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The History of the Smyser-Royer Company

The Smyser-Royer company came from the EG Smyser's Sons Co., which came from of the Variety Iron Works.  The driving force behind the Smyser-Royer Company was B. Frank Royer.  Royer was vice-president of William Remppis Co. of Reading, PA, a manufacturer of architectural ironwork.  Remppis was into many things, mainly the Reading Standard Co. a manufacturer of bicycles and motorcycles.  In 1907, advertisements listed their address as 1806 Sansom St., Philadelphia and offices as Remppis, Royer and Daniel Yost.[1]

In July 24th, 1907, the Smyser-Royer Company of Philadelphia was chartered in Pennsylvania with $60,000 capital.  The charter states they would be in the business of "Manufacturing and selling iron, zinc, nickel, brass and copper, and the manufacturing, selling, buying and erecting all kinds of ornamental and structural metalwork, and for there purposes to purchase, and sell lands and mineral rights, and to create, purchase, hold and sell patent rights, inventions and designs, with the right to issue license for the same and to receive pay therefore, as may be necessary in the carrying of said business" [2], a very broad description for their operation.

The most logical explanation seems to be that Royer and Yost acquired the Smyser facility to manufacture their products, and, based on 1907 ads, likely brought existing products manufactured by Remppis.  George P. Smyser (1843-1912), who headed EG Smyser's Sons was 64 years old and may have been looking to retire from the business as he had several other business interests.[3]  Yost and another officer, Henry William H Myers, an engineer[4], were located in York, most likely to oversee the manufacturing operations.  Royer was based in Philadelphia and lived in Ardmore, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia.  The new operation also appears to have been a foundry operation only, as they do not claim to work in wrought or fabricated iron, as did EG Smyser.  The Baltimore location was quickly removed from company literature.  As with their predecessor companies, they remained the foundry that produced the bulk of JW Fiske's cast iron products, such as fountains, stable equipment, etc.[5]  

They apparently hit the ground running, closing a large order for the twenty-eight memorial light standards surrounding Philadelphia City Hall for the September, 1908 250th anniversary of the city.[6]  At 22 ft. tall and 4 ft. square, they quite an undertaking for the new venture.  Unfortunately, all that exist now now are two aluminum reproductions on the south side of the building.

 Royer typically worked closely with architects to develop a design for a project and, when obtaining an order, produced patterns, cast the product and proceeded to market the designs in catalogs, when a sufficient quantity of designs had accumulated.  The catalogs are the best sources of information about their products, having project lists in the back of catalogues "H", "J" and "K".  For a project list, please click here: 

B. Frank Royer

B Frank Royer was an evangelist for ornate, monumental cast iron lighting.  While quite a few other companies dabbled, Royer, starting at Remppis and greatly expanding with Smyser-Royer, specialized in it.  His years in ornamental iron had given him many contacts in the architecture profession, most notably Paul Cret.  Many Cret projects were finished off with Smyser-Royer products.  In The 1915 Lighting Journal, he was described as a man of "highly artistic attainments" who sought to apply to lighting the high standards of art which were then currently applied to fences, gates and so forth.  His many designs more than achieved these goals.[7]

Royer started in what appears to be a family business, Royer Brothers (iron founders), located at 9th & Montgomery avenues, in Philadelphia.[8]  From there he worked for William Remppis Co. of Reading, which did all manner of architectural ironwork, including castings, eventually becoming Vice-President.[9]

Royer apparently spent long periods of time away from the business (from 1912 to 1915 and 1918 to 1919) due to illness before his death in 1922.[10]  His death may have been caused by tuberculosis as both he and his wife were involved with related organizations in the 10 years prior to his death and his wife made annual donations in his name to these organizations as well as an upstate New York sanatorium.  Even so, his influence was evident even until a few months before his death when he conceived and designed a series of residential fixtures, two of which still exist on his former house in Ardmore, PA.

1908 to 1922

This seems to have been the heyday of Smyser-Royer.  They were generating many new designs and B. Frank Royer's vision for his product meshed perfectly with the building designs of the day.  By the mid-teens, Smyser-Royer advertisements were appearing in many places, including most issues of Architectural Record magazine.  Royer's son, Frank C. Royer had entered the business after graduating from University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Architecture.[11]

The company’s product lines expanded to several hundred lighting fixtures as well as window frames and spandrels, fence posts and verandas, the continuing Fiske business and various, high-end architectural items such as Philadelphia’s Broad Street Subway entrance surrounds.

1923 to 1929

In retrospect, the company seems to have lost its entrepreneurial spirit with the death of B. Frank Royer.  There seemed to be no new lines or designs, to speak of but other forces may have taken a hand.   Art Deco” had been launched at the 1925 Paris exhibition and the smooth lines and contours were, frequently, more economically manufactured by metal spinning, stamping and fabrication than by casting.  How much of an effect this change had on their business is hard to gauge.  No records, financial or otherwise, of the company seem to exist today.

Still, the company heavily advertised their residential offerings, both for individual houses and residential developments. 

1930 to 1939

The stock market crash of October 1929 is the major milepost in American economic history but not everyone thought so at the time.  FW Dodge Co., publisher or Architectural Record Magazine thought it was just the correction that was needed to reverse the 14 straight months of construction declines.[12]  History has proven them to be wrong.

Every major economic upheaval since the 1893-96 seems to end with new designs in lighting and each new design trend is simpler, less ornate and less expensive to manufacture.  Since Smyser-Royer manufactured lighting fixtures, which were intended to make a statement, they seemed to be immune to this trend for a while.  This immunity ended with the Great Depression.   

Smyser-Royer’s advertisements were usually partial page ads until 1928 when they went to full-page ads.  Was this done to increase declining business?  We will never know.  These ads continued sporadically until 1933 when they ceased, never to return.  Smaller ads occasionally appeared in the mid-30s for the verandas and posts. Starting in 1930 the company started listing 10-page mini-catalogs in the Sweets catalog and continued until at least 1938 (it had dropped to one page by then) 

The product offerings hadn’t changed in 20 years by this time and were hopelessly out of date.  War preparations were under way and there was no room in budgets for such design frills.    

The next, and last reference found is in a publication printed by the Patternmakers League of North America lamenting the closing of the company and hoping that another firm might come in and rescue them[13].  Other vague references are made to 1941 as their closing date so this may have happened.  At least one Architectural Record issue from 1941 has a Smyser-Royer advertisement for verandas.

1940 to Present

Regardless of the exact date, the closing of Smyser-Royer may have left JW Fiske Co. without a foundry to produce  their products.  Later issues of Smyser-Royer lamp and veranda catalogs had a label stating that JW Fiske had acquired the patterns of the Smyser-Royer Company.  The earliest label date I have seen is July 1st, 1945.  The 1941 closing date may have been due to World War II and related to the availability of strategic materials such as iron, bronze and aluminum.

In 1946, Robinson Iron Co. was founded in Alexander City, AL as an iron foundry.  A short time afterward, JW Fiske Co. started sending patterns for Fiske products, as needed.  Robinson has several Fiske patterns for various items but apparently no Smyser-Royer lamp patterns. 

 Where Did They All Go?

There are many, many Smyser-Royer products remaining in service.  Some restored, some well maintained but many silently waiting for restoration, repair or a new home.  Here are photos of still existing fixtures:  If you know of any Smyser-Royer products not shown or listed here, please contact us.