Established in 1881 by Philip M. (P.M.) Sharples, a West Chester machinist, the company created centrifugal cream separators and other farm and manufacturing equipment in West Chester for nearly 50 years. By 1900 the company included plants in Elgin, Illinois and San Francisco, California and eventually took the world by storm by establishing plants in Toronto, Canada and Harburg, Germany. At its height, the company was the largest industrial company in West Chester (then and now), employing 600 workers, covering five acres, and making an average of 3,700 separators a year.
The company, like many others in its day, succumbed to financial difficulties during the Great Depression. On November 12, 1929 the milking machine subsidiary filed for bankruptcy and by March 29, 1933 Philip M. Sharples asked a judge to place his company into bank receivership, claiming he was owed $495,000. Thus Sharples Separator Works Company was closed.
The Sharples Family, even prior to this company, was an influential family in West Chester and Chester County generally. John Sharples (1624-1685) was born in Cheshire, England. In 1682, John Sharples purchased land in Pennsylvania from William Penn; records of this purchase along with receipt of payment were recorded in the deed book for Chester County in 1688. The Sharples family arrived in Pennsylvania in June of 1682 on the Friendship. The family lived on 330 acres on the bank of the Ridley Creek. After arriving in Pennsylvania the family quickly became an influential Quaker family in Chester County politics and business. In fact William Sharples (1752-1817), a fourth-generation Pennsylvanian, became the first Chief Burgess (mayor) of West Chester when the city was founded in 1799. He was also the first president of the First West Chester Fire Company established at the same time and a general store owner at 13 North High Street and the great, great, great grandfather of P.M. Sharples.
The Exhibit will remain up througout the summer and can be viewed during normal library hours. More information on Sharples Separator Works Company and the Sharples Family can be found in Special Collections in the following books:
- Anderson, Bart ed. The Sharples—Sharpless Family. West Chester, PA: s.n., 1966-1971.
- Jones, Jim. Made in West Chester: the History of Industry in West Chester, Pennsylvania 1867-1945. West Chester, PA: s.n., 2003.
- Paul Rodebaugh, Jeffrey Rollison, Eric Chandlee Wilson, eds. West Chester: the First 200 Years: 1799-1999: a Bicentennial Souvenir. West Chester, PA: West Chester Bicentennial History Committee, 1999.
Please also visit our Sharples Digital Collection to see more Sharples Images.