The Iron Men
THE CUYAHOGA VALLEY is iron country. It all began way upstream south of the big U-turn in the river in the mind of “Crazy Dan” Heaton.
He was Crazy Dan Heaton because he was always flying in the face of what many called practicality; never crazier than when he announced that he could make iron in the Ohio woods and save the wracking trip to Pittsburgh, which was the west-rn-most point at which a man could buy bar iron.
But Dan Heaton had found rocks in the bottom of Yellow Creek, kidney-shaped rocks flecked with gray, the kind that he and his brother James had not seen since they left Winchester, Virginia, about the year 1800. The Heaton brothers had been ironmasters and they knew iron ore when they saw it.
These good-sized boulders weren’t more than five per-cent iron, and a modern ironmaster wouldn’t give them furnace room; but to men a hundred hard miles from iron bolts, ax heads, and plow blades, they looked good in 1803.
Dan and his brother acquired land and mineral rights on both sides of Yellow Creek in the Western Reserve in what is now Struthers, Ohio. That’s a long way from the Cuyahoga, and yet you will see in a way that it’s the main current of the Cuyahoga story.
The brothers built their furnace with stone walls 20 feet high. To get a blast, they pumped water into a long wooden trough, compressed the air in the box, then forced it into the furnace.
Cast-iron plates an inch thick could be carted west to the portage and floated down the Cuyahoga at $180 a ton, perhaps the first sign of civilization in the Western Reserve.
Cuyahoga Steam Furnace started up in 1835 on the west bank of the river opposite Cleveland. They built cannon. Whittaker and Wells followed these by the river in 1839. Geauga Furnace opened near Painesville. Elyria and Dover had furnaces. Coal began to come down the Cuyahoga so that furnace men didn’t need to burn up acres of timber to get charcoal for the furnaces.
The area grew an appetite for iron - for gun barrels, bolts, screws, ax heads, chain, singletree attachments, tools, wheels. They had, by now, quite a few men trained to make iron. But it was harder and harder to find the rocks. Where would the ore come from?
Answering that question created an iron community peopled by Cleveland-Cliffs, Pickands-Mather, Oglebay Norton, Hanna Mining, the Columbia Fleet, Republic Steel, J&L Steel, and others along the Cuyahoga River.
In one sense all the stories go back to a pile of iron and rock slabs at a fork in the road outside the city of Nagoma, Michigan, on which is a plaque which reads in part: “... to mark the first discovery of iron ore in the Lake Superior region. The exact spot is 300 feet northeasterly from this monument to an iron post. The ore was found under the roots of a fallen pine tree in June 1845 by Margi-Lassa Gesick, a chief of the Chippewa tribe. The land was secured by a mining permit and the property subsequently developed by the Jackson Mining Company, organized July 23, 1845."
United States Deputy Surveyor William A. Burt and his company were surveying this unexplored territory for the United States government. Strangely enough it becomes important that the day was cloudy. Burt was having trouble with his magnetic compass needle which suddenly started jumping all around as reported elsewhere in this volume.
It is a revealing moment in history, because what chiefly interested Burt was not the cause of the failure of the magnetic compass, but the fact of it. He was himself the inventor of the solar compass, and he was now confronted with proof of the importance of his invention in the surveying of these lands where the magnetic compass would not hold true.
On one page of his field notes is an observation by the young and brilliant head of the survey and exploration party, Douglass Houghton, “Spathos and magnetite iron ores may abound on this T-line.”
On the morning of the 19th of September, 1844, Burt’s field notes show that at one point one of the magnetic compass-men yelled, “Come and see a variation that will beat them all!”
The survey party was astounded to see the north end of the needle swinging a few degrees to the south of west. Burt said, “Boys, look around and see what you can find!” The party scattered and returned in a few moments carrying iron ore. This was on Teal Lake.
Young Douglass Houghton died on the survey, killed in a storm on Lake Superior when his boat upset. His work was carried on by William Burt, who wrote a full and complete record of the survey.
The most exciting thing for Burt continued to be the justification for his solar compass, but the excitement caused by his published reports was something completely different. Since the reports and maps were made in full detail, they revealed to the nation when coupled with the reports published by Jacob Houghton, brother of Douglass, the rich iron deposits of the Michigan country. Immediately thousands of permits were filed requesting permission to explore and exploit.
