Excerpts from:

______________

 

SLOSS FURNACES

AND THE RISE OF

THE BIRMINGHAM

DISTRICT

An Industrial Epic

________________________

 

W. DAVID LEWIS

 

The University of Alabama Press

Tuscaloosa and London

 

 

Ed., This is an extraordinarily thorough treatise on the Alabama iron industry - highly annotated and with an extensive bibliography. Reproduced here are sections dealing with the involvement of the Northern interests – notably James Thomas, Giles Edwards and the David Thomas family.

 

 

History of American Science and Technology Series

General Editor, LESTER D. STEPHENS\

 

Copyright ~ 1994 The University of Alabama Press Tuscaloosa, Alabama 3S487-o380 All rights reserved Manufactured in the United States of America

 

The paper on which this book is printed meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Science-Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z3g.48-lg84.

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

 

Lewis, W. David (Walter David), 1931

 

Sloss Furnaces and the rise of the Birmingham district: an industrial epic / W David Lewis.

 

p. cm.—(History of American science and technology series)

 

Includes bibliographical references and index.

 

ISBN o-8173-o7o8-7 (alk. paper) '. Sloss Furnace Company—History. 2. Iron industry and trade —Alabama—Birmingham—HistorY 3. Iron foundries—Alabama —Birmingham—History. 4. Iron-founding—Alabama—Birmingham —HistorY 5. Iron—MetallurgY 6. Birmingham (Ala.)—Industries —HistorY 7. Birmingham (Ala.)—Economic conditions. 8. Birminghar (Ala.)—Social conditions. 9. Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark—HistorY 1. Title. 11. Series. HDg 5 1 9. S68L4g 1 994 338.7'672Z,og76l78l—dc20

 

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data available

 

93-48178

 


Excerpt from P. 10

 

The Inheritance

 

 

Pig iron was a form of cast iron, the waste material previously shunned by ironworkers. It had a high carbon content, resulting from protracted exposure to burning charcoal, making it brittle and hence unsuitable for implements that had to sustain rough use. This drawback, however, could be removed by reheating and hammering the metal at a separate installation known as a finery, producing a tough, fibrous product that was essentially the same as wrought iron and was therefore called by the same name. To secure greater output, ironworkers had substituted an elaborate two-stage method for the earlier bloomery  process; the dramatically enhanced productivity per unit of labor more than made up for the added expense caused by the scale and complexity of the equipment needed, yielding what would later be called economies of scale.

 

By the time the blast furnace had been developed, moreover, it was not necessary to refine all the pig iron that could be made in such an installation, because cast iron was no longer a waste product. Gunpowder had spread from Asia to Europe, resulting in the development of artillery. Crude cannons were made at first of wrought iron; better ones were then made of bronze or brass; still later, cast-iron cannons became popular because they were less expensive. Cannonballs, earlier made of stone, were now made of molded cast iron. What had once been an unwanted material had now become a military necessity.19

 

Cast iron was also used for fire backs, stove plates, andirons, and hollowware. The high carbon content that made unrefined pig iron unsuitable for tools and implements was no drawback in these products; on the contrary, it actually enhanced them, because cast iron is excellent for radiating heat. Demand for cast iron therefore remained brisk until the late twentieth century. This produced a new type of installation that ultimately created substantial markets for Sloss Furnaces. For centuries, cast-iron products were molded at the mouth of a blast furnace. It became more efficient, however, to take pig iron to a separate facility, known as a foundry, where it was remelted in a new type of furnace, known as a cupola. The foundry trade became a key component of the iron industry.20 For a time, the firm that owned Sloss Furnaces became the world's largest maker of foundry pig iron, and Alabama was the chief center of the American foundry trade.

 

 

19. Carlo M. Cipolla, Guns, Sails, and Empires: Technological Innovation and the Early Phases of European Expansion 1400-1700 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1965), passim; William H. McNeill, The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000 (reprint, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 81-89, 99-101, 166-69.

 

20. On the rise of foundries, see Bruce L. Simpson, History of the Metal-Casting Industry, zd ed. (Des Plaines, 111.: American Foundrymen's Society, 1948), passim.

 

 

Excerpt from P. 20

The Inheritance

 

 

An unusually innovative Alabama ironworks was Shelby Furnace, which went into blast near Columbiana between 1846 and 1849. It was built by Horace Ware, a native of Massachusetts who came south with his parents, settling in North Carolina before coming to Alabama. Learning ironmaking from his father, Ware produced charcoal iron for markets as far away as Sheffield, England, again showing the importance of the export trade. Closer to home, however, were such customers as Pratt's cotton gin factory, indicating that the modest degree of manufacturing underway in the state by the late 1845 was having a favorable impact that may help explain Ware's interest in using relatively new techniques. An irascible but highly ingenious person, Ware was Alabama's most creative early ironmaster; he used a steamboat engine instead of a waterwheel for blowing power and experimented with a heated air blast in 1855. Although it was already common in the North, this was the first time that this method had been tried in Alabama. In 1858, Ware also began building Alabama's first rolling mill, which started making merchant bar iron in 1860. His installation, the most progressive in the state, also included a cupola, foundry, and machine shop. 37

