“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

Buckeye Furnace in Jackson County, Ohio — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)

Labor At Charcoal Iron Furnace

Labor At Charcoal Iron Furnace Marker image. Click for full size.
By TeamOHE, October 23, 2020
1. Labor At Charcoal Iron Furnace Marker
Work at an iron furnace, like most nineteenth century industrial jobs, was low paying, uncertain, and dangerous. Most furnaces operated at the edge of bankruptcy and, because nearly all were small-scale operations, they could not weather the storms of economic depression or financial crisis. The Panic of 1873, for example, so depressed the market for iron that by 1878 production plummeted to one-eighth of the pre-Panic output. Some 48,000 tons of unsold iron piled up at Ohio furnaces and stockyards.

During these times, workers were laid off. They had no unemployment insurance and had little hope of finding other employment. Most companies attempted to keep their workers on and the furnace operating by cutting wages. The average wage was only $10 per week in good times; when forced to choose between even lower wages or no job whatsoever, workers selected the former.

One of the major complaints of furnace laborers was the widespread practice of paying wages in scrip rather than cash. Hanging Rock furnaces defied state laws and paid their employees most of their wages in paper bills or credit, redeemable only at the

Labor At Charcoal Iron Furnace Marker image. Click for full size.
By TeamOHE, October 23, 2020
2. Labor At Charcoal Iron Furnace Marker
company's store. It was also common for workers to rent company-owned housing. This system tied the workers to the company in a closed economic system. The company regained a large portion of the wages through company store and rental profits.

Work at the furnace was hard and often dangerous. The twelve-hour day was common. Heat stroke, asthma, eye disease, and "gassing” by the furnace's toxic fumes were job-related dangers workers faced daily. There was seldom any type of health insurance or pension plan and no government aid or regulations.

Despite these conditions, there was little union activity and few strikes at the Hanging Rock charcoal iron furnaces. One reason for this was that workers who did attempt to organize or strike found themselves on the "blacklist.” This was an informal agreement between furnace owners not to hire troublemakers.

A more important factor, however, was the working relationships at charcoal iron furnaces. Most furnaces were located in isolated areas where the community of about 500 people all worked at the furnace in some capacity. This bred a strong sense of community conscious- ness. The manager and workers knew each other well, and workers could go to the manager with their problems or complaints. This resulted in informal working agreements that negated the need for formal groups like labor unions.

Labor At Charcoal Iron Furnace Marker image. Click for full size.
By TeamOHE, October 23, 2020
3. Labor At Charcoal Iron Furnace Marker
Additionally, companies often allowed workers to stay on rent-free during hard times and attempted to keep the furnaces operating as long as possible. Most workmen preferred a decrease in pay and a roof over their head to unemploy- ment. They also realized that striking during a depression would hasten the company's demise.

As the charcoal iron era faded in the 1880s, workers were displaced. The depletion of forests needed to fuel charcoal furnaces, and the introduction of the new, more efficient coke furnaces transformed the industry. Many charcoal workers moved to the coke furnaces, where they found it necessary to band together into unions to win concessions in a modern industrial environment.

Work Force

Oversee the daily and long-range planning of the furnace operations
Year round

Skilled Axman (48 men)
chopping and charring the wood
cut 2-3 cords of wood per day
middle of October to the middle of April
20 days per month

Collirs (4 men)
charcoal making
Preparing the foundation or hearth (1 man-1 to 5 days)
Setting the wood (1 man, 35 cords of wood-2 days)
Leafing and blacking the pit (1 man)
Charring the wood (12 to 20 days)
Drawing of charcoal (1 to 2 men-4 to 5 days)

Miners (14 to 21 men)
mining iron ore and limestone

Labor At Charcoal Iron Furnace Marker image. Click for full size.
By TeamOHE, October 23, 2020
4. Labor At Charcoal Iron Furnace Marker
along the outcrop
screened to remove the fines
hauling stock to the furnace
smelting the iron ores
hauling the iron to the market or place of shipment

Operation Of The Furnace (20 to 40 men)
General Manager-charge of the furnace, timber and ore properties
Foundrymen (blower)-furnace was properly charged,

slag was disposed of, furnace in good repair
Engineers (2 men) look after the engine and boilers day and night
Chargers (5 to 9 men) load the furnace
Keeper and a helper-discharge the furnace, regulated the air pressure
Casters (3 to 5 men)-iron cast into pigs, sanded while hot,
quenched with water, carried to cart or tramcar,
preparatory for the next cast
Slag Loader (1 man)-remove the slag from the cast house
Wagon Loaders (2 to 4 men)-Pilling iron, loading wagons,
supplying sand and clay to furnace,
cleaning up yard
Store clerk (2 to 3 clerks)-maintained the company store
Office Force (i to 2 men)-kept the books of the furnace,
paid the workmen, kept record of the stock
used at the furnace

Other Skilled labor that is required on an as needed basis to operate
and maintain the furnace functions throughout the year.
Crib tender

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of food (company store)
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Industry & Commerce. In addition, it is included in the Appalachian Iron Furnaces series list.
Location. 39° 3.383′ N, 82° 27.433′ W. Marker is in Buckeye Furnace, Ohio, in Jackson County. Marker is on Buckeye Park Road (County Road 167) 0.2 miles north of Buckeye Road (County Road 165), on the right when traveling north. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 1058 Buckeye Park Rd, Wellston OH 45692, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Shipment Of Iron (here, next to this marker); Engine House (here, next to this marker); Casting (a few steps from this marker); Stock Shed (within shouting distance of this marker); Stockyard (within shouting distance of this marker); Limestone (within shouting distance of this marker); Charcoal (within shouting distance of this marker); Raw Materials (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Buckeye Furnace.
Credits. This page was last revised on February 11, 2021. It was originally submitted on February 10, 2021, by TeamOHE of Wauseon, Ohio. This page has been viewed 46 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on February 10, 2021, by TeamOHE of Wauseon, Ohio. • Devry Becker Jones was the editor who published this page.
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Mar. 2, 2021