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Looking Over the Horizon: The Birmingham Iron and Coal Industry’s Interest in American Imperialism during the 1890s BIRMINGHAM IS UNQUESTIONABLY TO BE the base of supplies for what promises to be an unlimited demand and I believe that it is not too early for our manufacturers and others looking for profitable investments in the same line, to begin to prepare to supply this demand.1 Historians have written extensively about the reign of cotton in the southern economy. In the last two decades of the 1800s, however, cotton was not the only southern product shipped overseas. Pig iron became a major export after Reconstruction, yet the Birmingham iron industry’s support for American imperialism does not receive much attention. The district’s iron barons openly supported territorial and commercial expansion, believing that global markets held the key to their industrial prosperity. The foreign demand for iron and steel grew rapidly as countries lay miles of railroad tracks and updated factories with modern machinery. Iron became the South’s second largest export, and the sale of Alabama pig iron in foreign ports was important to the state’s economy. Birmingham’s industrial leaders knew that increasing America’s markets around the globe meant larger profits from increased overseas trade and the new industries that would emerge as a consequence. Thus, when Alabama’s expansionist-minded Democratic Senator John Tyler Morgan sought RYAN FLOYD Ryan Floyd is a member of the Miles College faculty and is completing his dissertation at the University of Alabama. He would like to thank Dr. Kari Frederickson, Dr. Howard Jones, Mathew Downs, Elizabeth Wells, and the staff of the Alabama Review for their advice on this project. 1 J. K. McDonald, Birmingham Age-Herald, July 31, 1898. J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 0 31 to enlarge the international influence of the United States, the New South industrial city’s leaders gave him their support because of the importance they placed on selling their products overseas. In the mid-1880s Birmingham was the fastest growing metropolis in the South. The city had easy access to the Clinton iron ore vein that stretched from New York to the sparsely populated Jones Valley, where Birmingham was founded. People flocked to the valley from around the country and across the Atlantic in search of new jobs in the city’s burgeoning iron and coal industries. By the end of the century, Birmingham was one of the most important industrial centers in the United States. As the heart of Alabama’s iron and coal business grew, its products began arriving in ports around the globe. Birmingham proudly took part in the booming metals business, which showed no signs of slowing down in the 1890s. On November 20, 1898, the Birmingham Age-Herald published excerpts from the London Economist and the London Mercury, which stated that the world market for iron and steel had risen dramatically since 1873. The two newspapers estimated that demand would reach thirty-four million tons per year by 1901 and that the United States would be the main supplier.2 Morgan was aware of how the iron industry could benefit Alabama and intended his expansionist policies to help not only cotton manufacturers but Birmingham’s iron men as well. Morgan tried to improve Alabama’s economy by creating new opportunities for the city’s ironworks both abroad and at home. Birmingham’s industrial leaders joined the senator in his crusade because of their desire to increase profits by taking advantage of the international demand for ferrous metals, which lay at the heart of modern industrial development. Born on June 20, 1824, in Athens, Tennessee, Morgan moved with his family to present day Calhoun County in 1833. The son of George Morgan, a farmer and mercantile storeowner, the future senator was educated at home and eventually became an attorney’s apprentice for his brother-in-law William P. Chilton. Morgan passed the Alabama Bar in 1845 and excelled at the law before joining the Confederate Army in 1861, where he rose to the rank of general. During Reconstruction, Morgan returned to his law practice and developed the belief...


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