The Iron-Manufacturer's Guide to the Furnaces, Forges, and Rolling-Mills of the United States


By J. P. LESLEY. New York : John Wiley. 1859.

THIS valuable book is published by the Secretary of the American Iron-Association, and by authority of the same. This Association—now four years old—is not a common trades-union, nor any impotent combination to resist the law of supply and demand. Its general objects, as stated in the constitution, are “ to procure regularly the statistics of the trade, both at home and abroad ; to provide for the mutual interchange of information and experience, both scientific and practical; to collect and preserve all works relating to iron, and to form a complete cabinet of ores, limestones, and coals; to encourage the formation of such schools as are designed to give the young iron-master a proper and thorough scientific training, preparatory to engaging in practical operations.” In pursuance of this wise and liberal policy, the Association has now published this “ Iron-Manufacturer’s Guide,” containing, first, a descriptive catalogue of all the furnaces, forges, and rolling-mills of the United States and Canada ; secondly, a discussion of the physical and chemical properties of iron, and its combinations with other elements; thirdly, a complete survey of the geological position, chemical, physical, or mechanical properties, and geographical distribution of the ores of iron in the United States.

The directory to the iron works of the United States and Canada enumerates 1545 works of various kinds, of which 386 are now abandoned ; 560 blast-furnaces, 389 forges, and 210 rolling-mills are now in operation ; and the directory states the position, capacity, and prominent characteristics of each furnace, forge, or mill, the names of the owners or agents, and, in many cases, the date of the construction of the works, and their annual production. The great importance of the iron-manufacture, as a branch of industry, in this country, is clearly demonstrated by this very complete catalogue. It shows that in the year 1856 there were nearly twelve hundred active iron-factories in the United States, and that they produced about eight hundred and fifty thousand tons of iron, worth fifty millions of dollars. When we consider that the greater part of the iron thus produced is left in a rough and crude state, merely extracted from its ores and made ready for the use of the blacksmith, the machinist, and the engineer,—when we remember that human labor multiplies by hundreds and by thousands the value of the raw material, that a bar of iron which costs five dollars will make three thousand dollars’ worth of penknife-blades and two hundred and fifty thousand dollars’ worth of watch-springs, we begin to understand the importance of the iron-manufacture, as an element of national wealth, independence, and power.

A fourth part of all the iron-works which have been constructed in this country have been abandoned by their projectors, in despair of competing with the cheap iron from abroad, which the low ad-valorem tariffs have admitted to the American market. The story which these ruined works might tell, of hopes disappointed, capital sunk, and labor wasted, would be long and dreary. From an excellent diagram, appended to the “Guide,” illustrating the duties on iron, the importations, and the price of the metal, for each year since 1840, we learn that the average annual importation of iron under the specific tariff of 1842 was 77,328 tons, while under the ad-valorem tariff of 1846 it was 373,864 tons. The increase in the importation of foreign iron under the tariff of 1846 was more than ten times the increase of the population, and more than thirty-eight times the increase in the domestic production. The iron-masters of this country have been Compelled to struggle against a host of formidable difficulties,—adverse legislation, the ruinous competition of English iron, the dearness of labor, and the high rates of interest on borrowed capital. These have all been met. and, let us hope, in good part overcome. Slowly, and with many hindrances and disasters, the iron-business is gaining strength, and achieving independence of foreign competition and the tender mercies of legislators. Very conclusive evidence of this gradual growth is presented in the unusually accurate statistics of the “ Iron-Manufacturer's Guide.” Of the 1,209,913 tons of iron consumed in the United States in the year 1856, 856,235 tons, or seventy-one per cent, of the whole, was of domestic manufacture. The catalogue of iron-works shows that the country now possesses many extensive and well-constructed works, of which some are still owned by the men who built them, but the larger part have descended, at great sacrifices, to the hands of more fortunate proprietors. Beside the accumulated stock of machinery, knowledge of the ores and fuel has been gained, experience has refuted many errors and pointed out the dangers and difficulties to be overcome, the natural channels of communication throughout the country have been opened, and a large body of skilled workmen has been trained for the business and seeks steady employment. Whenever a rise in the price of iron stimulates the manufacture, the domestic production of iron suddenly expands, and increases with a rapidity which gives evidence of wonderful elasticity and latent strength. Twice within twenty years the production of American iron has nearly doubled in a period of three years. Twelve years ago no railroad-iron was made in the United States. In 1853 we imported 300,000 tons of rails, and in 1854 280,000 tons; but in 1855 only 130.000 tons were imported, while 135,000 tons were made at home, and in 1856, again, nearly one half of the 310,000 tons of rails consumed was of domestic production. The admitted superiority of the American rails has undoubtedly contributed to this result.

In spite of these encouraging signs, these sure indications of the success which at no distant day will reward this branch of American industry, it must not be imagined that checks and reverses are hereafter to be escaped. The production of the year 1857 promised in the summer to be much larger than that of 1856; but the panic of September wrought the same effect in the iron-business as in all the other manufactures of the country, and in the spring of 1858 more than half of the iron-works of the United States were standing idle. Mr. Lesley states that the returns received in answer to the circular issued by the Iron-Association, July 1, 1858, were, almost without exception, unfavorable, and that these replies are sufficient to prove a very serious diminution in the production of iron for the year 1858. When the manufacture of iron, in its various branches, has expanded to its true proportions, and has reached a magnitude and importance second only to the agricultural interest of the country, the iron-masters of that generationmay read in this first publication of the Iron-Association the record of the struggles and trials of their more adventurous, but less fortunate predecessors.

