National Historic Landmark

Sloss received National Historic Landmark designation in 1981 and opened its gates in September 1983, as a museum of the City of Birmingham. Its collection consists of two 400-ton blast furnaces and some forty other buildings.

Nothing remains of the original furnace complex. The oldest building on the site dates from 1902 and houses the eight steam-driven “blowing-engines” used to provide air for combustion in the furnaces. The engines themselves date from the period 1900-1902 and are a unique and important collection—engines such as these powered America’s Industrial Revolution. The boilers, installed in 1906 and 1914, produced steam for the site until it closed in 1970.

Sloss_Furnaces

Between 1927 and 1931 the plant underwent a concentrated program of mechanization. Most of its major operation equipment—the blast furnaces and the charging and casting machinery–was replaced at this time. In 1927-28, the two furnaces were rebuilt, enlarged, and refitted with mechanical charging equipment, doubling the plant’s production capacity.

While the site strongly reflects the changes made from 1927-1931, some of the technology is more current. The company built a dehumidification plant during World War II to reduce consumption of coke. Use of the system was discontinued when the war ended, but the building and equipment remain. In the late 1940s the company two slag granulators to produce the “expanded slag” needed to make structural concrete, mineral wool and other products. Finally, in 1949 and 1951 the company replaced the old blowing engines with two-turbo blowers.

About two-thirds of the historic structures on the site were stabilized using the bond funds approved by Birmingham voters in 1977. Parts of the site were also adapted for use as a center for community and civic events and for an innovative program in metal arts. Sloss now hosts concerts, festivals, and conferences, as well as workshops and exhibitions of metal art. By helping people form new attachments to the old furnaces, these programs keep Sloss an active and important part of the community, as it was for almost a hundred years.

Sloss is currently the only twentieth-century blast furnace in the U.S. being preserved and interpreted as an historic industrial site. The dramatic scale and complexity of the plant’s industrial structure, machines and tools make the Sloss collection a unique contribution to the interpretation of twentieth-century ironmaking technology and presents a remarkable perspective on the era when America grew to world industrial dominance. At the same time, Sloss is an important reminder of the hopes and struggles of the people who worked in the industries that made some men wealthy, and Birmingham the “Magic City.