 

37. Robert H. McKenzie, "Horace Ware: Alabama Iron Pioneer," AR 26 (July 1973): 57-63' Richard D. Wallace, "A History of the Shelby Iron Company, 1865-1872" (master's thesis, University of Alabama, 1953), 4-8; Woodham W. Cauley, "A Study of the Accounting Records of the Sheby Iron Company" (master's thesis, University of Alabama, 1949), passim; James F Doster, "The Shelby Iron Works Collection in the University of Alabama Library," BBHS 26 (December 1952), 214-17; Bergstresser, Sr., "Brief History of Birmingham District," 2425, including a photograph of the machine shop. On Cane Creek Furnace and its operations, see also J. D. B. DeBow, The Industrial Resources . . . of the Southern and Western States (New Orleans: DeBow's Review, 1853),1:59.

 

 

Excerpt from Pp. 35 - 36

The Inheritance

 

Because it ultimately became the first installation in Alabama to smelt iron with coke, one of the Jefferson County stacks built during the war was particularly significant. Later known as Oxmoor Furnace, it was constructed in 1863 at Grace's Gap by the Red Mountain Iron and Coal Company, in which both Daniel Pratt and such Broad River associates as Frank Gilmer were active. Erected by Moses Stroup, the modestly proportioned stack was only thirty-two feet high and could not produce more than five or six tons of iron per day from the red hematite with which it was charged.

 

Jefferson County's other Civil War blast furnace was built at Irondale by Wallace S. McElwain, a native of Massachusetts who had moved to Mississippi in 1859. Making a cupola from the shell of a locomotive boiler that he fished from the Tallahatchie River, he helped establish a foundry at Holly Springs, Mississippi, not far from the Tennessee line. Before the war, it shipped ornamental iron to such places as the French Quarter of New Orleans; after 1861, it was enlarged and became the first installation to make small arms for the Confederacy under contract. Facing its capture by Union forces late in 1862, McElwain took its equipment to Jefferson County and built a furnace in Shades Valley There, in 1864, he made a brief but encouraging experiment using coke for smelting. This fuel had been virtually unknown in Alabama before the war. 75

 

Confederate authorities also promoted the expansion of the Alabama coal industry. Mines were opened in St. Clair County, but boats could reach downstate areas only "when the rivers were swollen, and sometimes would wait for months for enough water to float them over the shoals." Because of such problems, coal commanded prices in Montgomery ranging as high as $125 per ton. The Alabama Coal Mining Company sold much of its output to the Shelby works at Columbiana, but shipments were often held up for lack of rail cars, and skilled workers were in short supply. Coal mines that would figure importantly in the early history of Birmingham were also opened at another Shelby County site, Helena, in 1863.76

 

Much of the coal and iron that was produced in Alabama during the war years went to a large naval yard, arsenal, and ordnance works at Selma. That city was chosen for this important complex because of its location on the Alabama and Tennessee Rivers Railroad, its water connections with various places via the Alabama River, and its remoteness from the front lines. Skilled workers were recruited from all over the Confederacy, and Selma became a hive of industry, famed in later years for the construction and arming of the Tennessee and for production of the Confederacy's famous rifled Brooke guns, which were originally developed at the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond. In the absence of rail links to most parts of the state, pig iron often had to be brought to Selma by wagons or river boats.77

 

75. Armes, Coal and Iron, 6~-67; Marilyn Davis Barefield, A History of Mountain Brook, Alabama & Incidentally of Shades Valley (Birmingham: Bimmingham Publishing Company, 1989), 21-28; Eavenson, American Coal Industry, 296; Warren, Practical Dreamer, 100-101; Woodward, Alabama Blast Furnaces, 58, 82-84, 106-8 According to Eavenson, the first known case of coke manufacture in Alabama took place in Tuscaloosa County in 1854

 

76. Eavenson, American Coal Industry' 296-98

 

77. The account of the Selma complex given here and in the following paragraphs is based on Armes, Coal and Iron, 134-38; Barefield, History of Mountain Brook, 21-28; Victor S. Clark, History of Manufactures in the United States (New York: McGraw Hill, 1929), 24-47; Charles S. Davis, Colin J McRae: Confederate Financial Agent (Tuscaloosa, Ala.: Confederate Publishing Company, 1961), 13-35; Fitts, Selma, 49-54; Walter M. Jackson, The Story of Selma (Birmingham: Bimingham Printing Co., 1954), 201-7, 213; Edwin T. Layton, "Colin J. McRae and the Selma Arsenal, " AR 19 (April 1966) 125-36; Walter W. Stephen, "The Brooke Guns from Selma," AHQ 20 (Fall 1958) 462-75; Richard J. Stockham, "Alabama Iron for the Confederacy: The Selma Works," AR 21 (July 1968) 13-72; Sol H. Tepper, "Torpedoes? Damn!" Ordeal at Selma Cun Foundry and the Battle of Mobile Bay (Selma, Ala.: Selma Printing Co., 1979); and Frank E. Vandiver, Ploughshares into Swords Josiah Gorgas and Confederate Ordnance (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1952), 170-71.  On concurrent developments at Tredegar, see Charles B. Dew, Ironmaker to the Confederacy: Joseph R Anderson and the Tredegar Iron Works (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1966),108-290

