Historical Markers
Freedom Forge Historical Marker
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Freedom Forge

Valleys of the Susquehanna


Marker Location:
SR 1005 (old US 322) at Burnham

Dedication Date:
March 3, 1947

Behind the Marker

John Armstrong Wright
John Armstrong Wright, circa 1865.
According to markerAndrew Carnegie John Wright was "one of our best and most experienced manufacturers, and his decision was so strongly in its favor that he induced his company to erect Bessemer works…. He was quite right, but just a little in advance of his time."

While working for the Pennsylvania Railroad during the Civil War, the young Andrew Carnegie invested in numerous oil well, iron making, and bridge building businesses, including Wright's Freedom Iron Company. Here, Carnegie demonstrated his willingness to encourage technological innovation, even when the prospects were uncertain and the results left much to be desired. Although he preached, "pioneering don't pay" to others, he certainly did not follow his own advice at Freedom Iron and Steel.

After the Civil War ended in 1865, the nation's railroads faced a real dilemma. While the vast western lands enticed their expansive visions, there was no practical way of purchasing the huge quantity of rails they needed. Doubling or tripling the production of iron rails would require doubling or tripling the number of skilled iron puddlers, a practical impossibility.
Image of the buildings, stacks, and a bridge. Bessemer buildings to left.
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Freedom Forge Bessemer, c. 1880s. Bessemer equipment sold in 1870. A stone...

Indeed, rail mills built to markerJohn Fritz's revolutionary "three-high" design could already roll more metal than iron puddlers could make. Steel rails, while immensely promising, were fiendishly expensive at $160 or more per ton, and any sizable order required expensive imports from Britain.

Hoping to feed the railroads' hunger for steel rails, Wright went to England in 1866, ten years after Henry Bessemer's announcement of his revolutionary steelmaking process, and returned with an entire Bessemer plant. (Only the plant's blowing engine came from an American firm, Morris and Towne of Philadelphia.)

Wright's aim was to use iron rails as a base, to cap them with heads of newly made Bessemer steel, and to fuse the two parts together by rolling. Making steel-headed iron rails was not a crazy idea at the time. The venerable Trenton Iron Company made each month 24,000 tons of them.

Sketch of Alexander Lyman Holley.
Sketch of Alexander Holley
A number of problems burdened Freedom's steelmaking venture. The firm never got clear rights to either of two patents it needed. Worse, the rails it made were terrible, and none other than the Pennsylvania Railroad's president, markerJ. Edgar Thomson told Carnegie so quite bluntly. The problems mounted for months after Freedom blew its first batch of Bessemer steel in May 1868.
Freedom Forge Tyre Mill.
Freedom Forge tyre mill, circa 1868.

Yet Carnegie was ever the optimist, "The Freedom Iron Company is pushing ahead with Bessemer and is going to be, I think, the only really successful Bessemer Manfr. in the United States for the reason that it makes its own pig [iron] and all of its charcoal. . . ."

But within a year Freedom's fledgling Bessemer plant was shut down, and its machinery sold to a new steelmaking concern in Joliet, Illinois. A second early Bessemer plant, an experimental undertaking built with markerWilliam Kelly's air-blowing process in Wyandotte, Michigan, also closed up in 1869.

Alexander Holley's pioneering Bessemer plants - including mills at Troy, New York; Pennsylvania Steel's plant at Harrisburg; and Carnegie's own Edgar Thomson mill in Pittsburgh - were the kernel from which the steel industry in America would grow.

"Railroads . . . stringing their . . . rails across the western wheat lands" would do so with Bessemer steel.

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