The Cameron Iron Works of Houston began in 1920, when oil wildcatter James Smither Abercrombie purchased a controlling interest in Harry S. Cameron's shop for use in repairing drilling rigs and for forging high grade steel. The firm incorporated on August 20, 1920, with $25,000 capital, five men, two lathes, a drill press, and hand tools and patented its innovative blowout preventer in April 1922. Until World War II the firm concentrated on service and manufacture of oilfield equipment and from 1945 to 1950 on research and development. It manufactured army ordnance, particularly depth-charge projectors and arbors for the navy in World War II, along with gun barrels, gun mounts, and rockets, for which it received the Navy "E" award in 1941. The company built its first plant and company headquarters in 1946 on forty acres north of the Katy Highway in Houston, after which the original shop was used as a warehouse. The firm subsequently went public and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Between 1950 and 1960 annual sales grew from $10 million to $40 million and employment from 700 to 2,000 workers. During the Korean War Cameron Iron Works supplied armaments and was involved in power generation and manufacture of jet engines and airplane parts. In 1957 it established a guided-missile plant, and the International Association of Machinists went on strike against the company.
At its peak Cameron was involved in atomic and space technology and the military, energy, petrochemical, and aerospace industries, as well as oil and gas exploration. It employed 12,300 workers in thirty-eight countries. A case involving back pay for Cameron workers fired for striking went to the United States Supreme Court in 1961. In 1963 the company built a plant at Livingston, Scotland, near Edinburgh, to construct aircraft engines and power generators to supply the nuclear-power and valve and tool industry. In 1965 Cameron was involved in the military buildup for Vietnam and in 1966 built a new plant at Cypress for high-strength metal production. In 1972, by which year the firm supplied pipelines for Russia and had a plant at Béziers, France, Abercrombie stepped down as company head.
In the 1980s Cameron Iron Works was described as "a Houston-headquartered vertically integrated company that designs, manufactures, and markets a range of oil tools, ball valves, and forged products" through three operating divisions responsible for "sales, supply, and service." Cameron provided its own metals, engineering, forgings, manufacturing and test facilities, and service staff. In 1980 it had sales of over $697 million and net earnings of over $78 million. In 1983 company restructuring allowed Cameron to form a United States holding company with domestic and foreign subsidiaries, but a 46 percent decline in sales in fiscal 1984 caused major inventory reductions, asset sales, and expense controls. By 1985 only 3,200 employees remained, concentrated primarily in the Houston area. In 1989 Cameron Iron Works merged with Cooper Industries, Incorporated, in a stock exchange valued at over $700 million. At the time the firm had 1,800 employees in Houston and 5,500 worldwide.
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Houston Metropolitan Research Center Files, Houston Public Library. Jim Hutton, Houston: A History of a Giant (Tulsa, Oklahoma: Continental Heritage, 1976). Marie Phelps McAshan, A Houston Legacy: On the Corner of Main and Texas (Houston: Gulf, 1985). Patrick J. Nicholson, Mr. Jim: The Biography of James Smither Abercrombie (Houston: Gulf, 1983). Lee and Marsha Tucker, Houston: A Sesquicentennial Commemorative (Houston: Pioneer, 1986). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
Oil and Gas Industry
World War II
Texas Post World War II
Upper Gulf Coast
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Diana J. Kleiner,
“Cameron Iron Works, Houston,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 20, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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