Labor Day 2017 marked the 145th anniversary of Charles Peter Dahlstrom’s birth in Gotland, Sweden. It is a date worthy of celebration in Jamestown, New York where Dahlstrom’s innovations spawned a major manufacturer and a legacy that continues to this day. Dahlstrom was educated in Stockholm and was ultimately trained as a tool & die maker. He was said to be a natural inventor and a skilled mechanic with a genius for improving machinery. In 1891, he emigrated to the United States working in Buffalo, Chicago and Milwaukee before eventually finding his way to Jamestown where he designed and patented the first fireproof metal door.
Dahlstrom’s product and timing were both perfect. The advent of metal-framed construction and the safety elevator in the second half of the 1800’s ushered in the era of the “skyscraper,” beginning with the Home Insurance Building in Chicago (1885) and continuing to this day. Many other innovations were required to fuel the skyscraper craze including electric lighting, new HVAC systems and fireproof doors. Dahlstrom Metallic Door Company was formed in 1904 and Charles soon proved that his business acumen matched his mechanical genius. He wanted to corner the skyscraper market for elevator entrances and doors, rounding out his product line with decorative metal mouldings, according to a company blog. The 26-story U.S. Express Building in New York was Dahlstrom’s first contract, followed by 2,500 doors with trim for the 47-story Singer Building which was the tallest building in the world until 1909. The floodgates opened and orders poured in. Dahlstrom’s portfolio ultimately included Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, the U.S. Capitol Building and even Wrigley Field.
By 1920, Dahlstrom had expanded from its original space in the Gokey Building to a complex of ten buildings and a rail connection on Buffalo Street in Jamestown. It employed 500 workers and was said to be the largest and most important factory in Jamestown. But the Depression hit the company hard and, although it survived, it was never the same, especially after elevator manufacturers began to make their own doors in the post-war years. However, Dahlstrom Roll Form survives on Chandler Street in Jamestown, still successfully using the same metal rollforming processes its namesake employed over 100 years ago. And echoes of Dahlstrom live on in the architectural products and processes of companies like Dawson Doors on Allen Street, Hopes Windows and Rollform of Jamestown on Blackstone Avenue.
Charles Dahlstrom did not live to see the pinnacle of his company’s success. He died in 1909 at the age of only 36 leaving behind a wife, two small children and an industrial legacy entwined with some of the most iconic buildings ever constructed.