The Ulster Iron Works records consist of two parts, a bound volume that includes retained copies of out-going correspondence, and a series of approximately 100 miscellaneous items, mostly consisting of correspondence between the owners of the company and John Simmons, the on-site manager. The collection provides documentation of the financial, management, and technical aspects of iron production during the 1830s and 40s, with particularly interesting information on governmental contracting and on technology transfer from English and Welsh mills.
Both the bound volume and loose manuscripts include sets of technical specifications, and some plans and figures for various aspects of refining and iron production. The owners of the iron works were keen on importing the latest English and Welsh technology to make Ulster more efficient in production, with a specific interest in improving the rolling operations, furnace technology, steam power, and -- as might be expected for a works situated not far from the coal regions of Pennsylvania -- integrating anthracite into the operation as a fuel source. Among the miscellaneous manuscripts at the end of the collection are yield estimates and statements of production costs for various manufacturing processes, some production records, price comparisons with products from other works in the United States and Britain, and tests and specifications for various iron products.
The collection contains a number of items relating to labor and labor relations at the Saugerties mills. Scattered throughout the collection is correspondence relating to the hiring of both skilled and unskilled hands, with some particularly items relating to efforts to locate highly skilled English and Welsh workers and persuade them to emigrate, both to fill labor needs and to bring workers experienced with new technologies. In 1839, when William Young was traveling in Britain to examine iron works, Simmons argued that compared to English mills, Ulster could offer higher wages for several positions for boys, and argued that this might be an effective tool for luring emigrants in the face of an expected shortage of labor. There are also a number of items relating to workmen's wages, including some vouchers, receipts, and labor contracts for individual workers. Of a more personal nature, the collection includes a subscription list forwarded by John Simmons to provide relief to the widow of a mill hand (1830 August 25), and a letter from a former mill employee, Walter Kearny, requesting a loan to help purchase the business of a deceased partner. There are several references, though none terribly substantive, to "disturbance and dissatisfaction" among the employees of the mill in 1831. An 1842 letter relating to the New Jersey Iron Works, another operation managed by the owners of the Ulster Iron Works, contains even greater evidence of labor unrest. The unidentified writer insists that the workers accept a 25% reduction in wages without negotiation, and concludes, "we have orders on hand to execute, which may take another month to complete. We shall then stop, until the Workmen submit to our terms" (1842 January 16). A few letters relate to Simmons' own dissatisfaction with his position at the iron works and his feeling that his authority was being undermined by the actions of the owners.
Like many "business" collections from the early Republic, the Ulster Iron Works Records contain some personal correspondence of the mill owners and executives, particularly of the supervisor, John Simmons. Among the most poignant letters in the collection is a letter from Simmons to a bar owner, Samuel Oaks, in which Simmons writes that his father had been frequenting Oaks' "works" and been seen "in Places and in Condition highly Discreditable to the humane race" (1834 August 8). Simmons professed to finding the situation "mortifying" and pleaded with Oaks to persuade his father to return home.