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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

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Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings


Location. Essex County, 10 miles north of Boston, on U.S. 1, Saugus; address, 244 Central Street, Saugus, MA 01906-2107.

Significance. The beginnings of the iron industry in the United States may best be traced to New England at Saugus, although some attempts at iron manufacture had been made in Virginia as early as 1619. In 1646, only 26 years after the first permanent settlement had been established in Massachusetts, a partnership bearing the name of the Company of Undertakers for the Iron Works in New England began the construction of an ironworks, under the direction of Richard Leader. The partnership benefited from the initiative of John Winthrop, Jr., and legal encouragement given by the Massachusetts General Court in 1641.

Saugus Iron Works
Saugus Iron Works, Massachusetts, in 1650. (Courtesy, American Iron and Steel Institute.)

The works consisted of a blast furnace, casting house, forge (with two "fineries" and a chafery), a rolling and slitting mill, and various storehouses and other buildings. The works was more than a blast furnace producing crude pig iron and castware. Its forge manufactured bars of wrought iron, from which could be made the tools and hardware that were needed by colonial farms and enterprises—hoes, shovels, hinges, and other items. Its rolling and slitting mill turned out rod iron that could be shaped into nails, which were much needed in the colonies.

The length of the works' operation (1648-70) and the migration of its workers and technicians to other ironmaking projects make it an important enterprise in U.S. history, even though as a business enterprise it eventually failed. After about 20 years of active and widely distributed production, a growing scarcity of raw materials seriously affected operations. Imported ironwares undercut Saugus iron in the market, and by 1670 the works had been abandoned and had begun falling into ruins. The iron industry did not flower in the colonies until the 18th century.

forge building
Reconstructed forge building, at Saugus, Massachusetts, part of a full-scale "working" model of a 17th-century ironworks. In the building, workers reheated cast iron bars and converted them into wrought iron.

Present Appearance. The works had completely disappeared by the 1940's, when a project aimed at its reconstruction was begun. Rebuilding involved 6 years of research and construction and funds totaling $1.5 million. The works was opened to the public in 1954. Restored and supported by today's American iron and steel industry, it is a full-scale model of the original 17th-century works and has unique public interest and educational value. [31]

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Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005