From the Richmond Enquirer, 6/1/1847, p. 1, c. 4
We extract the following interesting article from Hunt’s Merchants’ Magazine. It discloses the important fact, that the first railroad iron made in the United States was manufactured at the Tredegar Works in this city. We always take great pleasure in recording the fruits of Virginia industry and skill, and the gradual development of her immense resources. For this reason we cheerfully transfer to our columns the excellent sketch of a very fine establishment in our city:
MANUFACTURE OF RAILROAD IRON IN THE UNITED STATES.
We give place to the following communication from an intelligent correspondent residing at Lynchburg, Virginia, and a large stockholder in the “Tredegar Iron Company” of that State. Our correspondent, it will be seen, refers to an extract from the “Miners’ Journal,” published in the Merchants’ Magazine for January, 1846, in which it is stated that the first railroad was made in 1844; and to a correspondent in a subsequent number of our Journal, who states that the “Great Western Iron Company,” on the Allegany river, produced in 1842 two hundred tons of railroad iron:
To the Editor of the Merchants’ Magazine and Commercial Review:
SIR – In the January number of your truly valuable work, I find an article on the manufacture of railroad iron, taken from the Miners’ Journal, in which it stated that only two years have elapsed since the first to of railroad iron was made in this country; and again in your February No. this subject is noticed, and the belief expressed that the credit is due to the “Great Western Iron Company” of Pennsylvania, for introducing this important branch of the iron business into our country. – Both of these statements are erroneous, doubtless untintentionally so. I have no doubt that the first railroad iron made in the United States was manufactured by the Tredegar Iron Works, at Richmond, Va. The evidence I will offer to sustain the claims of Richmond, is, I think pretty conclusive. I give it an extract from a letter of John F. Tanner, Esq., secretary of the Tredegar Iron Company, dated Richmond, 1st February, 1846, to whom I made application for accurate information, after reading your January number, lest my memory should mislead me. Mr. Tanner, says, “the first railroad iron made at these works was manufactured in (1837) eighteen hundred and thirty-seven. In 1838, we made a considerable quantity for the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad Company, and other roads in the State.” Ever since that period, occasional orders for railroad iron have been executed at these works. The Tredegar works were erected in 1836-7; commenced operations, I think, the 8th May, 1837. They were built by Edward Cunningham, John A. Cunningham, and Francis B. Deane, Jr., who conducted them on private account, till 1st January, 1838; when a joint stock company was formed, under a charter obtained from the legislature, at the session of 1837-8; to which company Messrs. Deane & Cunningham sold their works. So it would seem that the individuals who projected and completed the Tredegar rolling mill were the pioneers in the manufacture of railroad iron in the United States.
The capital stock of the Tredegar Iron Company is $280,000; the annual product turned out, about $350,000; coal consumed, from 175,000 to 200,000 busels; pig iron, about 4,000 tons; annual payments for labor, from 50,000 to $60,000. This establishment manufactures as great a variety of sizes of bar iron, rods, hoops, bands, extra sizes, rounds and squares, locomotive engines, screw moulds, boat plates, and rods for iron vessels, as any other in the Union. The quality of its production is equal to the best iron found in our markets, of English or American manufacture. Besides the extensive works for making malleable iron, of almost every description which the wants of commerce require, there is attached to them a very large foundry, with machine shopes, fitted up in the best manner with lathes, &c., for building steam engines, sugar mills, and indeed machinery of every description. Also, a large boring mill, and lall necessary apparatus for finishing ordnance of the larges size ordinarily used, either in our army or navy. – From the Tredegar iron foundry, castings of excellent quality and great variety are annually turned out. The ordnance made there is regarded equal to the best which the Government procures elsewhere, of which fact the records of the War and Navy Department will afford ample testimony.
I feel much confidence in claiming for the Tredegar works the credit of introducing several other important branches of iron manufacture, as well as railroad iron. I believe locomotive rolled axles were first made there; and if my information be correct, they have, to a great extent, superseded the English and American hammered axles. The same may be said of boat-rib irons; these were also first made at the Tredegar works; and I am told that even now there are descriptions of this important article used by government in building iron vessels, which can only be procured at these works.
Without intending any disparagement to other works, or the enterprise of my fellow-citizens in the Northern States, I am induced to make this communication, first, that correct information may be placed before the public; and secondly, that it may be known that the unrivaled advantages possessed by Virginia for the manufacture of iron are not so entirely neglected as many believe them to be.
A Stockholder of the Tredegar Company.
*Merchants’ Magazine for February, 1846, Vol. XVI, No. 2, page 212.