Birmingham's wards were political divisions created in the early history of the city. As new areas were annexed, additional wards were added, reaching a high of sixteen before the institution of the Birmingham City Commission in 1911.
From the establishment of the city's charter in 1871 until 1910 Birmingham was governed by a Mayor and Board of Aldermen. Until 1895 he aldermen were elected at-large, but assigned to represent one of four separate voting wards which divided the city's 252-block area into roughly equal voting populations.
The original city was comprised of the area between 9th Avenue North and Avenue H and between 13th and 27th Streets.The First Ward included the area between 13th and 18th Street. The Second Ward included the area between 18th and 20th Street. The Third Ward included the area between 20th and 22nd Street. The Fourth Ward the area between 22nd and 27th Street.
By Act No. 519, enrolled in February 1889 and effected on December 31 of that year, Birmingham's corporate limits were expanded west to 6th Street and southward to Highland Avenue, and a Fifth Ward was added to the city.
The annexation of the Town of Highland introduced a Sixth Ward and Seventh Ward to the city.
In 1895 the system was extended to include newly-developed residential areas north and south of the business district. The dividing lines were drawn with an eye toward dispersing African-American voters between wards rather than allowing blacks to reach a possible majority in any one ward. Ward 1 was redrawn to include the area west of 20th Street North to the city limits at Smithfield and between 4th Avenue North and the Railroad Reservation. Ward 2, also west of 20th Street, included the section between 4th and 9th Avenue North. Ward 3 included the northwestern corner of the city bounded by 20th Street, 9th Avenue North, Smithfield and North Birmingham. Ward 4 covered the northeastern quadrant from 8th Avenue North to North Birmingham and from 20th Street to East Birmingham. Ward 5 was comprised of the remaining area east of 20th Street between 8th Avenue and the Railroad Reservation.
The Southside wards were narrow strips dividing the area between the Railroad Reservation and the southern border of the city on the ridge of Red Mountain. Starting in the east, Ward 6 included the area between Avondale and 24th Street South. Ward 7 included the four-block strip between 20th and 24th Streets. Ward 8 claimed the next four blocks, bounded by 16th Street South, and Ward 9 included the remaining southwestern quadrant bounded by Elyton. Alice Furnace and Sloss Furnace remained excluded from Birmingham's corporate area.
Also in 1895 a law was passed providing for direct election of two Aldermen by each ward. Before then, Mayoral candidates would usually publish a list of selected candidates from each ward to run on his "kite-tail" ticket. More often than not an entire slate of candidates would be voted into office on such a ticket.
During the 1907 Birmingham mayoral election the 1st Ward had 200 registered voters. The number was not reported in the News for the 2nd Ward. 377 voters were registered in the 3rd Ward. Voting in the 4th Ward was done at the Samuel & Son store at 10th Avenue North and 24th Street with 291 registered. The 495 registered voters of the 5th Ward cast ballots at the Jefferson County Courthouse. Voting in the 6th Ward was open to 225 registered electors at the corner of Avenue F and 26th Street. 360 voters were registered in the 7th Ward, voting at Tuck's Grocery Store at Avenue E and 22nd Street.
Following the successful passage of the Greater Birmingham plan to annex several surrounding communities into the city proper, the number of wards was increased from 9 to 16. The resulting 32-member Board of Alderman was initially appointed by a caucus of existing Aldermen. It was seen from the start as awkwardly large and a campaign to adopt a more "progressive" Commission form of government was already underway. The Board of Alderman and the system of wards was abolished in 1911.
In the early days of the city, the Birmingham Fire Department signaled the locations of fires using a code for each ward.
- Ward 1: one tap and one short ring.
- Ward 2: two taps
- Ward 3: three taps
- Ward 4: four taps
- Harris, Carl V. (1977) Political Power in Birmingham, 1871-1921. Twentieth-Century America Series. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 087049211X