bit of mechanical engineering to get straight. Jack is up to the task. He studied mechanics at the Maryland Institute and has a mind for such things as well.

The Shop’s job book entry. Clark Concrete Co. job. Page 1. May 31. 1956.
The Shop’s job book entry. Clark Concrete Co. job. Page 2. May 31. 1956.

June 26

Jack’s rolling machine is used today to roll three galvanized bands for Eureka Coppersmith & Plumbing. Most coppersmiths don’t work with steel but the Kavanagh’s do. They specialize in copper but work with brass, bronze, steel and occasionally aluminum. Earlier this year, they would have had to pass on the galvanized steel. When heated galvanized melts there are noxious fumes emitted, so it can only be bent cold and that is hard, but with Jack’s new roller it is possible. Jack runs the bars through the machine a few times and gets it to the diameter Eureka needs. Jack smiles broadly as he tells his father how well the machine handled it. Eddie, not sold on the machine, does admit that this job could not have been done without it.

The Shop’s job book entry. Eureka Coppersmith and Plumbing Co. job. June 26, 1956.

July 27

For the last several weeks, the Shop’s crew have been focused on a few more items for Calvert Distilling. A few repairs were made and the distilling system was extended with branches of pipe and tube. All of this work is performed at the distillery in Raley, Maryland. The branches are on the fifth floor of the building and it is over a week’s work for three men, Jack, Funke and a helper (not always the same fellow each day). The building is hot already but add in the torches and soldering and it is a tough job. Mr. Funke is the Shop’s most senior non-Kavanagh smith and Jack is young but very skilled. It’s a long job but when completed, the branches work well and Calvert is pleased.

The Shop’s job book entry. Calvert Distillery job. July 27, 1956.

August 2

A candle heater is fabricated for Fairfield Chemical Company in Curtis Bay. They are another chemical company who require some distilling and the candle heater is used in maintaining a high temperature during their process. It is made of 10” copper tube with a few associated connectors and fittings to go with it. John Benser, the Shop’s machinist, makes a set of 10” rollers from wood for the new rolling machine. The wood is cut down, grooved and bored out in a lathe by Benser. It is grooved to match the 10” tubes and bored to the diameter of the shaft of the machine. The rollers are slid onto the shafts and they fit well. With Jack running the machine, the tubes are slowly passed through it. Jack cranks the back rollers in a bit after each pass. The tubes are bent to fit the curve needed and the piece comes out looking great. A few slow passes through the rolling machine but still much faster than pulling it around blocks. Jack seems to be getting the hang of the roller and they are using it more and more. Sometimes on just one small sheet that needs curving but they have been able to use it to roll steel and brass as well. Eddie is still dubious but he sees the results and he agrees with Jack that the more tools for this machine they have, the more they can do.

The Shop’s job book entry. Fairfield Chemical Co. job. August 2, 1956.

August 11

Jack and Betty are taking their daughters to Ocean City for the day. It’s a long ride but they want their girls to have some fun at the beach so they will leave late Saturday night and arrive Sunday morning. Jack drives to St. Vincent’s Church and attends midnight Mass while his daughters are sleeping and his wife is packing a few things. He heads home after the service and loads his Chrysler Windsor with a small bag and a cooler. He then carries the girls out, one by one, in their pajamas and he drives  to St. Vincent’s for Betty to go to 2 AM Mass. This Mass was for pressmen, those from the Baltimore Sun and the News American who had very early Sunday mornings. While Betty is in church, Jack waits in the car with the girls who are back to sleep. They head off as soon as Mass is finished and drive south out of the City. Jack and Betty chat a bit as they drive through the dark overnight hours and after crossing the Bay Bridge, they stop at a little restaurant and buy two egg sandwiches and a doughnut for each of the girls. The couple eat their sandwiches as they head east getting closer to the shore as the sun rises. The kids wake up and eat their doughnut, very excited for this little vacation until they finally reach Ocean City. The girls oooh and ahhh at the water and the beach. Jack parks near the inlet and the girls play on the beach all morning in their swimsuits with shirts over top to keep them from getting sunburned. A picnic lunch is pulled out from the cooler and they eat with each of the girls peppering their Mom and Dad with questions about the beach and the ocean. After eating, Jack takes a nap in the car for an hour or so while Betty sits on a bench on the boardwalk handing out pennies from a handkerchief. The girls play the claw machines in the arcade and try to win plastic airplanes, little soldiers and other small toys. The claw machines cost two cents so the girls only get so many plays before their money is spent. At about 2 PM, Jack is awake and ready to head home. Betty makes sure everyone goes to the bathroom and they all pile back in the Windsor and drive back to Baltimore. They get back to Lakewood Avenue before dark and the girls are in bed by 8:30 PM at the latest. Jack and Betty sit down to watch the “Ed Sullivan Show” which Betty enjoys and Jack invariably starts dozing through it. It is a lot of traveling for one day but it is well worth it to the couple because the girls love every second of it.

Jack & Betty 1946 by car
Jack and Betty Kavanagh. Before they were married standing next to Jack’s 1946 Chrysler Windsor. 1946.
Mary Kavanagh on rear bumper of Jack’s 1946 Windsor. 1952.

