Builders of Wooden Railway Cars ... and some of other stuff

Baker Iron Works

The Baker Iron Works had its start at Los Angeles, California, about 1877, when Milo S. Baker acquired a small machine shop there. The business, begun on a small scale as M.S. Baker & Company, grew quite rapidly.

A much larger facility was erected in 1886 and in June of that year the business was incorporated as the Baker Iron Works with capital stock of $75,000. Five Directors were named: Milo S. Baker, E.H. Booth, Charles F. Kimball, Fred L. Baker (Milo’s son), and H.T. Neuree. {108}

Less than a year later, Baker erected a $15,000 building [equivalent to $300,000 in today’s buying power] on Buena Vista Street near College.

M.S. BAKER, President.        C.F. KIMBALL, Secretary.        F.L. BAKER, Superintendent.

(Successors to M.S. Baker & Co),
540 560 Buena Vista Street, adjoining S.P. Depot Grounds,

        Manufacturers of mill, mining, pumping and hoisting machinery, oil and well boring rigs
and tools, street cars, street car gear, axles and wheels, shafting, pulleys, gearing and hang-
ers, ranges, broilers, ovens, jacket kettles, etc.. building fronts and architectural iron work,
gang plows, scrapers, land-rollers, plow extras, etc. Sole agents for Atlas Engine Works
boilers and engines; upright and portable boilers and engines; the Newcastle engine; Worth-
ington steam pumps; Otis Bros.' safety steam and hydraulic passenger and freight elevators;
Defiance steam syphon pumps; the new pulsometer; Syracuse chilled plows, etc., etc.

Facsimile of an advertisement that appeared in the 1 January 1888 Los Angeles Times newspaper.

As can also be seen from the above advertisement, the iron works had a great many different products, manufacturing mining, milling, pumping, hoisting, oil and well drilling machinery, streetcars, boilers, oven and heating furnaces, as well as a line of architectural iron. It seems to have been especially noteworthy for steam boiler fabrication, installation and maintenance.

According to one authority, {105} in 1889 Baker produced the first locomotive built in Los Angeles, designed by Milo’s son Fred, vice president of the firm.

Another authority {106} says Baker built horse cars and perhaps street cars for Los Angeles, Pasadena and other communities in the Los Angeles area and that they built some larger cars for the Santa Ana & Orange Motor Road in 1898. According to this authority, after Pacific Electric bought this line, the cars were revamped and continued in service until 1920. It is claimed that In the early 1890s, Street Railway Journal reportedly ranked Baker “among the principal [sic] car builders on the Pacific Coast.” There is also some possibility Baker built some of the L.A. cable cars too. (Yes, San Francisco was not the only city to have cable cars. Within four years of San Francisco’s first, eight other cities had them: Brooklyn; Chicago; Hoboken, NY; Kansas City; Los Angeles; Oakland, CA; Omaha; and St. Louis.)

The only records we have been able to find is for the construction, in 1887, of six street cars for the City & Central Street Railway. {107}

According to an article in the 1 January 1890 issue of the Los Angeles Times, the Baker works then occupied some 25,000 square feet and provided employment to 75 men. A large variety of manufacturing was being done. The foundry was making iron and brass castings to fit nearly all kinds of machinery for mining and milling purposes, besides pumping plants for large and small water-works, and steam plants for all the variety of uses to which steam was put. They manufactured their own boilers. They were also manufacturing oil-boring tools and rigs, and constructing elevators—both passenger and freight—in all varieties: hydraulic steam or hand. It was claimed by the newspaper that Baker had installed nearly all the first class passenger elevators in Southern California. The article said they manufacture street-cars and did other railroad work to order and claimed to make the best gang plows and road and field rollers that could be obtained anywhere. They also installed heating and ventilating plants for public buildings, both steam, hot water and hot air. And they did architectural iron-work. Milo S. Baker was then President, J.E. Sills was Vice-President and Treasurer, and Fred L. Baker (Milo’s son) was Secretary and Plant Superintendent.

In 1891, Baker was awarded the contract to build the Santa Ana Water Works. In six months, for a total price of $58,000, Baker put in nine miles of street mains, sixty fire hydrants and gates valves, one reservoir 78' x 78' x 10 feet, build one fire-proof power house, two sixty-horsepower boilers and brick stock, two 10 x 16 x 10˝ x 10 compound condensing engines of 2,060,000 gallons capacity every 24 hours, All this complete and functioning: truly a “turn-key” operation. {109}

After the turn of the century, Baker seems to have specialized in steel fabrication and elevator building. Over the next 30 years they did the steel work and/or elevators for—among many others— L.A.’s first skyscraper, the twelve-story Union Trust Building, the Public Service Building, the Queen of Angels Hospital, the YWCA Hotel, the United Artists-California Petroleum Building, the University of California at Westwood, The Masonic Temple at Glendale, the Los Angeles-First National Bank at Glendale, the Los Angeles-First National Bank at Hollywood and the University of Redlands at Redlands.

There is still a Baker Iron Works, located at Solana Beach, doing business in California. As far as we know, this general contractor, building non-residential buildings is the same business.

Cast of Characters

Milo Stannard Baker (1828-1894) was born in New York but moved with his parents to Michigan at age 10. At age 18 he became a lumber surveyor.

In March 1851, Baker went with some friends to California, where they engaged in gold mining for three years. He returned to Portland, Michigan, in 1854 and established a foundry and machine shop. In 1860, he was elected to the Michigan state legislature. He had plans to expand his business but was forced by ill health to forego them, and spent two years in Washington, D.C., working with his brother, Gen. Lafayette Curry Baker, chief of the Secret Service.

In 1863, Baker returned to Michigan, where he established Baker’s Eureka Iron Works at Lansing. This works manufactured machinery and architectural iron. He also established a flour and a saw mill. When these were destroyed by fire he rebuilt them on the same sites, adding a plant to manufacture sash, doors and blinds. And he added to his properties the Downey House, which became Lansing’s leading hotel.

But poor health again intervened, and Baker leased the mills and moved his family to California in 1875, where he established his iron works two years later.

According to his biography. Baker was a reserved and retiring individual, but had a creative mind and pioneering spirit. He wrote many articles on civic matters and labor questions for the daily press and periodicals. He remained President of the Baker Iron Works until shortly before his death.

09 April 2006

Home/Bldr. Index Bibliography Links Car-Bldr. Dictionary All-time Bldr. List C&S Rolling-stock