 

 

Excerpt from P. 37

The Inheritance

 

Alabama's wartime industrialization terminated abruptly in March and April 1865, when 14,000 Northern troops under Gen. James H. Wilson swept through the state in what one historian has aptly called a "Yankee Blitzkrieg," systematically destroying or damaging every ironworks they could find. Among others, both Jefferson County stacks, the Tannehill installation, and the Bibb, Oxford, and Shelby furnaces were put out of commission. After defeating Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest's forces on April 2, the invaders captured Selma, leveling what remained of the arsenal and naval foundry. Before abandoning the city, the defenders dumped much of its industrial equipment into the Alabama River to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. Tuscaloosa suffered a similar fate as Union forces under Gen. John T. Croxton burned most of the buildings at the University of Alabama. 79

 

By the time Wilson's raid was over, the fire-blackened ruins of foundries and furnaces were all that remained of Alabama's already limited capacity to produce ferrous metals. Still, the war had helped demonstrate the state's industrial potential. Within a few decades, Jones Valley would be transformed, and an aggressive young city would stand where nothing but "sagebrush, woodland, and cotton fields" had previously existed.80 This change required a furious struggle between carpetbaggers, scalawags, and members of the Broad River group. In the end, planter-dominated forces, preaching white supremacy and bent on carrying out Milner's mandate to build an industrial metropolis manned by cheap, servile black labor, would triumph. Jacksonian Democrats would no longer control the state government, and ex-Whigs with strong ties to railroads and other corporations would be ascendant. Amid the strife for which the Reconstruction Era became proverbial, the South's greatest center of heavy industry was soon to be born.

 

79. James P Jones, Yankee Blitzkrieg: Wilson's Raid through Alabama and Georgia (Athens University of Georgia Press, 1976), passim . See also Armes, Coal and Iron, 181, 189-94; Barefield, History of Mountain Brook, 29-30; Bennett, Old Tannehill, 55-76; Fitts, Selma, 54-61; and Woodward, Alabama Blast Furnaces, 48, 84, 98, 105, 126, 139 On Croxton's Tuscaloosa raid, see Hubbs, Tuscaloosa, 43-45, and Norrell, A Promising Field, 30-32

 

80. Malcolm C. McMillan, Yesterday's Birmingham (Miami, Fla.: E. A Seemann Publishing Co, 1975), 17

 

 

 

Excerpt from P. 41

James W. Sloss and Birmingham 

 

 

Industry grew at a snail's pace in Alabama during the fifteen years after 1865. In Jefferson County, Irondale furnace was returned to blast in 1866 by Wallace McElwain, with help from investors in Cincinnati. Raising the height of the stack to forty-six feet, he used a hot-air blast and a steam-powered blowing engine but gave up in the mid-l870s after seven years of heartache. Later, the installation was dismantled. Bibb Furnace, now known as the Briarfield Iron Works, was returned to life in 1866 by Josiah Gorgas, but his efforts were ultimately fruitless. He had a hard time recruiting workers and was constantly short of cash. Chronic squabbling with the owners of the Alabama and Tennessee Rivers Railroad weighed him down; eventually, bitter and disillusioned, he decided to sell out. Taking a post as headmaster of the preparatory school at Sewanee, Tennessee, in 1869, he later became president of the University of Alabama. The Briarfield Works stayed in operation under new owners, but were shut down by the depression that began in 1873 and remained dormant for nearly a decade. Another installation that had escaped wartime destruction due to its remote location, Hale and Murdock Furnace in Lamar County, was temporarily active after the war but could not overcome the handicap of being twenty-five miles from the nearest railhead. It shut down in 1870.7

 

 

7. Barefield, History of Mountain Brook, 30-31; Clark, History of Manufactures, 2:68-69; Rhoda Coleman Ellison, Bibb County Alabama: The First Hundred Years, 1818-1918 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1984), 162-64; William B. Hesseltine, Confederate Leaders in the New South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1950), 67; Frank E. Vandiver, "Josiah Gorgas and the Briarfield Iron Works," AR 3 (January 1950): 5-21; Woodward, Alabama Blast Fumaces, 48, 74, 85-86.