August 17

A set of copper sterilizing shelves are made for Gunther’s Brewery. Straight lines are annealed into copper sheet and the sheets are bent along these lines to create the corners of the shelves. All the surfaces are then tinned for sterilization. The tin is melted until it is a thick liquid, then quickly but thoroughly brushed over the shelves. This is very much old school coppersmithing as tinning is one of a smith’s basic skills. Even old Uncle Joe tinned the pitchers, pots and pans he made when the Shop was just started.

The Shop’s job book entry. Gunther’s Brewery job. August 17, 1956.

September 3

Jane Kavanagh starts kindergarten, joining her sisters at St. Elizabeth’s School. Jack and Betty have four girls at the school now with one daughter in each grade from kindergarten to third grade. They have breakfast around the table with their father as he glances through the morning paper, then he drives them the four blocks to school. They wave goodbye as they enter and Jack turns onto Baltimore Street and heads to the Shop.

Mary and Jane Kavanagh with a neighborhood friend. Mid 1950s.

September 30

The Baltimore Colts begin their season at home against the Chicago Bears and beat them 28-21. Jack is there with three pals and he has a blast at the football game. Colts fans are boisterous, loud and supportive and after this win they hope for good things. It doesn’t work out that way though as the Colts will finish with a meager 5 wins while losing 7. They finish fourth in their division for the second year in a row. The Orioles didn’t do any better though they improved their win total by twelve.

October 10

The Yankees win the World Series, defeating the defending champion, Brooklyn Dodgers. The Series goes seven games but Yankee pitching is too much for the Dodgers especially Don Larsen who pitches a perfect game in game five and wins the MVP of the series. Eddie and Jack discuss this championship series throughout it. Eddie pulling for the Yanks and Jack for the Dodgers as it’s been for the last few years. Brooklyn scores nineteen runs in the first two games winning both but only manages six more in the final five games. New York out homered them twelve to three with Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra both knocking out three in the series. The Kavanagh father and son baseball fanatics were able to watch games three and four on the weekend but both rue missing that perfect game from Larsen. They both know that is something they will probably never see again.

November 6

President Eisenhower is re-elected defeating Democrat Adlai Stevenson as he did in 1952. The Kavanagh’s voted for Democrat Stevenson. Eddie has been a very loyal member of the party and his son served and ran as a Democrat so they vote as such. They do “like Ike” as the slogan goes and he is held in high regard by them for his military service and leadership during World War 2. The economy has been good for them during his first term and they assume the same for the second.

Betty Ann, Mary and Nancy Kavanagh. Left to right. Backyard of 447 N. Lakewood Avenue. 1956.

November 24

The Saturday after Thanksgiving is spent at the Visitation Convent spending time with Aunt Anna (Sister Mary Agnes). She is Eddie’s sister and they are very close. The family sees her several times a month and certainly near the holidays. The Visitation Nuns are cloistered so visiting her has certain rules and she can only leave the convent for specific reasons. Aunt Anna loves spending time with the little ones, Ed Jr. and Lillian’s daughter, Patsy, and Jack and Betty’s girls, Betty Ann, Nancy, Mary, Jane and Jackie. Her brother catches her up on the Shop and she tells them all about her teaching at the convent’s school.

December 14

While Eddie Kavanagh sends out a few Christmas ties and the odd bottle of whiskey, the crew are working away in the Shop on the usual mix of brewery and distillery parts. Four reducers are made for Gunther’s from bearing bronze. There is cutting, soldering and a small bit of machining to fabricate these but they are standard parts and have been made a few times before.

The Shop’s job book entry. Gunther’s Brewery job. December 14, 1956.

December 24

The annual Christmas Eve Party at the Joseph Kavanagh Company is held today and a very festive one indeed. The Shop is cleaned and prepped for the party then family, friends, customers and employees celebrate as one. It has been another good year for the Shop. The company wasn’t as busy as 1955 but close and well enough for the Kavanagh’s and crew. Jack’s idea for buying a metal rolling machine seems to have worked out well. Quite a few jobs have been handled quicker due to this machine and also they are able to do more with steel than they could before. This has brought in a few more jobs and has got them some more customers in the fabricating and construction industries. Eddie was doubtful but he is pleased to see his son make a decision, follow through on it and then have it pay off. He’s proud of Jack and is gaining confidence that when he is gone, his son will take care of everything. The Kavanagh’s and guests eat, drink and sing as they welcome Christmas. The kids play among the party goers and are very excited for Christmas and Santa to get here. Jack is happy to play that part as he does every year and even happier at some news from his wife, Betty. She is pregnant and baby #6 will be born in July.

B N M J J 5
The Kavanagh girls. Betty Ann, Nancy, Mary, Jane and Jackie(Right to left) Christmas 1956.



Dwight D. Eisenhower is the President of the United States. Rocky Marciano retires as the only undefeated heavyweight champion of boxing. Elvis Presley releases his first big hit “Heartbreak Hotel” and appears on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” The musical “My Fair Lady” premiers on Broadway. Disposable diapers and the computer hard drive are invented. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis perform together for the last time. The films, “Guys and Dolls” and “The Ten Commandments” are released. Eddie Murray, Sugar Ray Leonard, Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher and Larry Bird are born. Jackson Pollack and Bela Lugosi die.

There are still 48 states in the Union.

The Shop’s first metal rolling machine. Make unknown. 1956

To read prior posts, click on the Table of Contents link below:

Table of Contents

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