Healing Stuart

Discovering & Restoring Stuart Cemetery, Four Mile Township, Polk County, IA

White Bronze

What happens when you start a blog then get smacked in the face with writer’s block? It’s a long time between posts. (Enough said!)

 As a Find-A-Grave photo volunteer I get excited when the monument I am hunting is made of white bronze. Why? Not only are white bronze monuments beautiful, but it is easier to take a picture in which the birth and death information is legible.

 The Wise Geek web site describes white bronze is an alloy of copper, tin and zinc – either mainly tin or mainly zinc depending on the purpose for which it will be used: jewelry or grave markers respectively. While another states white bronze used for grave markers were made entirely of zinc.

According to wiseGeek.com:

 White Bronze Memorial Showing Hollow Interior.

White Bronze Memorial Showing Hollow Interior.

For jewelry, white bronze is an ideal substitute for nickel and silver because of its appearance and chemical properties. Itis nonmagnetic, very smooth, and virtually nonporous. It is also highly resistant to corrosion and breakdown. White bronze also offers one advantage that silver does not namely that it will not tarnish. From the 1870s to the 1910s, white bronze was used as a raw material for grave markers by certain manufacturers. This type was mostly zinc, rather than the mainly tin alloy used in jewelry. It was called white bronze as a marketing ploy to make it sound more attractive. Grave markers made of this material usually took on a pale gray or pale blue appearance and stood up  to the elements better than stone markers because they were less porous. These grave markers were actually hollow, and consisted of vertical panels held together by screws at the corners. It is said that outlaws sometimes took advantage of this fact and hid stolen goods inside the tall, hollow monuments. [1]

Image of White Bronze Statue on a Monumnetal Bronze Business Card.

Monumnetal Bronze Business Card.

An article on the Kent County Civil War Monument and Fountain Restoration Project web site implies white bronze is not an alloy but is made from pure zinc. On the web site’s Monumental Bronze Company page are a series of delightful articles about white bronze and the company responsible for creating and manufacturing it. Two of them were edited from Barbara Rotundo’s chapter “Monumental Bronze: A Representative American Company” in Cemeteries and Gravesmarkers: Voices of American Culture edited by Richard Meyer. The third article is taken from Samuel Orcutt’s History of Bridgeport & Stratford, Volume 2 while the fourth is a compilation of three articles from the Connecticut Post dated March 8-11, 1939.

 But what about the durability of white bronze? Samuel Orcutt states, ” The one great claim of the is certainly great need as exhibited by the decaying stones in all the cemeteries and burying places in the United States.” [2]

 Barabara Rotund adds:

 And what about preservation? What is the condition of these century-old white bronze memorials? Have the claims for durability held up? Given the strong language of their claim, the people associated with Monumental Bronze should have expected some dissatisfaction. . . . So far as damage by weather and pollutants like acid rain is concerned, time has upheld the glowing testimonials by chemists about the durability and imperviousness of zinc. The details of letters and emblems are as sharp as ever and the blue-gray surface is unblemished [3]

 In Ecclesiastes Solomon tells us there is nothing new under the sun. History bares this out as well. Does this quote from the Connecticut Post dated March 8, 1939, sound familiar?

 Increased taxation and governmental restrictions will end the 69-years career of the Monumental Bronze Company . . . once known throughout the world for its manufacture of metal monuments, has filed dissolution papers in Superior Court and is disposing of its equipment.

From the Connecticut Post March 11, 1930:

Kent County, Michigan Civil War Memorial

Kent County, Michigan Civil War Memorial

The Monumental Bronze Company, passing into the industrial history of Bridgeport, will leave its “footprints” on the battlefields of the world as well as in many cities, towns, and hamlets of America. Once a thriving business, the 69-year-old metal monument firm has molded hundreds of memorials, which have become shrines for war-stricken peoples. France, Gettysburg, Vicksburg – all recorded for posterity – have Bridgeport-made monuments rising over the graves and scenes of great struggles. In America, the company’s records show that its soldiers and sailors statues are standing on village and city greens in 31 of 48 states. [4]


Memorial in Elm Grove Cemetery, Des Moines, Iowa

Memorial in Elm Grove Cemetery, Des Moines, Iowa

 White bronze monuments are beautiful and durable. They have literally stood the test of time yet the words and figures on them are as legible as the day they were cast. They preserve the memorial tribute written on them better than the white limestone monuments most often used for nineteenth century gravestones.

 Now that we know more about White Bronze let’s return to David and Elizabeth Stuart.

 [1] “What is White Bronze, Civilwarmonument. org, http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-white-bronze.htm (Accessed October 20, 2012)

[2] Orcutt, Samuel, History of Bridgeport and Stratford, Vol. 2, http://www. Civilwarmonument. org/monumental_bronze. htm (Accessed October 20, 2012).

[3] Rotundo, Barbara, “Monumental Bronze: A Representative American Company” [4] “The End of An American Company,” Civilwarmonument. org, last modified October 2009, http://www.civilwarmonument.org/monumental_bronze.htm


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