From that moment, the race was on. Many men came into the Michigan iron country and began prospecting, mining, building furnaces.
In Cleveland, a group of men had founded the Dead River and Ohio Mining Company. They hired a distinguished Ohio scientist, Dr. J. Lang Castles, to go up to Michigan and have a look. He had been head of the Western Reserve Medical School, head of a chemical laboratory, and had one of the few microscopes in the west. Up on the south shore of Superior at the Carp River, he was staggered to find a hill of red dirt a thousand feet high and a mile long. He named it Cleveland Mountain, secured the permit, and rushed back to Cleveland to explain that Cleveland Mountain contained enough iron to make a railroad all the way to the Pacific Coast.
W. A. Adair and ten associates listened, formed the Cleveland Iron Mining Company, and issued stock. What was to become extremely important was that one of the stockholders was a young attorney who had just moved to Cleveland, Samuel L. Mather, descendant of Cotton Mather.
A few of the men went up to look at the hill of ore. They found themselves in a forbidding land, so they returned to Cleveland and turned in their stock for cash. Then the company sent Tower Jackson up to Marquette in 1852 as its first resident mining agent. What he found there would have sent most men home. Furnaces which were already established were rapidly going out of business. The climate and the lack of fuel made ironmaking impractical. It was necessary to get the ore down to Cleveland, but transportation was impossible. Jackson wrote back to Cleveland demanding the wherewithal to make a plank road like Euclid Avenue to bring the ore from Cleveland Mountain to where it could be floated downlakes into Cleveland.
Building that road is a whole story in itself as the carts careened out of control and killed the mules; but in 1855, Jackson managed to ship downlakes 1,449 tons of ore.
The job of getting this ore downlakes and around the falls at Sault Ste. Marie was unbelievable. So it is an important part of the Cuyahoga story that Charles T. Harvey, a 24-year-old salesman for the Fairbanks Scale Company, was at the Sault trying to recover from typhoid fever. He observed men struggling to transfer iron ore from decks of vessels onto wagons to be hauled around the falls of St. Mary to be loaded into other vessels below the Sault and sailed south to Cleveland. Young Harvey could see what was needed - a canal at the Sault. He decided he was the man to do it. Two years and two-thousand heartbreaks later, on June 18, 1855, Charles Harvey personally opened the sluice gate to let a vessel through from Lake Superior to Lake Huron. Two months later, the two-masted brig Columbia passed down through the lock carrying the first shipment of iron ore, 120 tons consigned to the Cleveland Iron Mining Company at the Crawford & Price wharf on the Cuyahoga River. The brig Columbia was later to give its name to a great fleet of boats on the lakes.
When that vessel tied up, the Cuyahoga River became the center of another industrial revolution in the United States.
But only a few men could see it. Samuel L. Mather was one of them. He was the young attorney in whose office the company was formed. Having attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, he was sent to Ohio to look out for the Mather real estate holdings in the Western Reserve, and he was swept up in the iron fever which formed the Cleveland Iron Mining Company. While the fever extinguished in a flurry of depression as the stockholders sold out their stock, Samuel L. Mather held his.
Then the panic of 1857 shut down the iron mills in Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Cleveland, and spread disaster all the way up to the Michigan iron range. The company needed $50,000 more cash to keep its Michigan range in action. Mather went to New York and Boston bankers to borrow. The answer was “no.”
That’s when Sam Mather invented “iron money.” Unable to get real money, he came up with a system of issuing small drafts on nicely printed stock against the treasure of the Cleveland Iron Mining Company. These notes were sent up to Cleveland Mountain where they were used to pay miners, teamsters, cooks, and hardware stores where the company bought supplies. Due to the confidence in the Cleveland Iron Mining Company, these notes circulated freely and were in no hurry to float back to Cleveland to be turned in for cash. This delay was enough to let Mather and the company officers sell more stock.
In this manner, the company inched its way up until the demand for iron increased in 1861. The Civil War needed cannon, rifles, rails. Now came the ships.
Captain Alva Bradley, then of Vermilion, Ohio, built a fleet of schooners and brigs to carry the ore. It was an 800-mile trip that demanded the utmost seamanship, but the unloading on the Cuyahoga was perhaps the most challenging dock operation in history.
