By Danny Crownover
One of the most welcome new items ever printed by a local newspaper was the official prediction the Alabama Steel & Wire Company, which was building a steel mill here, would be making pig iron within four weeks from November 1, 1903. One official said that the torch would be applied to the big blast furnace in less than four weeks and would be making iron before the first of the year.
Everything was being made ready to start operation at the point where raw material would be converted into iron. Soon after the first of the year, the open-hearth furnaces would be ready to make steel ingots.
Billets were to be shipped on to Ensley, where the company’s plant would convert them into bars and then rods and wire for the finishing mills. The finishing mills were moved to Gadsden.
On the first of November of 1903, the blowing engines for the blast furnace were ready for operation, as well as the boilers and engine.
Shipments of iron ore, limestone, coke, and coal were coming in fast. The Alabama Steel & Wire Company was assured of a big stockpile of all the necessary elements for making pig iron and steel by the time any of the various departments were ready to start.
The reserve water tank south of the mills in Gadsden had been completed, and the pumping station on Big Wills Creek was ready to run. The people of Gadsden were anticipating the starting of the blast furnace with much eagerness, believing that the steel plant would mean big thing for Gadsden.
Work was bustling at the steel mill proper. Everything seemed to be going in a balanced way. The brick works were well under way in the open-hearth building. In the soaking pits, there was every reason to believe that the brick work would be above ground in two weeks. This meant an early finish of that department. The steel shed over the pits was assuming definite shape. A 100-ton traveling hoisting crane was installed in one of the buildings the week before.
It soon was announced that the company at last had plenty of labor and there would be no further delay because of a labor shortage. The big plant had to start from scratch in a cotton and corn field. It had to lay railroad tracks to bring in machinery and it had to clear part of the site. It used an old farm residence for its main office.
After many ups and downs the plant, later owned by Republic Steel, became part of the industrial backbone of Gadsden. At one point, the company’s payroll was the largest in the city.