 

 

 

Excerpt from P. 42

James W Sloss and Birmingham

 

Alabama's poor showing was not measurable merely numerically. Its blast furnaces, like those of other southern states, were obsolete. Every ounce of Alabama's minuscule production in 1875 came from furnaces that still used charcoal. Above the Mason-Dixon Line, conditions were much different. Before the war, furnaces in northeastern Pennsylvania had begun smelting iron with anthracite, named after anthrax, a Greek word for coal. This mineral substance was sometimes called "stone coal" due to its glossy finish and hard texture. Lacking hydrogen, it burned with a virtual absence of flame. A hot-blast technique imported from Great Britain, beginning in1839, made its utilization possible after early efforts to smelt iron with anthracite had failed. By 1861, more than 100 furnaces, mostly in eastern Pennsylvania, were using this fuel, which contained more latent heat than charcoal and was also cheaper, selling for prices as low as $3 per ton in the early 1850s. Anthracite was superior to charcoal in its ability to sustain a greater weight of ore without crumbling; furnaces that used it could therefore be taller than charcoal-burning stacks, resulting in greater efficiency and lower costs. 11

 

As Alfred D. Chandler has pointed out, the use of anthracite led to the rapid development of coal-based industries in the United States. Because of its low cost and easy availability after canals and railroads had penetrated northeastern Pennsylvania in the 1830s and 1840s, older methods of refining wrought iron were superseded by "puddling," which had been developed in Great Britain by Henry Cort. Through use of this method, pig iron was decarbonized by being heated in coal-fired reverberatory furnaces before passing through rolls, emerging as wrought iron bars suitable for conversion into boiler plate, sheets, and rails. Factories, now able to adopt all-metal machinery because iron was less expensive, multiplied throughout the Northeast; steam engines replaced waterwheels; and productivity increased rapidly in a wide range of industries that were dependent upon heat. By the time of the Civil War, anthracite was the nation's leading blast furnace fuel. 12

 

 

11. On the properties of anthracite as a blast furnace fuel, see Frederick Overman, Treatise on Metallurgy (1852; 6th ed., New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1882), 389-93. On the transfer of hot-blast technology from Great Britain to the United States see Darwin H. Stapleton, The Transfer of Early Industrial Technologies to America (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1987), 169-201.

 

12. Alfred D. Chandler, "Anthracite Coal and the Beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in the United States," BHR 46 (1972): 141-81. See also Chandler's Visible Hand, 76-77. For further discussions of anthracite and its importance to the iron industry, see W. David Lewis, "The Early History of the Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company: A Study in Technological Adaptation," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 96 (1972): 424-68, and W. Ross Yates, "Discovery of the Process for Making Anthracite Iron," ibid. 98 (1974): 206-23.

 

 

 

Excerpt from P. 61 - 67

James W. Sloss and Birmingham

 

Birmingham's leaders worked hard to make their dreams come true. With their encouragement, Daniel Pratt performed the last of many services on behalf of Alabama's industrial progress in 1872 by helping establish a new enterprise in the district, the Eureka Mining and Transportation Company. Its aim was to rebuild the old furnace at Oxmoor, as the site where Stroup had built the stack in 1863 was now called. Since being destroyed by Wilson's raiders at the end of the war, it had been only a heap of rubble. Raising the height of the original stack from thirty-two to sixty feet and widening the bosh, the new Eureka ownership also built a second furnace on the site, spending about $200,000. Early in 1873, the furnaces went into blast. As workers waited for the first runs of iron, dogs flushed a deer that ran headlong through the pig beds; wild turkeys swarmed throughout the nearby woods, which teemed with game. Supplied by a narrow-gauge railroad leading to ore mines a few miles away, the furnaces smelted red ore with a mixture of charcoal and coke. Because of inexperience on the part of both the management and the workers, however, output was meager.46

 

Despite the low productivity of the furnaces, the Eureka Company's venture at Oxmoor made a significant contribution to the development of Birmingham by bringing into the area Henry Fairchild DeBardeleben, characterized by Ethel Armes as "the most picturesque and dramatic character in the coal and iron history of the South." Descended from a Hessian mercenary who had fought for Great Britain in the American Revolution, DeBardeleben had been born in Autauga County in 1841. Like many other natives of the region who later became industrialists, he came from an agricultural background; his father was a cotton planter who had migrated to Alabama from South Carolina.

 

Orphaned at ten, DeBardeleben became Daniel Pratt's legal ward. Working for the latter, he advanced from head of the teamsters to boss of the lumber yard and superintendent of the cotton gin factory. After serving in the Confederate army and fighting in the Shiloh campaign, he went home to take charge of a bobbin factory owned by Pratt and married his daughter, Ellen. As Wayne Flynt has indicated, the union epitomized the alliance between planters and manufacturers that would ultimately result in the founding of Birmingham. Though wild and impulsive, DeBardeleben gained his father-inlaw's confidence. In 1872, Pratt put him in charge at Oxmoor, where his inexperience—DeBardeleben freely acknowledged at the time that he knew nothing about making iron—helped bring about the project's failure. His spirit, however, aptly described by Armes as "savagely energetic, restless, impatient," epitomized the zest for exploiting the natural environment that was fundamental to Birmingham's formative style.

