The Old Badger: Behind the Badger Front

The Old Badger
Behind the Badger Front

First published in The Freeman’s Journal January 4, 1984

Just a minute!” I said, pushing my chair away from the table, “Just a minute, I have the answer right here” and leaving the room precipitously I also left the seated couple blinking and bemused. One of them had asked me why I used the name Badger, assuming, not illogically, that it was a pseudonym. If it’s anything, it is a mesonym.

Badger is my middle name. Really!

I returned to the room and plopped a glossy reprint of an 1865 catalogue onto the table in front of them. The title was clear, “Badger’s Illustrated Catalogue of Cast-iron Architecture by Daniel D. Badger (The Architectural Iron Works of the City of New York)”.

Daniel D. Badger was my great-great-grandfather,” I said and then quoted a line from his 1884 obituary, “He was a man of commanding presence and remarkable energy.” I flipped open the catalogue introduction and read aloud, “The first person who practically used Iron as a building material for the exterior was Daniel D. Badger, the president of the Architectural Iron Works. In the year 1842, Mr. Badger erected in the city of Boston, the first structure of Iron ever seen in America. All the Iron Buildings in this country have been erected since that period, and owe their existence to that humble introduction.”

Then I skipped over to, “During the following year A.L. Johnson of Baltimore brought to the notice of Mr. Badger his invention of Rolling Iron Shutters. For the purpose of using these shutters it became necessary to construct the first stories of Iron pillars and hollow posts. At once the superiority of the “Badger Fronts” (as they were then called) was immediately conceded…”

There could be a bit of puffery in there but who am I to argue? Another thing that, if not actually conceded must certainly be apparent, is that behind all Badger fronts lie strength, wisdom and durability.

Daniel Badger moved his business from Boston to New York and was responsible for hundreds of iron-fronted buildings all over North America, including the original Singer Building in lower Manhattan, parts of Ford’s Theatre in D.C., Tiffany’s first New York store, the great arching train shed of the first Grand Central Railroad Depot, the Halsey Building in Brooklyn, the Cooper Union arcade, both the Fulton and the South Ferry Terminals, the Watervliet Arsenal Storage Building in Troy and
many more.

A new introduction to the catalogue
gives the following description of a unique Badger building quite close to home, “In 1860 a large resort hotel had been built near the popular mineral springs in Sharon, N.Y., for H.J. Bangs of New York City. Three years later he had a cast iron pavilion designed by architect Lawrence Burgher and shipped in pieces from the Architectural Iron Works for assembly in the hotel’s lovely grounds, to shade Magnesia Springs. There it remains, its tall Italianate arches invaded by the lush trees and flowering shrubs that were planted around it so many years ago. Above its low pediment rises an octagonal drum surmounted by a dome which has a balustraded lookout and a finial at its very top. The hotel burned in 1873. The pavilion has survived, but for how much longer?”

The author of these words is Margot Gayle who is currently president of the Friends of Cast Iron Architecture and a member of the Art Commission of the city of New York. Ms. Gayle goes on to point out that there are two contenders for the reputation of being first in the cast iron building field, Daniel D. Badger and James Bogardus (it was Bogardus who created Cooperstown’s iron front, the first floor of which is now occupied by Withey’s and Clark’s). She resolves this contention by pointing out that “Bogardus himself never operated a foundry. Styling himself architect, or engineer, or eccentric mill maker, he contracted out the iron work he required. Thus he was not a foundry man and as such, as some claim, a rival of Badger.”

All of which, of course, leaves the Badger unrivalled. Doesn’t it?

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