Captain Bradley, one of the earliest in this type of navigation, continued to increase his fleet. In 1858, he launched the London. Soon after that the Exchange, and then the Wagstaff, which carried iron ore for a quarter of a century. In the year 1873, he launched six new ships, and at that point he began to build steamships. In 1867, the Cleveland Iron Mining Company bought a half interest in the George Sherman for $14,000, capacity 550 tons of ore.
In 1869 came the big leap forward when Captain Peck built the R. J. Hackett. In 1872, when Cleveland Iron Mining Company was bringing down nearly a million tons of ore, the company bought into the Cleveland Transportation Company, a fleet of steam vessels and schooners especially built for iron: The Geneva, the Vienna, the Sparta, the Havana, the Genoa, the Verona, the Helena, the Sumatra. These vessels each carried a thousand tons per trip to Cuyahoga docks.
To this point, the Cuyahoga’s merchant navy was wooden sail, but now iron vessels began to enter the trade. The first iron freighter built specifically for this business, and not a converted passenger vessel, was the Onoko built in Cleveland in 1882. She was 287 feet long.
In 1888, the directors of the Cleveland Iron Mining Company commissioned two steel vessels, $400,000 each, capacity 2,600 tons. These giants dropped the cost of transportation from about $3.00 a ton to $1.22. That year, Cleveland Iron Mining Company brought down 5,000,000 tons.
Now the locks and channels and harbors were getting too small for the vessels. The Poe Lock opened in 1896; it was 800 feet long, 100 feet wide and 22 feet deep. Cleveland Iron Mining Company now built a 426-foot steel ship, the Cadillac, with an 18-foot draft and a capacity of 6,000 tons. Along came the Choctaw, the Andaste, the Centurian, the Presque Isle, and the Angeline at 455 feet. And now the ships were too big for the unloading equipment and the stage was set for a new race of mechanical men on the Cuyahoga shore.
In 1890, Sam Mather, who had guided the Cleveland Iron Mining Company, died. His son, William Gwinn Mather, was vice president of the company, which in 1891 merged with the Iron Cliffs Company to become Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company. William Gwinn Mather became president of the combined operation and remained so for 42 years.
But it’s time to flash back to another beginning. The most exciting year in the history of the Cuyahoga was 1883. By then a plethora of iron companies, working out of the Iron Trades Building at the mouth of the river, had founded such a complex of mines and vessel companies that they had run out of people. One man might be sales agent for one company, mine supervi-sor for another, vessel coordinator for another. Iron had become a Cuyahoga way of life. Families grew up in it, married into other families who were in it, and compounded the complexity of this burgeoning business.
Many wished to straighten matters out so that a man could be clearer about whom he was buying from, whom he was selling to, whom he was competing with, and who were his partners. But there was little time for that because of the industryshaking events which crowded in with more urgency than the desire for organization. The congress had just passed tariff legislation protecting the iron industry, thus attracting more men into the building of furnaces. The Bessemer process was just showing men new uses for lower grade ores; power drills were coming into use so that less attractive deposits could suddenly be worked. Cornish pumps were being installed in the pits and, as the shafts sought deeper levels, new hoisting machines were coming in. A new and longer lock was opened at the Sault, the 300-foot Onoko had been built with a capacity of 3,000 tons, promising even greater speeds and capacities. Explorers were moving beyond the Marquette Range into the area north of Lake Superior, opening up the Vermilion Range. The Steel Age was dawning.
Many men saw that to push into this new era some clearer organization was needed in the industry. Samuel L. Mather was in the process of merging to form Cleveland-Cliffs; Hewitt & Tuttle was consolidating into Tuttle, Oglebay and Company, the partnership of M. A. Hanna and Company was forming from the Rhodes and Carter Iron Ore and Pig Iron Agency; but to most, action was more interesting than organization.