 

DeBardeleben compared himself with the "piney rooter," a skinny hog that was well known to local residents and survived by using its snout to dig for food. Black-haired, with an aquiline nose, bushy mustache, and piercing eyes, "quick as a bird's," he had a ruddy, hawk-like face matching his fierce determination and hard-bitten attitude. "There's nothing like taking a wild piece of land, all rock and woods, ground not fit to feed a goat on, and turning it into a settlement of men and women, making pay rolls, bringing the railroads in, and starting things going," he liked to say. "There's nothing like boring a hillside through and turning over a mountain." Boiling with energy, "he seemed to have one foot always in the stirrup and to be itching to mount and ride away," an admirer recalled. "I had rather be out in the woods on the back of a fox-trotting mule with a good seam of coal under my feet than to be president of the United States," he once said. "I never get lonely in the woods . . . and the rocks and the forests are the only books I read."47

 

Birmingham needed people of DeBardeleben's spirit. In 1873, it was devastated by a cholera epidemic that decimated its population. While Mortimer H. Jordan, Mudd's son-in-law, headed a cadre of physicians who worked around the clock to care for the sick and dying, madams opened houses of ill fame to serve as makeshift hospitals, and prostitutes volunteered to serve as nurses. The Panic of 1873 added to the misery, sending the price of iron plummeting and forcing businesses to shut down. Settlers fled the area, and the value of stock in the Elyton Land Company declined precipitously. Traffic on Alabama railroads that were now operated by the L&N took a nosedive. At one point during the debacle, Fink met Milner in Montgomery and turned on him bitterly. "You have ruined me, you fool," he exclaimed. "Where are those coal mines and those iron mines you talked so much about.... Where are they? I look, but I see nothing! All lies!—lies!" Soon, Fink resigned from the L&N, feeling disgraced by the failure of events in Alabama to turn out as he had hoped. Even Powell, who had become the city's first elected mayor in 1873, lost faith. Resigning as president of the Elyton Land Company in March 1875, he was succeeded by Henry Caldwell. Returning to Mississippi, where he founded a town on the Yazoo River, Powell resurfaced in Birmingham in 1878 to make an unsuccessful run for mayor. His career ended in 1883 when he was shot to death in Mississippi by a former employee whom he had recently discharged. Morris and other local leaders tried to have him buried in Birmingham, but he was instead interred in his family's cemetery plot at Montgomery.48

 

Despite their discouragement, most of Birmingham's leaders did not give up. Stung by Fink's remarks, Milner organized the Newcastle Coal and Iron Company, which soon produced seventy tons of coal per day. The most important step taken to revive local industry, however, was at Oxmoor, where the Eureka Company was reorganized by a syndicate headed by Daniel S. Troy, a Montgomery lawyer and friend of Francis Gilmer who had served the Confederacy with valor in the Civil War. Securing a legislative grant of limited liability and virtual exemption from taxes, the group hired Levin S. Goodrich, an experienced Tennessee ironmaster, to head a fresh campaign at Oxmoor. Using charcoal, he put one of the furnaces in blast, increasing its output and reducing fuel consumption. Still unsatisfied, he sent specimens of pig iron to Pittsburgh for chemical analysis. The results were encouraging, but Goodrich realized that the future of the Alabama iron industry hinged upon switching from charcoal to coke.49 No other solution was compatible with high-volume production.

 

Oxmoor's financial backers were skeptical about abandoning charcoal. A few earlier experiments using coke on a small scale had taken place, but it was not clear that coal from the Warrior Field was suitable for coking. Making iron with coke might also require skills that local workers did not possess. Having already failed once, most of Birmingham's promoters were not inclined to throw good money after bad. Switching to coke, however, was the only way out. Already deeply in debt, and well aware of the added outlays that Goodrich's plan would require, the Oxmoor syndicate offered to turn the furnace over to any entrepreneurs who were willing to gamble on it. At this juncture, Milner called a meeting at the offices of the Elyton Land Company and urged those who attended to form a new enterprise. His leadership resulted in a venture known as the Cooperative Experimental Coke and Iron Company. It was headed by a three-man board of managers including James W. Sloss, who once again demonstrated his faith in the district by risking his fortune in its development.

 

Under Goodrich's direction, five coke ovens were built. Samples of coal submitted by local mines were tested to determine which would be most suitable for smelting Red Mountain ore, and a variety from the "Browne seam" was selected. Named after pioneer coal operator William Phineas Browne, it had been discovered by a local prospector, "Uncle Billy" Gould, who had emigrated from Scotland to Pennsylvania before coming to Alabama. so The ovens, some of which were of a new Belgian design, were highly innovative, being equipped with oscillating bottoms for easier loading and lateral flues for the controlled removal of gases that would otherwise have gone to waste. As Jack R. Bergstresser has stated, this installation contradicts impressions that early industrial technology in the Birmingham District was backward by comparison with that in other parts of the country.51

 

