Henry F. DeBardeleben

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Henry F. Debardeleben in a 1920 engraving

Henry Fairchild DeBardeleben (born July 22, 1840 at Dutch Bend, Autauga County; died December 6, 1910) was an industrialist and developer. He has been called the "King of the Southern Iron World", and was the founder of the city of Bessemer.

DeBardeleben was the son of Henry and Mary Anne Fairchild DeBardeleben, farmers in Montgomery County. His father died when Henry was 10 and he and his mother moved to the city of Montgomery, where he took a job working as an apprentice baker in a grocery store. At the age of 16 he moved to Prattville to became a ward of industrialist Daniel Pratt, a family friend. He lived in the Pratt's mansion and worked as a foreman in Pratt's lumber yards and cotton gin factory.

Like Pratt, Debardeleben was opposed to secession. However, once Alabama withdrew from the Union in April 1861, DeBardeleben joined the Prattville Dragoons as an ensign and commissary officer and went to Pensacola, Florida for training. The following February the unit was deployed in Chattanooga, Tennessee and was engaged in the Battle of Shiloh, and later at Corinth, Mississippi. By the beginning of 1863, DeBardeleben had resigned from the army, eloped with Pratt's daughter Ellen, and returned to his father-in-law's machine shops.

Pratt Coal and Coke

After the end of the Civil War Pratt bought controlling interest in the Red Mountain Iron & Coal Company, and installed DeBardeleben as general manager. Together they rebuilt the Oxmoor Furnace near Birmingham, and DeBardeleben inherited the company on Pratt's death in 1873.

In 1878 DeBardleben joined with Truman Aldrich and James Sloss to found the Pratt Coal & Coke Company, which developed the Pratt seam west of Birmingham. A year later he began construction, with T. T. Hillman, of the Alice furnaces, named after his oldest daughter. DeBardeleben sold the Pratt company to Enoch Ensley in 1881 and briefly relocated to Mexico. He returned in 1882 and, by 1886 he was ready to pursue grander plans. He founded the DeBardeleben Coal and Iron Company and purchased, all-told, over 150,000 acres of mineral lands in the Birmingham District, making his the largest industrial concern in the South.

According to legend, DeBardeleben gave land to the fraternal organizations of miners as a burial ground, which was to become the Fraternal Cemetery in Pratt City.

Bessemer

On a 4,040-acre parcel southwest of Birmingham, around the community of Brooklyn. he platted out and developed as the city of Bessemer, named for the British inventor of an improved process for making steel. His Bessemer Land and Improvement Company occupied a handsome two-story brick building at the center of the new city and the first lots were sold on April 12, 1887. Rapid investment and growth in the area earned Bessemer the nickname of "Marvel City". In 1892 DeBardeleben sold his industrial concerns, then valued at over $13 million, to the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company and was made a vice-president. He made a failed attempt to assume control of the company, losing most of his assets in the process. Ellen died in 1894.

Later life

The aging DeBardeleben was not finished with industrial development, nor with marriage. He married Katherine McCrossin in 1898. His Alabama Fuel & Iron Company, founded with his sons Henry and Charles, began coal mining at Margaret in St Clair County and the Acton Basin in present-day Hoover beginning in 1906. He also held an interest in the Birmingham Rolling Mills and Birmingham National Bank.

DeBardeleben died in 1910 and is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery. He and his first wife, Ellen, had seven children: Alice, Mary, Jenny, Henry Tichnor, Charles, Arthur, Julia and Samuel.

References

  • Cruikshank, George H. (1920) History of Birmingham and Its Environs: A Narrative Account of Their Historical Progress, Their People, and Their Principal Interests. 2 volumes. Chicago, Illinois: Lewis Publishing Company.
  • "Fraternal Cemetery" in The Heritage of Jefferson County, Alabama (2002) Clanton: Heritage Publishing Consultants. ISBN 1891647547, p. 138
  • Ingham, John N. (1983) Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313213623
  • Fuller, Justin (January 1986) "Henry F. DeBardeleben, Industrialist of the New South." The Alabama Review, Vol. 39, No. 1.