Henderson Steel Company

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The Henderson Steel Company, originally organized as the Henderson Steel & Manufacturing Company was an early producer of steel from the products of the Birmingham District. Although never fully capitalized, the operation succeeded in demonstrating the viability of producing steel in Alabama.

The operation was initiated by 19-year-old Scottish metallurgist James Henderson, who, with some support from local investors, dismantled and transported an existing 1.5-ton open hearth furnace from Boston, Massachusetts to a site on Village Creek near Sloss Iron & Steel Company's North Birmingham Furnaces. The installation required nearly all of the $20,000 raised, enabling it to function only on an experimental basis.

The first ton of steel was produced in the Henderson furnace from Mary Pratt iron on March 8, 1888 with E. E. Robinson supervising. The furnace lining was irreparably damaged by the heat of the firing after its first 200 runs, leaving little possibility of continuing production without significant reinvestment. Fortunately, analysis of the product was favorable. One ingot from the first run was sent to a Mr Vittur, a razor manufacturer in Georgia who had been using only imported steel. He declared the steel to be the best he had ever tested, and returned a gross of straight razors as well as carving knife and fork set.

The success of the experiment produced a frenzy of local investment, and the company reorganized as the Henderson Steel Company with a board made up of J. A. Montgomery, L. A. Rogan, H. F. Wilson, Charles Brown, J. C. Abernethy, Christian Enslen, ___ Geddery, Fred Sloss and William Hassinger. The value of the stock increased fivefold in trading as the managers debated the design of the improved furnace.

Ultimately, the concern failed to live up to its promise. Over the next few years, the manufacturing plant sold $33,000 worth of steel ingots at $22/ton to the Bessemer Rolling Mill, but had expended a larger sum in the process, and was never able to successfully compete with other products on the market. Some of the boiler plate produced from Henderson's steel was reportedly used in boilers installed in B. B. Comer's grain mill.

In 1890 ownership of the works was turned over to a committee of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce to pursue continued experimentation and publicity. The rebuilt furnace went back into production in 1892 under the banner of the Jefferson Steel Works, supervised by Ernst Prochaska.

References

  • North Alabama (Illustrated) (1888) Birmingham: Southern Commercial Publishing Co.
  • "Steel Making in the South" (March 18, 1893) The Engineering and Mining Journal pp. 242-243
  • Hassinger, Bernice Shield (1978) Henderson Steel: Birmingham's First Steel Birmingham: Bernice Hassinger in cooperation with the Jefferson County Historical Commission.