Category Archives: Civil War

A Blast From The Past

A letter from Samuel G. Colt to Orville Wright in 1915 introduces the inventor to the Richmond Iron Works:

“I have honestly believed for a long time that Richmond is the best iron made here for piston and cylinder castings, where strength, close grain, and exceptional wearing qualities are so necessary as in the aeroplane motor. “

The production of pig iron In Richmond began in 1830 when Gates, Pettee & Company built the charcoal-fired, stone stack blast furnace to smelt iron ore found in open-pit and shaft mines in the nearby hillsides.

The Richmond Furnace was one of several dozen within the Salisbury Iron District, which covers northwestern Connecticut, western Massachusetts and central eastern New York, at its peak supported 55 blast furnaces, of which the remains of 11 survive. Richmond’s is the only one in Massachusetts still standing. Richmond Iron Works ended operations in 1923, by which time its production methods were severely antiquated.

Iron produced at Richmond from brown hematite ore was particularly hard, and was sold as a raw material to other ironworks and foundries.

As Colt notes in his letter:  “The iron became famous during the Civil War, when it all went into the Rodman guns, which were cast from straight Richmond, as were the guns on Erricson’s “Monitor” and since then, it has been used by the Pennsylvania Rail Road for car wheels.” 

Not a bad resume…..

A 20-inch Rodman gun


The deck of the Monitor. Note the dents in the Richmond Furnace iron.






Leave a comment

Filed under American Industry, Civil War