The Romantic Days of Juniata Charcoal Iron

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Paul T. Fagley


abstract: In the annals of Pennsylvania history, few industries had as significant an impact as iron and steel. From its beginnings in the southeast, the industry headed westward after the American Revolution, until firmly landing in Pittsburgh in the midnineteenth century. Historian Arthur C. Bining documented the origins of ironmaking in the state, and numerous authors wrote of the later steelmaking centers in the Lehigh Valley and western Pennsylvania. Sandwiched in between is the Juniata Valley, which has been and is a major transportation corridor, with trails, the turnpike, canal, railroad, and modern highway successively following the Juniata River through central Pennsylvania. It seems a backwater today, but centered in the nineteenth century, the iron and steel industry briefly stopped here and sent the name “Juniata” around the world. In 136 years, around 150 charcoal-fueled furnaces and forges produced iron regarded as among the finest in the world. During its peak, the Juniata produced nearly half of all iron in Pennsylvania, and a fifth of the national output. With the rise of big steel, the Juniata Valley became a mere footnote in history. Few today know of the incredible legacy of Juniata iron. This article brings to life the story of Juniata iron, its rise, prominence, and fall, and sheds light on the veracity of its reputation

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