Thomas W. Pangborn

November 25, 2000

Thomas W. Pangborn

Editor's Note: This is the final in an occasional series of stories about people who have had a profound impact on Washington County.

By JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer

see also: Pangborn earned many honors during lifetime

Pangborn at a glance

Thomas W. Pangborn

Born May 29, 1880, in Brooklyn, N.Y., the son of Charles Thomas and Anna Morris Pangborn.

Attended public schools in LeRoy, Minn.

At age 17 became industrial apprentice at New York office of Belleville Copper Rolling Mills. Attended evening classes at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Founded Pangborn Corporation in New York City on Sept. 1, 1904.

Married Elsa Emma Schumann in New York in 1906. They had no children.

Moved Pangborn Corp. to Hagerstown in 1912. Broke ground at current Pangborn Boulevard campus in 1915.

Served as president and chief executive officer of Pangborn Corp. until 1957 when he became chairman.


Retired on March 31, 1963, the year Pangborn Corp. was sold to The Carborundum Co.

Named a Papal Count by Pope Paul VI on Jan. 31, 1965.

Died at the age of 86 on May 20, 1967, at Washington County Hospital.

Thomas W. Pangborn's contributions to Washington County are plainly evident. There's the Pangborn Hall at Washington County Hospital, Pangborn Park in Hagerstown's East End and the Pangborn Memorial Auditorium at St. Mary's School.

But Pangborn was about more than bricks and mortar and the blast-cleaning equipment his company manufactured.

"I think the fact that there are organizations that are still benefiting from his estate is really a testament to what he did here in his lifetime and beyond," said Mindy Marsden, executive director of the Washington County Historical Society.

Pangborn founded the Pangborn Corp., whose employment peaked during his reign at more than 1,000 people in the 1960s, and co-founded the Pangborn Foundation with his brother, John C. Pangborn.

The Pangborn Foundation contributes thousands of dollars to community groups every year.

Specifics about the trust's finances are not available to the public, according to the trust officer at Mercantile Bank in Baltimore. But the trust gives an annual donation to Washington County Hospital to help indigent patients who cannot afford to pay their hospital bills.

The last annual contribution was almost $42,000, said hospital spokeswoman Maureen Theriault.

For his generosity and devotion to the Catholic Church and many charities, Pangborn received six papal honors from three popes and was once called "the outstanding Catholic layman of the century."

These honors culminated in 1965 with Pope Paul VI naming him a Papal Count, thus earning Pangborn the title, "Your Excellency." When Pangborn died on May 20, 1967, nine days before his 87th birthday, he was the only American ever named a Papal Count.

Roots of generosity

Thomas Pangborn often attributed much of his success to the inspiration and guidance his mother provided, especially after his father died during Pangborn's early childhood.

To honor his mother, Pangborn donated $50,000 - provided there was a $100,000 match from the community - to build a new Catholic Church in his mother's name. This led to the construction of St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church on Oak Hill Avenue in Hagerstown.

It is evident through Pangborn's speeches that his faith in God and his penchant for giving were molded by his mother.

In a 1954 address to hundreds of employees, family, friends and national dignitaries to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary, Pangborn spoke of parental persuasion.

"Our fathers and mothers" knew "that every man is created, first to honor, love and serve God and then to give to other men understanding, tolerance, clemency," Pangborn said.


Pangborn also spoke of a love and need for craftsmanship.

"For if we make no contribution to living or society, we live off society, without merit of our own," Pangborn said during the 50th anniversary celebration.

Pangborn found his craftsmanship niche through keen observation.

When he was still school-aged in the 1880s, Pangborn's family moved from New York to LeRoy, Minn., but Pangborn would return to the big city to begin his career.

Unable to afford a college education, Pangborn traveled to New York when he was 17 and became an industrial apprentice with the Belleville Copper Rolling Mills, based in Newark, N.J., according to newspaper accounts.

Three years later he was working in the sales department and attending Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in his spare time and evenings.

As a foundry equipment salesman, Pangborn saw the need for a more "efficient and effective way" to clean castings, a company brochure states.

He developed his first sandblast machine and founded Pangborn Corp. in New York City in 1904 with "limitless confidence and limited capital."

He saw immediate success and asked his brother, John, to join him in 1905. They organized a small plant in Jersey City in 1908 before the demand created the need for a bigger manufacturing plant.

Local success

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