2022 Mining History Association

 

Sloss Furnaces Tour
and Iron Pour Demonstration
Tour Leader, Ty Malugani
Birmingham, Alabama
June 23, 2022

 

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In 1876, Col. James W. Sloss, along with Henry DeBardeleben and Truman Aldrich, founded the Pratt Coal and Coke Company.  DeBardeleben started the Alice Furnace Company and the Alice Furnace in 1879.  This was the beginning of the Birmingham iron boom.  In 1880, Sloss founded the Sloss Furnace Company and built the first furnaces on the site of today’s Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark.  By the end of the 1880s, there were 19 iron furnaces operating in the Birmingham area and utilizing the iron ore from Red Mountain, and local coal and limestone resources.

 

Sloss retired 1886 and sold the company.  It was reorganized in 1899 as the Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Company.  Ironically, it never produced steel but was well known for its high-quality pig iron which was sold to the foundry industry.

 

In 1888, Enoch Ensley built four iron furnaces and, in 1892, acquired DeBardelebens’ interests to form the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company (TCI).  It was the largest iron company in Birmingham with Sloss-Sheffield in second place.  In 1889, the Henderson Steel Company made Birmingham’s first steel.  However, because of the high phosphorous content of the ore, the main product of the district remained pig iron. In 1905, the American Cast Iron Pipe Company built the largest pipe manufacturing plant in the country.

 

In 1914, the Sloss-Sheffield began selling byproduct slag as a construction material.  In the 1920s the furnaces were rebuilt taking advantage of advancements in iron-making technology.  In 1931 the automatic pig casting machinery was added with significant labor savings.  In the late-1940s turbo-blowers replaced the old original steam powered blowing engines.  During World War II, Sloss-Sheffield prospered.  In 1952 it merged with the U. S. Pipe and Foundry Company.   However, like many iron and steel companies, in the 1960s their prospects dimmed.  In 1970 the Sloss city furnaces were shut down.  In 1981 the site was declared a National Historic Landmark.  It opened to the public in 1983.

 

 

Views of the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark Visitor’s Center and iconic furnace line.

 



(Above) MHAers assemble in the Visitor’s Center for the guided tour of the Sloss Furnaces complex.

 

(Right) Ty Malugani, Sloss Furnaces Education Coordinator, was the enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide.  At his right is the No. 2 Casting Shed.  The group returned there at the end of the tour for the iron pour demonstration.



The MHA Tour generally followed the same route as the Self-Guided Walking Tour which is an option for visitors who want to explore the complex at their own pace.  This tour is explained on the SlossFurnaces.com website.  A Virtual Tour is also available on the website.

Boilers (ca1910 and 1920) generated the steam that powered the blowing engines, skip hoists, and other mechanical equipment.  They were mostly fueled with waste gases from the furnaces.

 

 

The MHAers view the maze of pipes that carry furnace gases and air to and from the furnaces and their supporting equipment.

Piles of coke from the company’s coal mines and coke ovens fueled the furnaces.


The iron ore, coke, and limestone used to make pig iron were stored in hoppers. These raw materials were drawn from the hoppers into a scale car in a Stock Tunnel below and transferred to the skips which carried them to the top of the furnaces.


Two skips hoisted the carefully measured raw materials to the charging level at the top of the furnace.  CLICK HERE for a HABS/HAER cross-section drawing of the furnace. (Library of Congress)


(Above) Ty explains the iron-making process in the yard below Furnace No. 1.  The Pyrometer House stands at the right.  Its second floor contained the temperature measuring devices for the furnace.  The ground floor was a millwrights’ shop.



(Right) Up we go to Furnace No. 1 and the casting floor.




(Left) The front of the No. 1 Furnace rises above the roof of the Casting Shed. The current furnaces date from 1927 and 1929, replacing the originals from 1882.

(Above) The MHAers listen as Ty describes the operation of the furnace and the Casting Shed.

Close-up view of one of the furnace’s tuyeres.

Molten iron was tapped through a hole in the base of the furnace.  The molten iron flowed through the channel to the casting process.


The large Casting Shed floor was originally covered with a series of small channels and molds formed in the sand.  The workers guided the molten iron flowing through the channels and into the ingot molds.  This was a hot and very dangerous job.

A safer and more efficient casting process was introduced in 1931 by which molten iron flowed through the large channel seen in the left photo and into the Ladle Car above.  The car carried the iron to the Continuous Pig Casting Machine.


The slag was tapped through this port on the furnace and run through this trough to the Slag Pit.

The molten slag could be stored in the Slag Pit or sent to the Granulator to be sold as a byproduct.

(Above) The Slag Plant produced granulated slag for use as a construction material.

 

(Right) The Hot Blast Stoves for Furnace No. 1, preheated the air to 1400 degrees before it was blasted through the tuyeres into the blast furnace.

Photos courtesy of  Fred Barnard, Eric Clements, Mike and Pat Kaas, Erik Nordberg, and Silvia Pettem.



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