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Setting the Stage

The iron tools and household utensils necessary in the early days of colonial America were either brought along by settlers from Europe or imported at high cost. The colonists quickly realized that, even though it violated their country's laws, they needed to manufacture their own iron products. The construction of charcoal-burning furnaces to produce iron was possible only where the necessary natural resources--iron ore, limestone, hardwood forests, and water--were readily available. The Middle Atlantic colonies had an abundance of these raw materials.

William Penn lured colonists to Pennsylvania by stressing not only religious toleration, but also the fact that his colony was rich in natural resources, including good quality iron ore and extensive forests. Immigrants from Europe poured into the colony. Large numbers settled in Philadelphia and its surrounding region. These settlers needed everyday objects such as tools, nails, horseshoes, and cooking utensils. Many small iron-making furnaces were built in southeastern Pennsylvania to take advantage of that market. By the time of the American Revolution, there were approximately 65 ironworks concentrated in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Hopewell Furnace was established in 1771 and supplied shot and cannon for the Continental Army and Navy during the Revolutionary War. Reflecting the economic problems of the young Republic, the furnace led a troubled life and often changed hands during the last years of the 18th century. In 1800, it entered a new period of prosperity under new owners. Between 1825 and 1844, Hopewell Furnace supplied a wide variety of iron products to cities all along the east coast, including the popular "Hopewell Stove." The furnace continued to operate until the 1880s, but never again achieved the success of the 1830s and 40s. Today the National Park Service administers the site as Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site.



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