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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Birmingham in Jefferson County, Alabama — The American South (East South Central)
 

Ironmaking

Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark

 
 
Ironmaking Marker image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, June 22, 2011
1. Ironmaking Marker
Inscription.
The Industry That Built A City
The minerals needed to make iron-iron ore, coal, and limestone-are abundant in the Birmingham area, and for ninety years men turned these materials into pig iron at Sloss. Sloss pig iron was sold to foundries, where it was melted down and cast into iron pipe, machinery, and many other products.

The heart of the Sloss plant was a pair of blast furnaces that together produced as much as 950 tons of iron a day. In addition to the furnaces, the plant consisted of a large number of auxiliary machines and structures: steam-powered engines to pump air; stoves to heat air; boilers to produce steam to drive the equipment; and a network of pipes to carry water, steam and gas. You will see all of this on your tour of Sloss.

The Raw Materials
Iron Ore
Sloss obtained its iron ore from company-owned mines at several locations in Alabama and, after about 1950, from Brazil and Peru as well. In Birmingham the principal source of ore was the Red Mountain formation, a ridge of hills on the southern flank of the city Red Mountain ore, known as hematite, contains from 35 to 38 percent iron. Company lands in northeast Alabama produced brown ore, or limonite, which has an iron content of 40 to 50 percent.

Coal
The coal used at Sloss came from
Ironmaking Marker image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, June 22, 2011
2. Ironmaking Marker
company mines in the Warrior Coal Basin, a source of high-quality bituminous coking coal that lies on Birminghamís northwest border. After the coal was mined, it was converted to coke. Originally this was done in 288 beehive coke ovens here at Sloss. In the 1920s the company built a modern coke by-products plant in North Birmingham. The many by-products of the coking process, including benzol, tar, and ammonia, were also sold by the company.

Limestone and Dolomite
Substantial quantities of limestone and dolomite underlie the whole Birmingham area. Sloss obtained these minerals from company quarries in North Birmingham and Gadsden, and from other companies in the Birmingham area.

Limestone and dolomite are similar minerals. Both are used in the blast furnace as fluxes; that is, they combine with impurities to remove them from the ore. The combination of flux and impurities is called slag.

Air
The final raw material needed to make iron is air. Air for the furnace is preheated to a very high temperature and pumped into the furnace at high velocity. It is the blast of air that gives the blast furnace its name.

You will follow the path of the air and other raw materials as they travel to the furnace.

The People
Former workers report that at one time in the early 20th century nearly 2000 men
Pig Iron image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, June 22, 2011
3. Pig Iron
Pure metallic iron is never found in nature. Rather it exists as iron ores-compounds of iron with oxygen. Iron is separated from its ores in a process called reduction. Iron ore is heated by burning a carbon-rich fuel such as charcoal or coke, so that the carbon removes oxygen from the ore and leaves metallic iron. The freed iron melts, then is drained periodically from the furnace and cast into bars called pigs. The bar at the left, typical of machine-cast pigs, weighs about 40 pounds.
worked at Sloss. The payroll gradually dwindled over the years as technological improvements reduced the number of men needed to work the furnace. Modernization of the plant in the late 1920s cut the payroll drastically. By the time Sloss closed in 1970 the number had reached a low of 250.

Many of the men who worked at Sloss lived nearby in company-owned housing called the Sloss Quarters. Designed specifically for black workers, the houses were typical shotgun-style structures, with two or three rooms set on foundation posts and no indoor plumbing. The company also ran a commissary, where workers could purchase an array of goods on credit, and sponsored community activities such as picnics and baseball teams. Although the Quarters were demolished in the mid-1950s, the commissary still stands just north of the viaduct at the 32nd Street exit from the Sloss grounds.

Over the years about 65 percent of the workers at Sloss were black. Still, the workplace was rigidly segregated until the mid-1960s. Men bathed in separated bathhouses, drank from separate water fountains, punched separate time clocks, attended separate company picnics. More important was the segregation of jobs. The plant operated as a hierarchy. At the top there was an all-white group of chemists, accountants, and engineers; at the bottom, an all-black “labor gang.” In the middle, a
The Raw Material image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, June 22, 2011
4. The Raw Material
racially mixed group performed a variety of skilled and semi-skilled jobs. Even in the middle group, however, white workers held the higher paying, higher status “title” positions - stove tender, boilermaker, carpenter, machinist. Black workers were restricted to such “helper” roles as carpenter helper, machinist helper, boilermaker helper.

In this setting unionization played a complex and sometimes self-defeating role. The union brought higher wages and a shorter work day, better working conditions and safety standards, and increased personnel benefits. But opinions on its day-to-day effectiveness varied. White workers saw the union as an organization that worked for the common good. Black workers often acknowledged the benefitís the union won, but suffered from the unionís reluctance to fight job discrimination.

