Stepping inside the office of Bucyrus Copper Kettle Works, formerly known as D. Picking & Co., one may feel as though they’ve entered a living history museum, not a working factory.
If our tour guide, Rex who is also a coppersmith, had been dressed in period clothing from the late 19th century, instead of his work clothes- jeans and a t-shirt, I may have completely allowed my imagination to transport me back to the late 1800’s.
This business which recently celebrated 140 years in operation is housed inside a two-story, wood-clad green building on South Walnut Street in Bucyrus, Ohio. A small plaque on the outside signifies the building as listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Bucyrus Copper Kettle Works is the last hand hammered cohand-hammered company in operation in the United States, and possibly the world.
The company began in 1874 when Jacob Geiger and Daniel Picking, owners of a local hardware store, realized they could train their tinsmiths to become coppersmiths, allowing them to make their own apple butter kettles. This eliminated the need to import kettles from manufacturers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The partnership dissolved a short three years later, but Picking continued to manufacture apple butter kettles and diversified the line of copper products with the introduction of Swiss Cheese Kettles and Tympani bowls. Today, the line includes many items, including decorative pieces. The highly skilled coppersmiths are available for custom projects and restoration projects.
Entering the office for a tour, one’s eyes are drawn to the massive 4,000 pound, 185 year old safe. The safe is supported on a cement foundation and the walls of the building were raised around it. The safe was originally used in the hardware store on Sandusky Street until the addition of the coppersmiths required a larger work space.
You’ll also notice the many pictures and figurines of elephants. Robert Picking enjoyed surrounding himself with things he liked. At the age of 65, he learned to ride elephants and did so in small circuses that were popular at that time. A small portion of his 800 piece elephant collection can now be viewed at COSI in Columbus.
Inside the factory, you’ll see relics of the hardware store and era, including a child’s rocking horse that was gifted to young Robert from his father, Charles Picking. Tourists from around the country pop in for the interesting and educational 45-minute tour that takes you step by step through the copper making process which looks much the same as it did over a century ago. The blackened brick walls with exposed wood beams offer the perfect contrast for the gleaming copper pots in varying stages of completion.
Helen Picking Neff, daughter of Robert Picking, and great granddaughter of Daniel who had passed the business to his sons Charles and William. Mrs. Neff is proud of her family’s heritage and business which has placed two pieces, a Cheese Kettle and an Apple Butter Kettle in the Smithsonian collection in Washington D.C. Many days, you’ll find the 98-year old business woman answering the phone and greeting visitors at the factory.
When I made plans to visit Bucyrus, I was surprised to hear about Bucyrus Copper Kettle Works. As someone who lives in the somewhat “local” area, I couldn’t believe I’d never heard the business was open for tours before. It quickly became one of my favorite stops in Bucyrus. I loved the tour as much as I enjoyed seeing the old building.
Don’t make the mistake of overlooking this hidden gem. This is one stop in Bucyrus that everyone with an interest in history should make- take your children, take your parents’ and tell your neighbors. Remember, this is the last hand hammered copper kettle plant in the US, it’s right here in Ohio, and it likely won’t be around forever.
Items are available to order, including a limited-time commemorative mini-apple butter kettle on a stand. For more information, visit the website or call the business directly.
Bucyrus Copper Kettle Works
Address: 119 South Walnut Street.
Bucyrus, Ohio 44820
Hours: Tours are offered Monday-Friday 10 to 11 and 12:30 to 2
Tours can be arranged in advance by contacting Bucyrus Copper Kettle Works or the Bucyrus Tourism & Visitors Bureau at www.visitbucyrus.com or 866-562-0720
Looking for more things to do in Ohio? Check out my Ohio Bucket List for ideas.