Founding of Birmingham Alabama
Birmingham was founded in 1871, just after the U.S. Civil War, during the Reconstruction period in the middle of Reconstruction politics when carpetbaggers and scalawags vied for political and economic power. The city was an industrial enterprise. It was named after Birmingham, one of the England's major industrial cities. The site of the city in Jefferson County was to be where the Alabama & Chattanooga Railroad was to cross with the South & North Railroad. Since the Chattanooga line was already operating and/or under construction, the South & North engineers were able to control where their line crossed it. The Elyton Land Company was organized to purchase land in the valley where the crossing was planned. Everyone agreed that a city would develop at this spot.
In 1871 streets were surveyed in a grid pattern in a corn field. The valley was in poor hill country in the middle of Alabama's mineral district, which had coal, red and brown iron ore, and limestone—minerals needed to make iron—but little had been done to exploit these industrial minerals because there was no navigable river in the district, thus no way to move either the minerals or pig iron to market. Railroads, therefore, were essential to the development of Birmingham. Birmingham was the primary industrial center of the Southern United States. The astonishing pace of Birmingham's growth through the turn of the century earned it the nicknames "The Magic City" and "The Pittsburgh of the South". Much like Pittsburgh in the north, Birmingham's major industries centered around iron and steel production.
Birmingham's industrial growth began when the iron furnaces constructed during the Civil War reopened. The two furnaces located in Shades Valley were at Irondale and Oxmoor. In 1874 the Warrior coal field began producing coal, and in 1876 a giant step was taken when pig iron was first made from coke (which comes from coal). Confederate iron in Alabama was produced with charcoal. Charcoal comes from wood, and this meant that many trees in the area of iron furnaces had been cut; coke burns hotter and makes a higher grade and stronger iron
Investments in the New South economy of Birmingham were encouraged by Henry Fairchild DeBardeleben (who was married to industrialist Daniel Pratt's only child, Ellen). This is an example of
The large number of industrial workers meant that problems between labor and management would be common. About 20% of the Birmingham District's miners were immigrants, about 35% were native-born, and the rest were African-Americans. Many of the coal miners were convicts leased from the county or the state to mine owners. When the miners tried to organize, strikes and violence often resulted. Many miners and mill workers lived in company towns, shopped at company stores, and went to company doctors when they were sick. This welfare capitalism allowed the companies to have control over the workers' lives. However, the living conditions in the company towns were often better than the living conditions of the rural farms which many of the miners had left.