Like any institution that exists over a long period of time, Sloss underwent many changes - in management, in labor force, in social and economic context. The story of these changes is the history not just of a company, but of the men who built an industry and a city.
 
Erected by Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark.
 
Location. 33° 31.254′ N, 86° 47.477′ W. Marker is in Birmingham, Alabama, in
The People image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, June 22, 2011
5. The People
Jefferson County. Marker can be reached from the intersection of 32nd Street North and 2nd Avenue North. Touch for map. Marker is located near the base of the water tower on the grounds of Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark. Marker is at or near this postal address: Twenty 32nd Street North, Birmingham AL 35222, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Slag (within shouting distance of this marker); The Gas System (within shouting distance of this marker); The Blast Furnace (within shouting distance of this marker); The Blowing Engine Room (within shouting distance of this marker); Boilers (within shouting distance of this marker); Casting Pigs (within shouting distance of this marker); The Stock Trestle (within shouting distance of this marker); Stock Trestle/Tunnel (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Birmingham.
 
Also see . . .
1. Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark website. (Submitted on June 30, 2011, by Timothy Carr of Birmingham, Alabama.)
2. Birmingham Rails. John Stewart, author of Birmingham Rails has done extensive research about the history of Birmingham's iron and steel industry. He has built very interesting website showing the former mines, mills, and the transportation system that linked them all together
Ironmaking Marker image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, June 22, 2011
6. Ironmaking Marker
to produce the iron and steel which gave Birmingham the destiction of being the Pittsburg of the South. (Submitted on June 30, 2011, by Timothy Carr of Birmingham, Alabama.) 
 
Categories. Industry & Commerce
 
Ironmaking Marker Under The Water Tower image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, August 11, 2007
7. Ironmaking Marker Under The Water Tower
Iron Ore image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, June 22, 2011
8. Iron Ore
Iron Ore image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, June 22, 2011
9. Iron Ore
Iron ore outcrop along Red Mountain. image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, August 20, 2007
10. Iron ore outcrop along Red Mountain.
Inside view of an abandon iron ore mine. image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, March 29, 2008
11. Inside view of an abandon iron ore mine.
Iron Ore Crusher image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, March 12, 2010
12. Iron Ore Crusher
The Crusher was used to crush the ore into smaller manageable size for transportation after the ore was removed from out of the mine.
One of the many iron ore mining sites along Red Mountain thats now sits abandon. image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, June 29, 2009
13. One of the many iron ore mining sites along Red Mountain thats now sits abandon.
Coal image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, June 22, 2011
14. Coal
Lump of Coal image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, June 22, 2011
15. Lump of Coal
Opening to an abandoned Coke Beehive image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, February 6, 2009
16. Opening to an abandoned Coke Beehive
Inside view of a coke beehive. image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, February 6, 2009
17. Inside view of a coke beehive.
Inside view of a coke beehive. image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, February 6, 2009
18. Inside view of a coke beehive.
Limestone and Dolomite image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, June 22, 2011
19. Limestone and Dolomite
Limestone and Dolomite image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, June 22, 2011
20. Limestone and Dolomite
Limestone Quarry atop Ruffner Mountain In Birmingham, Alabama image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, February 28, 2010
21. Limestone Quarry atop Ruffner Mountain In Birmingham, Alabama
Air image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, June 22, 2011
22. Air
Some of the miles of pipes delivering air, gas and steam throughout the plant. image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, August 11, 2007
23. Some of the miles of pipes delivering air, gas and steam throughout the plant.
Image of the ironmakers at Sloss. image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, June 22, 2011
24. Image of the ironmakers at Sloss.
Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, June 12, 2011
25. Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark
Shotgun House image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, August 14, 2009
26. Shotgun House
The Duncan House image. Click for full size.
By Tim & Renda Carr, August 14, 2009
27. The Duncan House
The Duncan House was built in 1906 as a home place for James and Lella Duncan and their eight children in what is now Tarrant City, Alabama. Duncan worked throughout his life in the nearby shops and yards of the L&N. Railroad (now CSX) as water boy, conductor, and yard dispatcher. Donated to Birmingham Historical Society in 1985 by Alabama By-Products Company, Inc. (now Drummond), Duncan House was moved to its current location at Sloss Quarters, the former site of Sloss company housing, for use as offices and to interpret the city's history. The structure is representative of housing occupied by middle management during the period when Birmingham emerged as a major industrial center.
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on June 30, 2011, by Timothy Carr of Birmingham, Alabama. This page has been viewed 1,104 times since then and 68 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27. submitted on June 30, 2011, by Timothy Carr of Birmingham, Alabama. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.
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