Iron. The very word brings images of fire and steel. Only man has bent fire to his bidding, using the destructive power of the primal flame to transform raw ore into iron and steel. Wrenched fresh from the earth, using alchemy and science, man has established the ability to create wondrous items from iron ore. From plowshares to armour and sword, from cast iron stoves to skyscrapers and bridges, the advancement of mankind is inextricably linked to fire and steel.

Production of iron has existed for centuries. Archaeologists have identified iron production sites throughout the world, including Africa, the civilizations of Greece and Rome, China, Japan, and all of Europe. There are some theories suggesting that the early Norsemen may have journeyed the United States in search of iron ore deposits. The tomb of the Pharaoh in ancient Egypt contained an iron dagger - a clear indication of its value within the ancient world. From Rome to Napoleon, nations and empires have been built from the power of steel.

At the same time, we must remember that these were important sources of manufacturing. Fortunes were made and lost by people with the courage to follow a dream and build their own businesses. Entire families lived in communities surrounding the furnaces, creating thriving social structures. Whenever we visit an iron furnace, it must be remembered that countless individuals lived, worked, and sometimes died at these sites. Iron furnaces ran twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for many months on end. The roar and fire heat were continuous, while the furnace cast an eerie glow that could light up the night for a considerable area. Smoke from the charcoal production hung in the air, while the hills and dales surrounding the furnace were stripped bare of trees. Being near a furnace town meant co-existing with a living inferno - a terrible beast, partly tamed, that would produce the desired transformation of ore to iron at a price - one paid in earth and blood.

Throughout the eastern seaboard, there are historical structures dotting the woods and hills. These structures are iron furnaces, which were used to convert iron ore to pig iron. From the colonial furnaces of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New England poured the iron that founded a nation. At the turn of the century, the Hanging Rock Iron Region (HRIR) of southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky produced most of the iron in the United States. Further south, the smelting furnaces and iron forges exist throughout West Virginia, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and other states. I become interested in these sites a few years ago after visiting a fully restored site near my home. Since then, I have spent considerable time and effort in the identification of other sites, researching their history, and supporting archaeological excavations to further understand their operation. This portion of my website exists to post the information from this research, and establish links to other sources of information.

This site provides information and links about mankind's attempts to produce iron before the 20th century. Any information about iron production prior to the year 1900 will be incorporated to this site. I have found a number of sites that contain information about iron furnaces, but few are dedicated to this subject. This website contains information gathered from other individuals. Recognition of these sources is important and appropriate credit is provided whenever such information is posted. Any information or links to iron furnace history will be greatly appreciated to enable the ongoing study of this subject. Email me at ol d indu stry@ oldindustry .org without the spaces - sorry, but I have to avoid bot searchs for email addresses.

How the Furnaces Operated In the Hanging Rock Iron Region

Furnace Operation

Notes on Assessing Site Conditions

Iron Furnace Sites

Connecticut Iron Sites

Kentucky Iron Sites

Massachusetts Iron Sites

Missouri Iron Sites

New Jersey Iron Sites

New York Iron Sites

Ohio Iron Sites

Pennsylvania Iron Sites

West Virginia Iron Sites

Iron Furnace in Japan

Japan Iron Sites

General Iron Furnace Information

Play the Blast Furnace Animation! BBC Blast Fn Animation.

Iron Manufacturers of the United States in 1840.

For a powerful essay on the subject of steel production, click on the image to the right.

Furnace Pictures & Video

Richard Leive has produced video on Iron Furnaces of the Hanging Rock Iron Region. The video is approximately eight hours in length and covers most of the furnace sites in Ohio and Kentucky. In addition to the video, he also offers a CD with over 100 pictures of furnace sites both past and present with historical information on around 40 of those sites. For details on the video and CD, Richard can be contacted at Richard Leive

In the days before iron furnaces, iron puddlers produced iron in small batches.

A story of young Iron Puddler is available through the link.


Iron Furnace Links

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