Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bessemer process pioneered in American in 1864 near Detroit

By Unknown - The Story of Detroit (1923) by George B. Catlin, Public Domain, Link
While watching the video below, at 16:05 they say that Eureka Iron Company in Wyandotte, MI, was the first Bessemer iron works in America in 1864 and made the first rail in 1865.



Near the corner of Elm Street and Van Alstyne
Boulevard Wyandotte, Michigan
While vacationing near Marquette, MI in 1853, Philip Thurber learned of the recent discovery of iron ore deposits in Northern Michigan. After testing a sample of the ore, he engaged some Detroit capitalists to help found Eureka Iron Works. One of the capitalists was Captain Eber Brock Ward who was Michigan's first milt-millionaire because of timber lands, silver mines, and Great Lakes shipping. (Remember, a million dollars was worth a lot back in the middle 1800s.)

In 1854 they bought 2,200 acres along the Detroit River that had a lot of trees and built a factory consisting of two blast furnaces and a rolling mill. Because they had plenty of trees, they used the old method of wood/charcoal instead of the newer method of coal/coke to fuel their furnaces. As they cut down the trees, they sold the land to create Wyandott, MI.

In 1861, Ward and his investors bought Kelly's 1857 patent for his "pneumatic process" because Kelly's iron works did not survive the panic of 1857 and he went bankrupt. In 1864, they added a 3-ton converter to their plant to produce the first Bessemer steel ingots in America. "The following year, on May 25, 1865, the company produced the first Bessemer steel rails." [DetroitHistorical] But Wikipedia states: "Ward meanwhile had built another steelmill in Chicago called the Illinois Steel Company. From this steelmill in 1865 Ward made the first Bessemer steel rails produced in the United States." This contradiction is resolved below when one realizes that the Illinois Steel Company was formed later from a merger of North Chicago Rolling Mill and Joliet Iron Works.
Ward’s manufacturing career began with the purchase of iron mines in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. With iron ore readily available, Ward opened his first iron mill, the Eureka Iron Works, in Wyandotte, Mich., in 1853. The North Chicago Rolling Mill in Chicago followed in 1857. Both mills manufactured iron rails, but due to the softness of the iron, the rails lost their shape within two years and were returned to the mills to be rerolled.
Ward was interested in the Bessemer process of steel making, which removed carbon from the iron, making for a stronger metal. Ward successfully produced the first Bessemer steel in America at his Wyandotte Plant on Sept. 6, 1864. From this steel, Ward’s Chicago plant rolled the first steel rails in America on May 24, 1865. In 1867 Ward opened his third mill, the Milwaukee Iron Company, on the future site of the Village of Bay View. At that point Ward was considered America’s “Iron King.” [BayViewCompass]
In the 1870's the company began its decline. They had consumed all of the trees in their vicinity. They had land-locked themselves by selling their real estate. So upgrading a plant that was designed for iron production with steel as an add on to a plant that was designed for steel production was not feasible. Eber Ward decided to shift steel production to Chicago. "The death knell occurred on June 1, 1888 when a boiler explosion rocked the foundation of the Eureka Iron and Steel Company. The company officially halted production in 1892 and the Eureka Iron Works were dismantled."

[Detroit1701, DetroitHistorical, Wikipedia]
PlacePromotion
PlacePromotion
Building prior to 1955 renovation
Since they were also in the real estate business, they built a headquarters building at Biddle and Elm. The building was larger than Eureka needed; and John VanAlstyne, the manager of the Eureka Iron & Steel Co., founded in 1871 the Wyandotte Savings Bank in that building.

Unfortunately, the "modernization" of the building in 1955 successfully destroyed all of the historical aspects of the building.

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