Meanwhile, the newer of the two furnaces at Oxmoor was remodeled for use of a hot-air blast. Innovative equipment contrived by Goodrich included a cone-shaped charging apparatus designed to retain furnace gases in the stack. Combustible gas recovered from the coke ovens was used to heat the blast and fire the boilers that provided steam to the blowing engine. With such apparatus, modern by all prevailing standards, a crucial experiment took place to smelt iron with coke at the revamped Oxmoor furnace. The event later became the subject of so much folklore that it is hard to determine exactly what took place. A fictional account published eighty years later spoke of a crowd whose members "pressed as close as they dared while the fiery soup rushed down the main sow out into the dozens of pig beds" and compared the scene to "the Fourth of July in hell.... It had a brutal magnificence that gave it dignity and an awful kind of beauty, dwarfing its human masters. Even the sky had a hectic flush."52 Much of this description, however, is sheer imagination. Even the date later reported by Ethel Armes and repeated in numerous accounts including the novel just cited—28 February 1876—is wrong; the first blow actually occurred on 1 l March of that year, yielding thirteen tons of "silver grey iron." A brief report made to a local newspaper by the secretary of the Eureka Company three days later indicated that output had been raised to about twenty-five tons, using various mixtures of coke and red hematite. "This is an important epoch in the industrial history of Alabama, upon which we congratulate her people as well as the Eureka Company," the newspaper stated. "It is no longer a question as to whether our coals will make good iron from our ores." The coke had "proved sufficiently strong to sustain the burden required and the product of the furnace is all that was hoped for."53

 

Almost three weeks later, the news from Red Mountain was reported in New York City by a leading trade journal, Iron Age, which indicated that output for the first full week of operations at Oxmoor had been 175 tons. "This is large work for a 60 x 12 furnace, but whether it is good for the furnace is questionable," stated a notice that gave the event scant attention. "The best practice is not to push the furnace at first, but to let it come up to its work very gradually."54 It was not the first time, or the last, that eastern experts would take a condescending attitude toward the upstart industry that was slowly beginning to appear in Alabama.

 

Despite the derision with which the Oxmoor experiment was greeted on the eastern seaboard, Birmingham had reached a critical turning point in its emergence as an industrial center. That coke made from Warrior coal could be successfully used to smelt pig iron became the salvation of the district. In modern terms, however, what had happened at Oxmoor was merely a "pilot project." It did not prove that pig iron could be made consistently on a large scale in the Birmingham area and marketed profitably outside the region. It did, however, encourage further investment.

 

The ensuing search for outside capital led to new problems. Large sums of money, far more than existed in Alabama itself, were needed to fulfill the prospects that the results of the Oxmoor experiment had created. Pratt was now dead, and his heir, DeBardeleben, held title to the Oxmoor property. His interests, plus those of local businessmen who had backed the Cooperative Experimental Coke and Iron Company, had to be combined with outside funds under a new financial arrangement. Because of the role that the L&N had played in developing the area, its stake in Birmingham's future, and its function as chief distributor of the region's products to the outside world, investors in Louisville were primed to help. Their bitter rival, Cincinnati, was also a natural market for Birmingham pig iron because of its geographical location and its thriving foundries and rolling mills. By this time, Ohio's Queen City had been connected to the L&N by rail; despite their dislike of Cincinnati, financial leaders in Louisville had approved the new line because it used a gauge different from that of the L&N, thus enabling Louisville to profit from being the place where freight between Cincinnati and the South had to be reloaded. Both cities therefore had a strong community of interest with Birmingham.55

 

Soon after the Oxmoor experiment, two of Birmingham's most prominent business leaders volunteered to make arrangements between local investors and their counterparts in Louisville and Cincinnati. James Thomas, a northern emigrant who belonged to the Pennsylvania iron-making family that had introduced hot-blast technology to the United States, served as an intermediary with Cincinnati entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, Sloss once again helped preserve Birmingham's momentum by agreeing to represent the community in meetings with financiers from Louisville. After negotiations had been completed, the L&N over a two-year period subscribed $60,000 in the stock of the Oxmoor venture, built a spur line to serve Birmingham coal and iron companies, and made other commitments that brought its total stake in the district to a reported $l2;000.56 Cincinnati businessmen also risked heavily in the area. As the two cities vied to gain the upper hand, local leaders, particularly DeBardeleben, played one off against the other in an attempt to protect local interests.

 

With the infusion of fresh capital, both of the Oxmoor furnaces were rebuilt for expanded production, using coke. Although their sixty-foot height made their relatively small by northern standards, the new stacks had iron shells, which were atypical of Alabama furnaces at this time and reflected continued adoption of up-to-date equipment. Batteries of coke ovens, some of which were equipped with reversible bottoms recently developed in Belgium, were built at Helena and Oxmoor. Despite such progress, the chemical peculiarities of Red Mountain ore and the inexperience of the crews at Oxmoor resulted in output well below northern standards. Goodrich soon returned to Tennessee to rebuild an ironworks in Nashville, and quarrels between rival Cincinnati and Louisville backers continued to plague the Oxmoor enterprise.57

 

With Powell gone, Milner assumed his mantle as the district's chief promoter. In 1876, he published a book, Alabama As It Was, As It Is, and As It Will Be, to expound its advantages. He took a broad view, beginning with an analysis of the depths into which agriculture had fallen in the state since the Civil War. This decline he blamed upon two things: the overweening concentration on cotton cultivation to the detriment of foodstuffs, requiring imports from other states, and the emancipation of blacks, who, he asserted, were inherently incapable of becoming productive as free citizens. The remedy, he said, was to encourage white Anglo-Saxon immigrants from Europe to learn American methods of farming and fill the inexhaustibly fertile agricultural lands along the corridor that the South and North Railroad was now operating as a subsidiary of the L&N. As an illustration of what could be done, he pointed to the accomplishments of German immigrants now settling in Cullman County. Buttressing his argument was a dismal estimate of agricultural prospects in the western states, based partly on his experiences during the Gold Rush. Capitalizing on the still-prevalent belief that a "Great American Desert" lay west of the one-hundredth parallel, he painted a harsh picture of arid lands, scorching winds, and other adverse climatic conditions, all aimed at convincing readers that settling in Alabama's potential agricultural paradise was preferable to life even in such supposedly favored places as California. Quoting from eyewitness accounts, he claimed that irrigation was no remedy for such desperate circumstances; even including hay and wild grass, he declared, the whole state of Nevada could produce only one-fifth the crop yield of Montgomery County in 1860.