The young son of Samuel L. Mather, and brother of William Gwinn Mather, was a shy and thoughtful man who saw that a ton of finished steel was the result of such a puzzle of separate and individual coal, ore, furnace, dock and vessel companies that there was a strong need for an integrated company efficiently coordinating installations all the way from Lake Superior mines to Cuyahoga mills to the Allegheny coal fields. He was working for the Cleveland Iron Mining Company, having served a long apprenticeship in the mines of Michigan. There he had formed an especially strong attachment to two dramatic men: Colonel James Pickands, a Civil War hero now turned mine supply merchant, and a hard-driving iron agent affiliated with a dozen companies, J. C. Morse. These two were men of action, but they had a tremendous respect for the quiet thoughtfulness of young Sam Mather. Morse and Pickands were brothers-in-law, for they had come home from the ranges to Cleveland to marry two Outhwaite sisters and take them back to the iron country.
The three men conducted their dreaming by mail; and then one morning a modest advertisement appeared in the Cleveland Leader: “Announcing the formation of Pickands-Mather & Company, dealers in pig iron and iron ore.” They had two rooms in the Grand Arcade in Cleveland, with an option on more space, and they had an office boy named Henry Dalton, with a jovial smile, who loved to sell. In 1884, this infant firm brought down 1,022 tons of ore. Two years later, they brought down a quarter of a million tons. And then, as they carried out Sam Mather’s plan, Pickands-Mather & Company grew from three men and an office boy to thousands of employees working from the Mesabi Range in Minnesota across vessel fleets, blast furnaces, steel mills, reaching far east into the Allegheny coal country, with the Cuyahoga valley being the nerve center. It was a flaming hot, smoking, clanging Vulcan’s workshop.
That Cuyahoga valley leadership continues today. For example, on the shores of the Cuyahoga, Joe Slater brought about one of the technological breakthroughs in the thousand-year history of iron and steel.
In 1943, the United States government begged for more blast furnaces for the war effort. Now the blast furnace, one of the basic inventions of all time, had remained very much like the furnace Dan Heaton built in Struthers, Ohio. It had grown, of course, so that by 1943, it stood 100 feet high, 28 feet across; and it could cast 1,400 tons of pig iron a day. But Joe Slater, chairman of Republic Steel’s blast furnace committee, wanted to get more iron out of a furnace.
A Mr. Julian Avery, who had never seen a blast furnace, but had a large inquiring mind, had suggested to Joe Slater that the air blast whipped through a blast furnace so fast that not all the valuable oxygen would consume in the chemical reaction inside. He wondered: If you put a throttle valve on the top of the furnace to tame this blast and create a back pressure, could not the chemical reaction be carried out more completely?
While it sounded rather simple to Mr. Avery, furnace men were not keen about any procedure which would turn their smokestack into an explosive pressure cooker. A blast furnace is an awesome monster to tamper with. Its stack contains a tumult of gas, coke, and metal at 2,500 degrees; and the whole is aggravated by a turbo-driven hurricane coming in at the rate of 85 cubic feet of air per second.
But Joe Slater, a patriotic man, was under the pressure of war. He wanted to try putting in the entire 100,000 cubic feet of air needed to make a ton of iron, or what he called, “A hundred of wind a minute.” If you could hold it in there without blowing your stack, that should give you twenty percent more steel. If it didn’t work, “there’d be a hell of a mess on the cast house floor.”
On the morning of July 7, 1944, Joe Slater and Walter Montgomery, his furnace foreman, pumped in a hundred of wind, holding it in with a pressure top. A long working day later, the pressure top had not blown, and Joe Slater was making more iron from one furnace than anyone in all history. The company president, Charles White, asked Joe if he thought the furnace would take it on a regular basis. Joe Slater replied, “If I can run two weeks, I can run two months. If I can run two months, I can run forever.”
Slater tortured his furnace with pressures no other furnace had endured. He found he could also reduce the coke use by 13 percent, and lower the entire cost a dollar a ton. The furnace could use poorer coke and leaner ore. He died on the job shortly after, but he made the Cuyahoga valley put out more steel for World War II than was possible before Joe Slater managed his hundred of wind a minute without blowing up the melt-house.
Meanwhile, Cuyahoga vessels drained the Michigan and Minnesota mines so deep that they were down to lean ore, and ore that was costly to recover. The steel industry in the center of the United States was suffering from competition of richer ores nearer the surface in many countries. That’s when the men at the mouth of the Cuyahoga made their next big moves: opening a vast new Labrador iron ore country and benefiting low-grade domestic ores with the development of taconite.
The drama of the iron men continues.
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