Iron Castings and the Harner History

By Jennifer Hetrick

As a long-standing part of the North Washington Street scenery in Boyertown, Unicast Company’s history is largely a part of the region thanks to Carl Harner’s family.
In the past, the iron castings foundry operated under the name Union Manufacturing Company.  A prominent group of businessmen in Boyertown started the metal production facility in 1894.

Carl’s grandfather, John Z. Harner, took on the title of superintendent in 1910.  By 1921, he bought the company for himself and served as its president.

Carl began working at the foundry in his childhood, handling small tasks.  From 1975 – 1981, he served as its Vice President.

“It has typically been an economical metal,” Carl reflected about iron.  Motor blocks, piston cylinders, light poles, barbell weights, loaders for lamps (to keep them heavy and weighted on tables or floor surfaces), ornamental knickknacks, mechanical banks, and trivets are just some of the iron work produced by the factory and its workers in the time when Carl and his family ran the business.

“We made heavy-duty cast-iron electrical boxes for electric companies,” Carl said, noting that they are explosion-proof and last forever.  Some notable examples are electrical boxes the company created are for the Holland Tunnel and Lincoln Tunnel between New York City and New Jersey.

“We were the first foundry in Pennsylvania to have women employed in it,” Carl added.   In those days, Carl said one female employee, who operated a forklift, graduated from Bryn Mawr College in Montgomery County.  “We also had employees on work release from the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Graterford,” Carl said, explaining that finding people to labor in the hot and sometimes unbearable conditions of working with heating and melting metal is not easy, especially in summer months.

Sometimes, the foundry would close down in the sweltering season months just because of the harsh temperatures affecting work so strongly.

During Carl’s time at the company, it was also known to have hired the most high school students in the area with the same pay per piece as adult employees.

Today, Carl reflected that his time in iron castings always stood as interesting, especially with technical details in melting and shaping whatever needed to be manufactured.

Avidly reading historical mysteries and a wide assortment of styles of writing, Carl and his wife, Margaret, are regional historians and have penned several books on local landmarks and people, including one on the shifts and development of National Penn Bank since its early days.

Margaret also worked as a social studies teacher in Boyertown Area School District’s two junior highs for 33 years.

“We have a deal,” Carl said about Margaret.  “I don’t have to wash the dishes.”  Margaret handles scrubbing the dishes while Carl handles the cooking in their home.  Finding most commonplace American foods only so fitting to his palate, he loves Indian and Thai food along with the often raw persuasion of sushi.

The two have three children—Erik, 49; Nicole Spatz, 46; and Jacquelyn Wagner, 44.

Carl and Margaret usually find themselves as spectators at sporting events for their grandchildren.  They also like to take the grandchildren out for cultural education escapades.  Jacquelyn’s children are Christian, 13; John, 11; David, 9; and Victoria, 5. Nicole’s are Erin, 12, and Ryan, 10.

“Boyertown is a nice hometown,” Carl concluded about living in this area for so long, being in a good place to drive not too long of distances to reach historical, educational, and cultural spots of interest.  “It has a great location.”

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