 

Milner closed his book with a glowing vision of the prospects of Alabama's Mineral District, pointing out its advantages over the Chattanooga region. No place on earth, he claimed, could compete with Alabama pig iron, given the proximity and quality of Jones Valley's raw materials and the low cost of black labor. As Alabama attracted more and more Caucasian immigrants, he asserted, its black population would decline and wither away. Meanwhile, blacks, who were better suited for industrial tasks under white supervision than for tilling fields, could make a useful contribution by mining coal and tending blast furnaces. 58

 

The district's switch to coke set off a wave of speculation in the Warrior coal field. Among the many new arrivals swarming into the area was Truman H. Aldrich, an engineer from New York who had moved to Alabama after graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1869. After starting a bank in Selma, he had acquired and modernized coal mines at Montevallo before coming to Jefferson County in 1877. Prospecting in the Warrior field, he discovered the rich Jefferson and Black Creek seams. Sloss, admiring his engineering expertise, went into partnership with him. Soon, DeBardeleben also joined. In January 1878, after acquiring 30,000 acres in the Warrior field, Aldrich, DeBardeleben, and Sloss formed the Pratt Coal and Coke Company, named in memory of Daniel Pratt. With help from Joseph Squire, a British engineer who advised DeBardeleben on the location of coal deposits it soon became the largest mining enterprise in the district. The Browne seam was now renamed the Pratt seam, also in honor of DeBardeleben's deceased father-in-law. Not long after its establishment, the Pratt enterprise built a spur line into Birmingham and began shipping coal and coke in February 1879. The opening of this artery played a vital role in re-animating the community, whose population had shrunk to only 1,200 people. 59

 

Without pausing, DeBardeleben joined other investors in creating Alice Furnace, named for his oldest daughter. Building was begun in September 1879 on a twenty-acre tract at the western edge of the railroad reservation donated by the Elyton Land Company, and the stack went into operation on z3 November 1880. The largest blast furnace erected in Alabama to that date, it was also the first to be designed from the start to use coke. It had the distinction of making the first coke-fired pig iron from the area to win favor in the North and sell there at competitive prices.60 Sixty-three feet high and fifteen feet wide at the bosh, it achieved an average daily production of fiftythree tons of pig iron under the supervision of Thomas T. Hillman, a veteran ironmaster whose grandfather had built the Roupes Valley forge in 1830. Known as "Little Alice" or "Alice No. 1'' to distinguish it from a second and larger installation, "Big Alice," built in 1883, it set off a mania of furnace construction that Robert H. McKenzie later called "The Great Birmingham Iron Boom."61

 

 

46. Woodward, Alabama Blast Furnaces, 107-8; "Stirring Sketch of Col. H. F: DeBardeleben's Life Shows Picturesqueness," BA-H, 7 December 1910.

 

47. Armes, Coal and Iron, 238-42, 343; DAB s.v. "Henry Fairchild DeBardeleben"; Justin Fuller, "Henry E DeBardeleben, Industrialist of the New South," AR 39 (January 1986), 318; "Col. H. E DeBardeleben's Life Ends After Many Years of Stirring Events" and "Stirring Sketch," BA-H, 7 December 1910. As indicated, I am indebted to Prof. Wayne Flynt of the History Department at Auburn University, for suggesting the symbolism inherent in the marriage between Henry E DeBardeleben and Ellen Pratt.

 

48. McMillan, Yesterday's Birmingham, 19-20; Klein, Louisville & Nashville, 130; Caldwell, Elyton Land Company, 13; Memorial Record of Alabama, 2: 250-5l; Crane, Life of Powell, 246-307. On Jordan's work and background, see Bonner, "Arlington," 225.

 

49. On these developments and the events that followed, see Armes, Coal and Iron  255-61, and Klein, Louisville & Nashville, 133-34. On Troy, see DuBose, Jefferson County and Birmingham, 179-82.

 

50. DuBose, Jefferson County and Birmingham, 556- 58.

 

51. Bergstresser. Sr. . "Raw Material Constraints, " 104- s, 161 -63. 52. 53

 

 

52. Ethel Miller Gorman, Red Acres (Birmingham: Vulcan Press, 1956), 302.

 

53. Compare Armes, Coal and Iron, 261, and Birmingham Weekly Iron Age, 16 March 1876. The account in BWIA indicates that James Thomas, not Goodrich, superintended the Oxmoor experiment. Armes placed Thomas at the Irondale furnace at this time.

