Iron Ore on the N&W 1910

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Wed Mar 24 13:38:06 EDT 2010

Al: I think your best option is to get books on the beginnings of the iron
industry and the processing of iron ore into cast iron/pig iron as well as
steel making.

The entire industry is driven by the sources of supply and the shipment of
raw materials as well as the shipment of the end product as well as the big
plants necessary to produce the huge volumes of metal necessary to supply
the market.

Although I haven't looked at them for a long while the American Society of
Materials International (ASMI- used to American Society of Metals) had a
whole series of handbooks (big jobbies) that covered metallurgy and the
evolution of the metal production and processing. While these are
specifically aimed at the metallurgists and materials engineer, their
descriptions of the history of processing are very, very good. See or see your local library.

I think once you come to a simple understanding of how the technology of
processing evolved, you will not need to get into the specific details of
the plants in Virginia (and Ohio around Ironton) but will see what must have
occurred as the process technologies changed.

I had ( but loaned out somewhere) a book on the early iron furnaces in
Lawrence, Jackson and Scioto County in Ohio, which are near Portsmouth and
Ironton, Ohio, which covered the evolution of the furnaces and the business.

As to limestone, calcium carbonate mostly, it is used in steel making and is
melted into the liquid iron to combine with the phosphorus and sulphides and
float them out as slag. The limestone helps control the amount of carbon in
solution, too. Note that cast iron is iron with a lot of free carbon as
graphite within the grains. The carbon comes from the burning of the fuel.
For talking purposes, the carbon in cast iron is about 10-20% by weight
within the mix, less than 10% is nodular iron, and about 3% or less makes
steel. Pure iron can be made but has little or no commercial use as a
metal in large amounts. So simple processing makes cast iron with lots of
carbon in it; processing with much more involved atmosphere control,
limestone and higher heat makes steel where the amount of carbon can be
controlled to the necessary low level.

Gary Rolih

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Subject: Re: Iron Ore on the N&W 1910

Did these iron furnaces also require a local source of limestone for use in
their reduction from ore to iron process . . . as do blast furnaces for
steel? By the turn of the century I believe they were past the stone
furnace process phase in many places and were bring in "modern" equipment
down from Pennsylvania? I would guess each area had their natural alloy
content . . . . and that limited their customers? I'm guessing their local
ore sources dwindled also.

Where are the good sources of information about the Virginia iron and steel
furnace industries?

Al Kresse
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