Birmingham, Alabama, acquired the nickname “the Magic City” for the way it sprang up seemingly overnight following the discovery that all the elements needed to make iron could be found within a thirty-mile radius in what was then called Jones Valley. Today, Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark honors the people who made the magic happen.
Once the largest manufacturer of pig iron in the world, Sloss Furnaces was an important part of the Birmingham industrial scene from 1882 until 1970. By 1941, nearly half of Birmingham’s labor force was employed by the iron, steel and mining industries. Sloss received National Historic Landmark designation in 1981 and opened as a museum of the City of Birmingham in 1983. Today, it is the only twentieth-century blast furnace in the United States being preserved and interpreted as an historic industrial site. The complex includes two 400-ton blast furnaces and some forty other buildings.
Tyler Malugani, Museum Education Coordinator, says visitors are surprised by the size and complexity of the site. “While you can get a sense of the size by driving past Sloss Furnaces, until you stand next to the 80 foot tall furnace, it is hard to comprehend.” Visitors can choose from several types of tours. The self guided tour is the most popular and is available Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m.to 4 p.m. Sloss is a popular destination for field trips; each year thousands of students visit to design a piece of metal art and watch an iron pour from the world-renowned Sloss Metal Artists.
The huge industrial structures are popular with photographers. Meg McKinney, a local photography instructor, offers creative workshops focusing on the complexities of the site at different times of day. Dates for the 2022 workshops will be announced shortly.
On Saturday, January 29, Sloss will host an Historic Night Tour. The popular “behind-the-scenes” tour allows participants to learn the history of Sloss Furnaces, the science behind making iron, the dangers of different jobs, and the stories of the workers and their families. The tour includes the basement of the Blowing Engine Building and the top of the Slag Granulator, two places not on the regular tour.
Sloss Furnaces has played host to a number of events including weddings, concerts and food festivals. In the summer of 2022, it will be the site of several World Games sporting events.
Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark is located at 20 32nd Street North in Birmingham, Alabama. For more information on visiting the site, check the website at www.slossfurnaces.com
For information on the Metal Arts program, visit www.slossmetalarts.com
Photos courtesy Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark