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This is an umbrella project for the people associated with one of the first industries: iron. Iron working. This is an international project for any historical period.

Collaborators, please feel free to edit this front page; add documents, profiles and images; and develop the themes discovered by starting related (perhaps more detailed) projects. For example:


occupation names

From Colonial Occupations

  • Bloomers extracted wrought iron from ore which is worked with a hammer or rolled
  • Boiler platers made rolled iron plate used to make boilers for steam engines
  • Colliers were required to "coal" the wood
  • Ferrers were smiths who worked in iron
  • Iron masters were the owners or managers of an iron foundry
  • Iron mongers were the dealers in iron and hardware
  • Iron smiths (blacksmith) were workers in iron
  • Lorimers were makers of bits and metal mounting for horse bridles, generally a maker of small ironware and a worker in wrought iron
  • Pigmakers made pig or cast iron


From Colonial Times - Iron Making

Iron making was one of the first non-agricultural industries, and the manufacture of iron was seen as one of the most valuable resources of Colonial America. Virginia and then Maryland were the first colonies to export iron to England, and iron making eventually became the mainstay of the Middle Colonies. To produce iron, the works required two main elements:

  • A source of iron ore
  • Wood to make charcoal to fuel the furnace

The forests provided the wood and iron ore was in abundance. A large labor force was required to facilitate iron making; slaves were employed. Iron was used to make barrel hoops, anchors and chains for the ships, wagon wheels, plows, tools, spikes, kettles and nails. Large blocks of iron were exported to England to enable their workers to make these finished goods.


During the 17th century, iron was an used to manufacture a number of indispensable goods, including nails, horseshoes, cookware, tools, and weapons. The production of iron required a complex manufacturing process, which was not available during the early years of the North American colonization. Thus, all of the colonists iron goods had to be imported. As it took at least two months to sail to the nearest foundry, iron goods were very expensive.

Most early American ironworks extracted the iron ore from "bog iron" deposits - large nodules of quite pure iron that forms along the roots of plants in boggy areas. Bog iron could be easily scooped up from the mucky bottom with long-handled rakes into flat-bottomed boats and then dried on shore. It was very easy to reduce to pure, molten iron as it had relatively few impurities and in particular was not encased in rock that had to be crushed and roasted before smelting. Although bog ore nodules can grow as large as a small trashcan and weigh hundreds of pounds, most are nut- to fist-sized lumps that do not even require much processing for the furnace.

The first?

As early as 1619, the group of investors known as the Southampton Adventurers sent three master ironworkers upriver from Jamestown to Falling Creek (just south of Richmond) to set up an ironworks. With £4,000 in capital, they built the furnace stack, began mining ore, and, with an infusion of three more master ironworkers (the first three had not survived the winter), began producing bloomery iron. In 1620, twenty more skilled ironworkers were sent under the command of Mr. Berkeley and iron production began in earnest. By this time - and as subsequent archaeological excavations have confirmed - the Falling Creek ironworks had a functioning blast furnace making cast iron pigs (presumably for export back to England after being 'fined' into wrought iron by the finers sent over in 1621). Unfortunately, in 1622, during an uprising by the local Native Americans in which hundreds of Europeans were killed across Virginia, over two dozen of the ironworkers and their families (numbering over 200 at the time) were killed. This set back iron-making in the Virginia colony for over a century.

Scottish migration

the first iron blast furnace established in what would become the United States was called in some texts The Braintree Furnace.

John Winthrop the Younger believed that because the colonies had a cheap and abundant supply of raw materials, an iron works in Massachusetts could produce goods that could be sold profitably in the New England and Chesapeake Colonies as well as in England. In 1639, Winthrop sailed to England to get the capital he needed to fund the project. The Company of Undertakers for the Iron Workes [sic] in New England was founded to finance the venture. Winthrop selected Braintree as the location of the first iron furnace. Construction began in 1644 and was completed in 1645. The Braintree iron furnace, however, was unsuccessful due to a lack of iron ore in the area and an inadequate supply of water to power the machinery. The furnace shut down in 1647, not long after the Saugus Iron Works was completed. The workers were recruited from England, and were also transported Scots Prisoners of War sold as indentured servants.

German migration

Germanna was a German settlement in the Colony of Virginia, settled in two waves, first in 1714 and then in 1717. Virginia Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood encouraged the immigration by advertising in Germany for miners to move to Virginia and establish a mining industry in the colony.

Between 1716 and 1720, Virginia governor Alexander Spotswood built the Tubal Works. It had a cold blast-charcoal blast furnace which produced pig iron, and probably a finery forge. (It is the site of the 19th-century Scotts Ironworks). It operated for about 40 years and was possibly the first successful ironworks in the colonies (although Tinton Falls, NJ- late 17th century is another candidate). Pig iron from Tubal is in the collections of the Fredericksburg Area Museum and the NPS (Spotsylvania Courthouse). Tubal Works iron was exported to England by 1723.[2] In May of the same year, Gov. Drysdale reported to the Lords of Trade that Spotswood was selling "backs and frames for Chumnies, Potts, doggs, frying, stewing, and backing panns" at auction in Williamsburg.