Historical Markers
Brady's Bend Works Historical Marker
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Brady's Bend Works

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
Pa. 68 Brady's Bend, at Allegheny River Bridge

Dedication Date:
November 28, 1946

Behind the Marker

The remains of one of the iron furnaces at Brady's Bend Works.
The Great Western Ironworks
Brady's Bend Works were very significant for several reasons. They included the first rail mill west of the Alleghenies, pioneered the integrating of iron furnaces with rail-rolling mills into one operation, and were the first works to use bituminous coke in large-scale iron manufacturing.

 Started by the Great Western Iron Company, which incorporated in 1839, Brady's Bend Works started successful operation of as a bituminous-coke furnace in 1840, then erected a rolling mill in 1842 to manufacture merchant iron and railroad rails. When the rolling mill encountered difficulties shaping iron into solid iron rails, the company converted the mill to the production of strap iron, for the emerging railroad industry, which fastened it to the top of wooden rails. To support its operations, the company also bought large tracts of nearby land for the needed  bituminous coaliron ore, and limestone.  Operating its own coke ovens, it also constructed housing, and a church, school, and store for 150 workers.

Brady's Bend Iron Work Company stock certificate, 1864 has the company title across the top of the certificate and an image of the works below the title. The certificate reads: this certifies that Edmund G. Jacobus is entitled to fifty shares at one hundred each in the Capitol Stock of the Brady's Bend Iron Company transferable in person or by attorney only in the books of the Company in the city of New York upon surrender of this certificate. 22 day of September 1864.
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Brady's Bend Iron Work Company stock certificate, September 22, 1864.
  Like other iron mills, the Brady's Bend Works went through cycles of prosperity and failure. When the Great Western Iron Company became overextended  and fell into bankruptcy in 1843, the iron works property went at sheriff's sale to a new firm, the Brady's Bend Iron Company, which made major changes, putting a second bituminous coke furnace into blast and replacing the manufacture of outmoded strap rails with solid markersold "T" rails, which became its principal product. Hurt by the Depression of 1857, the company reorganized in 1861, and by 1872 had more than 1,300 workers, 5,359 acres with iron ore and coal mines, two blast furnaces and a third under construction, the rolling mill, brick works, oil wells, workers' houses, stores, offices, and a hotel.  Faced with competition from Pittsburgh-area rolling mills, however, the company closed for good after the Panic of 1873.

Illustration depicting the details of T-Rail.
Rollers for producing railroad T-rails, 1900.
While in operation, the Brady's Bend Works contributed to the growth of rolling mills in Pennsylvania. Ironmasters had introduced rolling mills beginning in the early nineteenth century, and by 1849 seventy-nine rolling mills manufactured 80 percent of Pennsylvania's wrought iron output. This proportion increased to 90 percent by 1856 as iron rail production surged to meet railroads" burgeoning demand.

Western Pennsylvania rolling mills were at the forefront of this statewide expansion. Western Pennsylvania had fewer rolling mills in 1849 than eastern Pennsylvania, but typical western mills had about twice as many employees as eastern mills, and they produced nearly half of the state's rolled iron. Western mills in 1849 also had about twice the puddling furnaces, which used coke produced from western Pennsylvania bituminous beds. In contrast to eastern mills that relied more on water power, western rolling mills utilized more steam engines to power machinery, enabling them to create larger mills with greater productive capacities. Rising demand in western Pennsylvania and the Midwest for wrought iron products, such as nails and rails, fueled the region's growth.

Diagram of a set of rolling mill rolls.
Diagram of a set of rolling mill rolls.
Rail manufacturers such as the Brady's Bend Works also led the integration of iron manufacturing after 1840. Earlier ironmasters had integrated some iron furnaces with refinery forges, joining pig-iron production with shaping iron into other products. Rail manufacturers accelerated integration and operated on a much more massive scale, especially after the Civil War. Rail mills needed large quantities of quality iron. Integrating furnaces with rail mills enabled companies to gain sufficient and steady supplies of iron. Integration also provided greater efficiency from smelting to finishing iron, since it helped to increase the output per worker and reduce fuel consumption per ton of rails produced.

The Great Western Iron Company was one of the first Pennsylvania firms to integrate a furnace with a rail mill. After the Civil War Andrew Carnegie promoted iron industry integration. He started in iron as an official of the Keystone Bridge Company, which made iron railroad bridges. Carnegie integrated backwards by acquiring rolling mills that produced iron beams and plates for bridges, and then purchasing furnaces that made iron for the rolling mills. Carnegie then integrated rail production into his holdings.

Railroad growth fostered the rapid expansion of iron rail production in Pennsylvania. But by the 1870s, railroads" changing demands, technological innovations, and other developments spelled the end of almost all iron-rail production. Railroads wanted stronger, more durable steel rails. Taking advantage of technological advances, especially the invention of the Bessemer converter, Carnegie and other steel masters built giant steel works to make steel and roll it into rails. Carnegie led not only the integration of iron production, but also the rise of the steel industry and the demise of iron-rail production. Even if the Brady's Bend Iron Company had survived the Panic of 1873, Carnegie and his fellow steel masters likely would have put the firm out of the iron-rail business.
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