Steel Away: The Story of Birmingham’s Famed Industrial Days
Iron and steel gave birth to the South’s foremost industrial center.
Pig iron, which fed Birmingham’s foundries and steel mills, was the force that gave birth in the late 1800’s to the South’s foremost industrial center. Though Birmingham today has an economy rooted in health care, the history of her famous iron and steel industry is fascinating. The story unfolds with a tour through the massive furnaces and smokestacks at Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark.
When it ceased operation in 1971, the old iron-making complex became a city-operated museum, the only facility of its kind being preserved in the world today.
From Sloss Furnaces, the tour moves up to mountain to Vulcan Park and Museum. Vulcan is the largest statue ever cast in iron and is the city’s iconic and unofficial symbol. He is patterned after the mythical Roman god of the forge. In 1903, Alabama was invited to exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair. A group of Birmingham businessmen decided to create the largest iron statue in the world, a nod to the city’s powerful position in the iron and steel industry. After some unusual fundraising activities, Vulcan was cast from Birmingham iron ore at Birmingham Iron and Steel Company. The statue won the exposition’s grand prize. Vulcan’s viewing platform offers the best panoramas of the city and surrounding areas.
All this history of heat and flames just naturally calls for some great open-pit barbeque. Steer the tour toward Jim ‘N Nick’s Community Barbeque in historic Five Points South. Their award-winning meats are cooked low and slow with great attention to detail.
Then head out to find more history at Tannehill Historical State Park, the birthplace of Birmingham’s iron and steel industry and a major supplier of pig iron for Confederate forces during the Civil War. The Alabama Iron and Steel Museum at Tannehill is an interpretive center on 19th century iron making technology with belt driven machines of the 1800’s and tools and products of the times. From spring through fall, the blacksmith, miller and craftsmen demonstrate their skills. Craft shops occupy restored pioneer cabins, and the cotton gin, pioneer farm and working grist mill preserve a long-gone way of life.
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