 

54. IA, 30 March 1876.

 

 

 

55. On the fund-raising activities discussed here and in the following paragraph, see Armes, Coal and Iron, 261 -62, and Klein, Louisville & Nashville, 134- 35.

 

56. Keith, "Role of the Louisville and Nashville," 169.

 

 

 

57. In addition to the discussion in Armes, Coal and Iron, 262-63, see also Woodward, Alabama Blast Fumaces, 108.

 

58. Milner, Alabama As It Was, passim.

 

 

59. Armes, Coal and Iron, 266-82; Fuller, "Henry E DeBardeleben," 5-6; Owen, History of Alabama, 3:16.

 

60. Armes, Coal and Iron, 283-87, Woodward, Alabama Blast Fumaces, 37-38.

 

61. Robert H. McKenzie, "The Great Birmingham Iron Boom, 1880-1892," A Journal of History [West Jefferson County Historical Society, Bessemer, Ala.] 3 (April 1975): 201-l l; Woodward, Alabama Blast Fumaces, 160-62.

 

 

Excerpt from P. 142

Takeover, Expansion, and Recession

 

Yet one more large industrial venture and a related boom town got underway in Jones Valley late in 1886. Eighteen years earlier, one of America's leading industrialists, David Thomas, had been introduced to north Alabama by Giles Edwards, a Welsh ironworker who had moved south from Pennsylvania just before the Civil War and built an ironworks at Woodstock in Tuscaloosa County. Thomas, who had come to the United States from Wales in 1839, had taken the lead in transferring hot-blast technology from Great Britain to America and was renowned as the "father of the anthracite iron industry." As a result of his influence, many furnaces had been built in eastern Pennsylvania to utilize anthracite. By the late nineteenth century, the Thomas Iron Company, headquartered at Hokendauqua, Pennsylvania, was the world's largest maker of anthracite iron. 23

 

After visiting Alabama, Thomas acquired several ore and coal tracts. In addition to the historic Tannehill property in Roupes Valley, these included Jefferson County deposits. In December 1868, a syndicate headed by Thomas incorporated the Pioneer Mining and Manufacturing Company to develop these holdings. Like the Woodwards, however, the Thomas family did not immediately move into Alabama, even after they bought Williamson Hawkins's 1,774-acre Jones Valley plantation in 1881. Instead, the Pioneer firm remained dormant until 1886, by which time the increasingly successful invasion of the northeast by southern pig iron had shown that the obsolescent anthracite iron industry was doomed. David Thomas was by then dead, and the Thomas Iron Company was headed by his son, Samuel. Resigning as its president in 1887, the latter moved to the Birmingham District. This move delighted local boosters who savored the event as an important victory in the Magic City's relentless war against northern companies.

 

The Pioneer Company erected a large, up-to-date blast furnace and established a community named Thomas after the family that owned the enterprise. The town, built on a site four miles southwest of Birmingham, was modeled on Hokendauqua; houses with features resembling those of workers' dwellings in eastern Pennsylvania were erected, adding a new element to the increasing architectural diversity of Jones Valley. By the time the first furnace went into blast in May 1888, it was reported that Thomas had decided to build two more, at a cost of $300,000. Only one of these, a duplicate of the first, was actually constructed, beginning production in February 1880. The other did not materialize until 1902, when new owners built a ninety-foot stack, the largest ever erected in the district up to that time. 24

 

23. Armes, -Coal and Iron, 173-77, 212. For an extended discussion of David Thomas and his work, see Stapleton, Transfer of Early Industrial Technologies, 169-201.

 

24. White, Birmingham District, 131-33; Robert Casey and Marjorie Longenecker White , "A Look at Thomas, An Alabama Iron Town," Canal History and Technology Proceedings 9 (17 March 199o): 121-41; "Two More Furnaces for Alabama," MR, 2 5 February 1888; Woodward, Alabama Blast Furnaces, 142.

 

 

Excerpt from P. 354

McQueen in Command

 

Born in 1866, James William McQueen came to Alabama with his mother and two brothers the following year, after his father died. Their family home in South Carolina had been destroyed by Sherman~ forces, and the children were reared in genteel poverty. Forced to fend for himself early in life, McQueen took a job at age fifteen as a telegraph operator for the Alabama Great Southern Railroad at Eutaw, southwest of Tuscaloosa on the way to Meridian, Mississippi. In 1886, he became a joint agent for that line and the Cahaba Coal Company, working in such places as Woodstock, a village between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.. There his lifelong association with the iron industry began when he met his future wife; Lydia. Her father, Giles Edwards, was a blast furnace superintendent who had migrated to Pennsylvania from Wales in the 184os, moved to Chattanooga in 1859, and come to Alabama three years later to rebuild the Shelby Iron Works at Columbiana. McQueen, a ruddy-faced, robust young man known to his friends as Will, married Lydia in 1889. A year later, he and his bride moved to Birmingham when the Alabama Great Southern sent him there as a train dispatcher. Soon, Seddon attracted him to Sloss by offering him higher pay.