From South Williamsport to the World Trade Center
On that fateful September 11 morning, as New York City’s Twin Towers were struck by terrorist flown planes, the man who was in charge of the building’s construction watched from afar in horror. What is little known is that man, Karl Koch III, is a descendent of family that first laid down their American roots in South Williamsport.
In the early decades of the 19th century, before the Civil War, immigrants began arriving in what would become South Williamsport. Many of these new arrivals were from Germany and several from the village of Neuberg, located on the Rhine River.
In 1879 Charles Koch and his wife Mary arrived in South Williamsport from Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. Their son, Karl William Koch was born here in 1882. On May 2, 1884 Charles was working in the saw mill of Valentine Luppert when a fire broke out. Fleeing the fire, his belt caught and he was hit by a piece of shattered saw blade killing him. His son, Karl, was two years old at the time.
As a teenager Karl Koch moved to Pittsburgh and gained employment as an iron worker. In 1903 Koch traveled to Rochester, New York to see Buffalo Bill Cody. There he met his future wife and continued his employment as an iron worker. Several years later he and his son, Karl William Koch II formed the Karl Koch Erecting Company.
In the years following the company flourished as they built the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida, the Flatiron Building in New York City, the Commerce and Interior Department buildings, the Supreme Court and Federal Reserve Bank in Washington, D.C.
In August, 1968, the Karl Koch Erecting Company began the construction of what would be their last contract, to erect The World Trade Center buildings. The buildings were designed by Minoru Yamasaki and were frame tube structures providing tenants with open floor space uninterrupted by interior beams or walls. Prefabricated floor panels, which contained all electrical & telephone lines, heating/air/conditioning ducts etc. that would be installed in walls were tied together with the exterior beams. The Koch Company also was the contractor for building the floor panels.
When Karl Koch III, who was in charge of the company when the Twin Towers were built, saw the fires ignited by the planes, he knew the building would collapse because the floor panels were not designed to survive the intense heat caused by the fires. Those floor panels supported the exterior beams.
For many years Karl Koch , Sr. would return to South Williamsport to visit family. Koch III has written a history of the family business entitled ‘Men of Steel- the Men Who Built the World Trade Centers.’
Written by: Scott N. Lowery
Researched by: Chuck Luppert