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Working Iron and Steel


Iron and Hopewell Furnace Chronology


The blast furnace at Hopewell Furnace was operational from 1771 to 1883. The Hopewell Furnace community was made up of ironworkers and a large network of support people.

Miners dug iron ore from open-pit mines and cut limestone from local quarries. Teamsters carried the iron ore and limestone to the furnace with their horses and wagons. Woodcutters cut and split the native hard wood through the winter. Colliers used the split wood to make charcoal in the spring, summer and fall.

Charcoal pits measured 30 to 40 feet in diameter with about 25 to 50 cords of wood for each pit. (A cord of wood is a stack of four-foot logs measuring eight feet long by four feet high.) The mound of wood was covered with leaves and dirt, then set to smolder at the center. Colliers carefully tended the smoldering charcoal pits 24 hours a day for up to 14 days, living in primitive huts near their pits during the coaling process. The optimum temperature for the charcoal pit was 700-800 degrees Fahrenheit, but the wood could reach up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit in some places.

The two-week smoldering released trapped moisture and nutrients and “coaled” the wood. With all of the raw materials in place, the founder, or furnace supervisor would direct the “charging of the blast.” Carts and wheelbarrows full of iron ore, limestone and charcoal were dumped into the top of the furnace. A water wheel was used to operate a pair of blowing tubs, that worked like giant bellows to raise the temperature of the furnace to 2600-3000 degrees Fahrenheit!

Finished products from Hopewell included pots, skillets, flat irons, wheels, anvils, hammers, grates and the famous Hopewell stove.

B.C. 3000 Iron first produced in Asia Minor (Turkey)
2000 Iron produced in Nubia (East Africa)
1800 First iron weapons made by the Hittites (Turkey)
1050 Iron produced in Greece
790 Iron produced by Nok Culture (Nigeria)
512 Iron produced in China
400 Iron produced by Celts of Southern Britain
A.D. 300 Iron produced by Romans
1000 First iron produced and forged in North America by Vikings in Greenland and northern Newfoundland (Canada)
1543 Survivors of Spanish expedition led by Hernando DeSoto produce first iron forged in future United States (Arkansas)
1621 First blast furnace in British colonies built at Falling Creek, Virginia - destroyed by Native Americans before going into production
1644 First successful iron works in British colonies established at Braintree, Massachusetts
1710 Coke is invented in England - used as fuel in iron furnaces
1716 Thomas Rutter builds bloomery forge near what is now Pottstown, Pennsylvania
1720 Thomas Rutter builds Colebrookdale, the first blast furnace in the American colonies, near Pottstown, Pennsylvania
1732 Samuel Nutt's bloomery grows into famous Coventry Iron Works (Coventryville, Pennsylvania) the first steel furnace in Pennsylvania
1740 Sands Forge on Hay Creek in Berks county started by William Bird, father of Mark Bird, first owner of Hopewell Furnace
1742 Benjamin Franklin invents the Pennsylvania Fireplace
1744 Hopewell Forge built by William Bird
1750 Iron Act, limiting the ability of colonial iron industry to produce finished products, passed by British Parliament
1761 William Bird dies leaving estate to son Mark
1762 At Carron Ironworks in Scotland the first cast iron is converted into malleable iron
1771 Hopewell Furnace built by Mark Bird, using slaves and free laborers
1772 Oldest known product produced by Hopewell Furnace, a six-plate stove
1775 Beginning of the American Revolution
1776 Congress advances Mark Bird $2,000 to cast cannon
1777 The Board of War discharges Hopewell Furnace workmen from militia, stating their work at an iron furnace was more important than their service in the militia
1778 Mark Bird ships a thousand barrels of flour down the Schuylkill River to Washington’s troops at Valley Forge
1780 Gradual Emancipation Act passed in Pennsylvania (most slaves in Pennsylvania worked in iron industry)
1781 General Cornwallis surrenders to General Washington at Yorktown, ending American Revolution
1786 Because of debt from war and poor economy, Mark Bird puts Hopewell Furnace up for sale; no buyer found
1788 Hopewell Furnace property auctioned off and Mark Bird flees to North Carolina to escape remaining creditors
1800 Daniel Buckley and his brothers-in-law Thomas and Mathew Brooke purchase Hopewell Furnace for 10,000 pounds sterling; 5,000 acres, two mines, and the furnace are included
1807 Jefferson enacts U.S. Embargo Act, limiting trade with Britain and France
1808 Buckley-Brooke partnership closes Hopewell Furnace because of trade embargo and legal problems with William Penn's heirs over land grants
1815 Congress enacts protective tariffs
1815 Opening of the Schuylkill and Union Canals
1816 Mark Bird dies in North Carolina
1816 Hopewell Furnace goes back in blast, after being shut down for eight years
1826 Hopewell Furnace produces door frames and peepholes for Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia
1828 Hot blast iron smelting developed in Scotland (preheated air was blown into furnace) producing more iron with less fuel


The most prosperous period at Hopewell Furnace occurs under the guidance of ironmaster Clement Brooke, son of Mathew Brooke; in 1836-37 the furnace is operated continuously for 445 days and produces 1,160 tons of castings, earning over $40,000 gross for the owners of the furnace; furnace workers earn from $200 to $300 a year
1837 Bank panic; depressed economy causes major setback to iron industry
1838 Pennsylvania legislature authorizes corporations to make iron using coal as fuel, contributing to decline at Hopewell Furnace


Hopewell Furnace is an occasional stop for runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad
1839 Opening of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad; Hopewell Furnace makes its first shipment of stoves by rail
1844 Stove casting ends at Hopewell; only pig iron is produced from 1844 until 1883
1853 Anthracite furnace constructed and put into blast at Hopewell Furnace - proves to be unsuccessful and shut down in less than two years
1861-1865 The Civil War; the price of pig iron (the only product made at Hopewell Furnace during this time) rises from $30/ton to over $90/ton
1861 Morrill Tariff Act places strict duties upon imported iron and steel; helps Hopewell Furnace continue to produce iron during and after the Civil War
1883 Hopewell Furnace shuts down after 112 years of operation
1935 Hopewell Furnace purchased by the U.S. Government; Civilian Conservation Corps begins restoration of furnace community
1938 Hopewell Village established as National Historic Site, becoming the first site in the National Park Service to commemorate our industrial history
1985 Hopewell Village’s name changed to Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

Hopewell Furnace
1771 - 1883

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