Spring 2007 Issue - Seattle Report
Posted: October 1, 2008100 Year Mark Passed by Seidelhuber Iron and Bronze Works
Henry Seidelhuber’s eyesight is going and his skin is wrinkled like tinfoil, but the 90 year-old still has the firmest handshake in Seattle. It comes from a lifetime spent in the steel industry working for his family’s company, Seidelhuber Iron and Bronze Works, Inc. Founded by his father in 1906, the business has thrived by adapting to the changing business world around it.
“We’ve had to be very adaptable. Whatever else is happening in town, we need to adapt, so that we’re providing something we can sell,” said Heidi Seidelhuber, Henry’s daughter and the company’s current president.
This company of 22 employees has created a legacy of steel across the Pacific Northwest far exceeding its size.
In the early part of the 20th century, it dominated the manufacture of ornamental metalwork used in local construction. Lobby entrances, staircases, fire escapes, marquees – Seidelhuber supplied them all for Seattle. Many examples of the company’s work still exist, including the canopy at the Pike Place Market, the Asian Art Museum’s main entrance, and the Smith Tower’s elevators (built under license from Otis).
The company had evolved toward structural steel products by World War II. At the war’s end, Seidelhuber was producing antiaircraft gun platforms for aircraft carriers. After VJ Day, it had a surplus of thick steel plates. In an unlikely partnership, Seidelhuber and Seattle City Light went into the water-heater business. More than 50 years later, the company still receives phone calls from people across the country looking for replacement parts.
Henry Seidelhuber took over the company in 1962. Boeing’s rapid expansion at that time meant that the company was in the right place to capture a great volume of work, ranging from standard construction to highly specialized wind tunnels. In the 1970s, Seidelhuber turned its attention to Alaska. Nearly every port of call in that state now has marinas or ferry-boat landings made with Seidelhuber steel. With its location close to the Duwamish, the company can ship finished single-weld products north by barge, greatly reducing construction time and labor cost for contractors.
In 1988 Seidelhuber completed its largest single delivery: a single-weld ramp for the main ferry landing in Ketchikan. The ramp had to handle heavy vehicle traffic each day, and was built to match. House-movers conveyed the massive piece down to the Duwamish, inch by inch. Despite several close calls and a limited tide window, the ramp made it to Ketchikan.
Seidelhuber Iron and Bronze Works has continued to evolve since Heidi Seidelhuber and her husband, Terry Seaman, took over the company. They have found a niche as high-quality specialists who can do the jobs larger, production-oriented companies cannot.
Currently they are working on an aluminum dock going in on South Lake Washington. Aluminum is a very demanding material to work with, and requires “almost operating-room conditions,” according to Terry. But Seidelhuber’s highly skilled workforce is up to the task.
Since its birth more than a century ago on Beacon Hill’s Sturgis Avenue, Seidelhuber has moved further and further away from downtown, and the family worries about rising conflicts between industry and noncompatible land uses, such as residential. Seidelhuber is located near the former site of Long Painting, which was forced to relocate several years ago due to conflicts with residents.
“Just because they haven’t rezoned this area doesn’t mean they aren’t starting to put us out of business in certain ways,” said Terry. “Because every time we lose competitors, suppliers, and customers to all these rezones, you don’t have that pool of industry to work together anymore.”
Echoed Heidi, “We need our tools, our materials, our machine shops. There are a bunch of interrelated businesses, and when businesses leave it hurts that web.”