The 19th century is sometimes described as the age of coal, iron, and steel, with the United States emerging as a leading nation in that epochal age. At the beginning of the century, the great bulk of manufactured iron was produced by smelting and refining.
Small iron-works, found in every state, were based upon ore from a nearby mine or bog and relied on charcoal for fuel. In the 1820s, with the emergence of small factories, specialization appeared in the manufacture of iron products. The manufacture of farm machinery and implements, followed by household products, provided the major market for the iron industry.
The development of rolling mills was a major factor in the iron industry’s expansion. The first angle iron, and probably the first regular bars, were rolled in the United States in 1817.
By 1830 the manufacture of rolled and hammered iron products amounted to 113,000 tons. During the following two decades, the production of rolled iron would expand rapidly, totaling more than 500,000 tons by the outbreak of the Civil War.
In 1860 almost one million tons of iron ore were .produced. In that year there were 256 iron-works in 20 states producing bars, sheet, and railroad iron.
Almost 60 percent of the country’s iron ore in 1860 came from Pennsylvania, followed by Ohio and New York. The Empire State’s output totaled 74,645 net tons from 15 furnaces. Most of the ore was found in two localities, the southern highlands and the area around Lake Champlain. New York’s rise to distinction in iron manufacturing dates from the 1830s. By 1840 New York emerged as the leading producer in bar, sheet, and railroad iron, with 195 establishments turning out more than four million dollars’ worth.