The construction of the directory which constitutes the first part of the “Guide” might he improved in several respects. An alphabetical arrangement of the furnaces, forges, and rolling-mills, in each State, would be much more convenient for reference than the obscure and uncertain system which has been followed. If a State can be divided, like Pennsylvania, into two or three sections, by strongly marked geological features, it would, perhaps, be well to subdivide the list of its iron-works into corresponding sections, and then to make the arrangement of each section alphabetical. But convenience of reference is the essential property of a directory ; and to that convenience the natural desire to follow a geological or geographical arrangement should be sacrificed. Some important items of information, such as the means of transportation, and the distance of each furnace or forge from its market, are not given in all cases; the power by which the works are driven, whether steam or water, is not uniformly stated; and the pressure of the blast used, that very important condition of success in the management of a furnace, is stated in only a very few instances. A useful piece of information, seldom given in the descriptions of forges and rolling-mills, is the source from which the iron used in the works is obtained; and it is also desirable that the nature of the work done in each forge or mill should be invariably stated. It would be interesting to know the number of men employed in the iron-manufacture throughout the country, and it would not seem difficult for the Association to add this fact to the very valuable statistics which they have already collected. The descriptions of abandoned works are not all printed in small type. If this rule is adopted in the directory, it should be uniformly adhered to. The maps accompanying the directory, which were made by the photolithographic process, are all on too small a scale, and consequently lack clearness. The colored lithographs, which exhibit the anthracite furnaces of Pennsylvania and the iron works of the region east of the Hudson River, are altogether the best illustrations in the book.

An elaborate discussion of iron as a chemical element occupies another division of the book. Its purpose is to instruct the iron-master in the chemical properties and relations of the metal with which he deals; and to this end it should be clear, concise, and definite, and, leaving all disputed points, should explain the known and well-determined characteristics of iron and its compounds with other elements. Mr. Lesley, the compiler of the book, distinctly states in the Preface that he is no chemist, and we are therefore prepared to meet the occasional inaccuracies observable in this chemical portion of the “ Guide.” It lacks condensation and system ; matters of very little moment receive disproportionate attention; and pages are filled with discussions of nice points of chemical science still in dispute among professed chemists, and wholly out of place in what should he a brief elementary treatise on the known properties of iron. If these questions in dispute were such as the practical experience of the iron-master might settle, or, indeed, throw any light upon, there would be an obvious propriety in stating the points at issue; but if the question concerns the best chemical name for iron-rust, or the largest possible PER cent, of carbon in steel, the practical metallurgist should not be perplexed with problems in analytical chemistry which the best chemists have not yet solved.

Valuable space is occasionally occupied by the too rhetorical statement of matters which would have been better presented in a simpler way ; thus, the fervid description of oxygen, however appropriate in Faraday's admirable lectures before the Royal Institution, is out of place in the “ Iron-Manufacturer’s Guide.” We must also enter an earnest protest against the importation, upon any terms, of such words as “ iron-oxydulcarbonate,” “ ironoxydhydrate,” and the adjective “ anhydrate.” Some descriptions of considerable imaginative power have found place even in the directory of works. From the description of the Allentown furnaces we learn, with some surprise, that “ no finer object of art invites the artist ” ; and again, “that the repose of bygone centuries seems to sit upon its immense walls, while the roaring energy of the present day fills it with a truer and better life than the revelry of Kenilworth or the chivalry of Heidelberg.” The average age of the Allentown works subsequently appears to be nine years.

Another principal division of Mr. Lesley’s book treats of the ores of iron in the United States. This portion of the book contains much valuable and interesting information, which has never been published before in so complete and satisfactory a form. The geographical and geological position of every ore-bank in the country, which has been opened and worked, is fully described, with many details of the peculiar properties, mineralogical associations, and history of each bed or mine. The inexhaustible wealth of the country in ores of iron is clearly shown, and the superiority of the American ores to the English needs no other demonstration than can he found on the pages of this catalogue of our ore-beds. Two or three geological maps, to illustrate the distribution of the ores, would have been an instructive addition to the book. In this section, as in the preceding one on the chemistry of iron, much space is misapplied to the discussion of questions of structural geology, of opposing theories of the formation of veins, and other scientific problems with which the iron-master is not concerned, and which he cannot be expected to understand, much less to solve. We regret the more this unnecessary introduction of comparatively irrelevant matters, when we find, at the close of the volume, that the unexpected length of the discussion of the ores has prevented the publication of several chapters on the machinery now in use, the hot-blast and anthracite coal, the efforts to obtain malleable iron directly from the ore, and the history and present condition of the iron-manufacture in America.

The American Iron-Association, by their Secretary, have accomplished a very laborious and valuable work, in accumulating and digesting the mass of facts and statistics embodied in this, the first “IronManufacturer’s Guide”; but the subject is as inexhaustible as the mineral wealth of the country, and we shall look for the future publications of the society with much interest.