In 1849 Bogardus created something uniquely American when he erected the first structure with self-supporting, multi-storied exterior walls of iron. Known as the Edgar Laing Stores, this corner row of small four-story warehouses that looked like one building was constructed in lower Manhattan in only two months. Its rear, side, and interior bearing walls were of brick; the floor framing consisted of timber joists and girders. One of the cast-iron walls was load-bearing, supporting the wood floor joists. The innovation was its two street facades of self-supporting cast iron, consisting of multiples of only a few pieces--Doric-style engaged columns, panels, sills, and plates, along with some applied ornaments.
Each component of the facades had been cast individually in a sand mold in a foundry, machined smooth, tested for fit, and finally trundled on horse-drawn drays to the building site. There they were hoisted into position, then bolted together and fastened to the conventional structure of timber and brick with iron spikes and straps. The second iron-front building erected was a quantum leap beyond the Laing Stores in size and complexity.
Begun in April 1850 by Bogardus, with architect Robert Hatfield, the five-story Sun newspaper building in Baltimore was both cast-iron-fronted and cast-iron-framed. In Philadelphia, several iron-fronts were begun in 1850: The Inquirer Building, the Brock Stores, and the Penn Mutual Building (all three have been demolished). The St. Charles Hotel of 1851 at 60 N. Third Street is the oldest iron-front in America. Framing with cast-iron columns and wrought-iron beams and trusses was visible on a vast scale in the New York Crystal Palace of 1853. Wrought iron can be distinguished from cast iron in several ways.
Wrought-iron elements generally are simpler in form and less uniform in appearance than cast-iron elements and contain evidence of rolling or hand working.
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