Stories from PA History
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The Pennsylvania Iron Industry: Furnace and Forge of America
For more than a century, Pennsylvania was the ironmaking center of America. The iron industry played a critical role in the development of the English colonies and the United States in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Iron was an essential material in the agricultural colonies and industrializing nation.

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Overview: The Pennsylvania Iron Industry: Furnace and Forge of America
Chapter 1: Growth of the Charcoal Iron Industry, 1716-1840
Chapter 2: Iron Plantations, and Their Masters and Workers, 1716-1840
Chapter 3: The Transition to Mineral Fuels and Transformation of the Industry, 1840-1880

Historical Markers In the Story
marker icon William H. Sylvis (Indiana) marker icon Allegheny Portage Railroad (Cambria)
marker icon Brady's Bend Works (Armstrong) marker icon Burd Patterson (Schuylkill)
marker icon Crane Iron Works (Lehigh) marker icon David R. Porter (Huntingdon)
marker icon David Thomas (Lehigh) marker icon Dunlap's Creek Bridge (Fayette)
marker icon First Iron Bridge (Montgomery) marker icon First Iron Rails (Montour)
marker icon Homestead Strike (Allegheny) marker icon Lackawanna Iron (Lackawanna)
marker icon Phoenix Iron Company (Chester) marker icon Simon Cameron [Iron] (Lancaster)
marker icon The Roeblings (Butler)

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Story Bibliography

Original Documents
icon full text Workers in the Iron Industry, 1850-1880

1716 Thomas Rutter helps erect a bloomery forge, the first ironworks and first bloomery forge in Pennsylvania.
1716 - 1840 Iron industry relies on charcoal-fueled iron furnaces
1720 Colebrookdale Furnace, the Commonwealth's first iron furnace, goes into blast in Berks County.
1732 Peter Grubb buys Cornwall Banks iron deposit in present-day Lebanon County; these banks prove to be the largest, most important deposit in Pennsylvania.
1739 John Taylor builds Sarum Forge (later renamed Glen Mills) in Delaware County; he is a pioneering ironmaster who helps expand the industry in southeastern Pennsylvania.
1749 Charming Forge in Berks County begins manufacturing wrought-iron products; this is one of many forges that dominate secondary production to the first decades of the nineteenth century.
1752 John Potts builds Pottsgrove Manor, the seat of his family's extensive iron-industry empire.
1774 Baron Henry William Stiegel is thrown in jail for debt, after losing the Stiegel Mansion and his ironworks to foreclosure.
1775 Well over 2,000 workers, or about one percent of Pennsylvania's population, labor in the iron industry.
1777 General Washington retreats to Warwick Furnace, one of numerous furnaces that manufacture weapons and munitions for Continental forces during the American Revolution.
1780 The four largest slave owners in Berks County are ironmasters, who own fifty-seven of the 119 slaves in the county.
1785 Bedford Furnace, the first furnace in the Juniata Iron region of central Pennsylvania, goes into blast.
1790 Alliance Furnace, one of the first iron furnaces west of the Alleghenies, begins operating.
1792 Centre Furnace, at the heart of a typical charcoal iron plantation, starts production in Centre County
1794 George Ege constructs Reading Furnace in Berks County; in 1845 Henry Robeson buys the charcoal furnace, demolishes it, and builds an anthracite furnace, subsequently renaming it Robesonia Furnace; Robeson is among many eastern Pennsylvania ironmasters who shift to anthracite furnaces.
1798 Robert Coleman owns Cornwall Furnace by this date; he and his family are very prominent in Cornwall for their paternalistic control of the furnace and community.
1810 Roland Curtin begins a thirty-four career as the paternalistic ironmaster of Eagle Ironworks in Centre County.
1816 - 1817 Isaac Meason, owner of the Meason House, constructs one of the first rolling mills in Pennsylvania; rolling mills supercede forges by the 1840s.
1819 In Huntingdon County, David R. Porter fails in the iron business, as do many ironmasters in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
1828 Ironmasters purchase Coleraine Forges in Huntingdon County and integrate them with Pennsylvania Furnace, both of which are part of larger iron plantations; iron making centers on iron plantations through the first decades of the nineteenth century.
1830 - 1840 Hot blast first adapted for charcoal furnaces and anthracite furnaces.
1836 - 1839 Construction of Dunlap's Creek Bridge proves the feasibility of making iron bridges.
1838 Workers at one of Hopewell Village's mines go on strike for higher pay, despite the paternalistic control of Clement Brooke, the long-time ironmaster of the village.
1838 - 1839 Owners of Karthaus Furnace fail to produce iron using bituminous coke.
1839 Burd Patterson helps put into blast Pioneer Furnace, one of the first anthracite furnaces.
1839 David Thomas emigrates from Wales to Catasauqua, and begins construction of one of the earliest anthracite furnaces.
1840 Pennsylvania furnaces, almost all of them charcoal-fueled, produce about 152,000 tons of iron, or just over half of the nation's entire output.
1844 First iron "T" railroad rail rolled in the United States.
1849 The Crane Iron Works are the leading producer of anthracite iron in Pennsylvania, making 14,272 tons or thirteen percent of the state's anthracite-iron output, as anthracite-iron production takes off.
1857 John Fritz develops the three-high rolling mill to make iron rails.
1859 Clinton Furnace begins production; with stronger blast pressure, it leads the way in greatly improving the output and efficiency of coke furnaces.
1860 Anthracite furnaces produce fifty-seven percent of the nation's total output of iron.
1862 The Phoenix Iron Company develops the Phoenix column, a wrought iron member that becomes the mainstay of the firm's bridge building business.
1863 William Sylvis becomes president of the National Union of Iron Molders.
1865 The Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company reaches an annual production capacity of 60,000 tons of iron rails, the second highest in the nation.
1867 The first commercially successful production of steel begins at Steelton.
1871 The Lochiel Iron Company, owned in part by Simon Cameron, defeats the local iron puddlers" union in a dispute over puddlers" output.
1872 Brady's Bend Works, which pioneered integration of a large rail-rolling mill with bituminous-coke furnaces, employs 1,300 to 1,400 workers.
1875 The production of bituminous furnaces surpasses that of anthracite furnaces in Pennsylvania.
1892 The output of American steel mills surpasses iron production.
1900 Bituminous-coke furnaces account for seventy percent of Pennsylvania's iron-making capacity.
1904 Greenwood Furnace stops production permanently, one of the last charcoal furnaces to shut down.
1973 Mining at Cornwall Banks ceases.
1990 Shenango Furnace Company closes two of the last independent iron furnaces in Pennsylvania
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