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The Presence Of Greatness

Most mid-1800s loft buildings in New York with cast-iron facades had some kind of loading dock out front. The first floor of the building was set three or four steps higher than the main sidewalk, and an external cast-iron ledge was built there. I was sitting on just such a ledge, waiting for a meeting to start, when I noticed the writing. (I apologize for the sloppy montage: I took two photos with my phone and stitched them together as best I could, which wasn’t very well considering difference in angle.)

The text, at the outer edge of the ledge, reads “D D BADGER & Co 42 DUANE st NY”. James Bogardus gets most of the modern press concerning the explosive growth of cast iron use in architecture and structure in New York between 1850 and 1870, but that’s only partially correct. Bogardus was a tireless proselytizer for cast iron and built some spectacular structures, but his foundry’s total output was not actually that large. Daniel Badger, on the other hand, built and built and built. His company’s catalog remains one of the best sources of the thinking behind cast iron construction, not for its text, but for the meticulous details. The list of projects, as of 1865, covers 12 pages of small text and, while focussed on New York, includes buildings as far away as Rio de Janeiro, Alexandria (Egypt), Alexandria (Louisiana), and Sacramento California.

42 Duane Street was Badger’s first foundry location after moving from Boston to New York in 1848. By 1854, he had moved uptown to East 14th Street. The building in question was built around 1852-3. Putting aside the usefulness of this kind of writing in figuring out what was going on 170 years ago, I’m all in favor of more of us signing our work in this manner.