sloss furnaces

20 32ND STREET NORTH, birmingham, al

(205) 254-2025

Status: National Historic Landmark



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All Photos Courtesy of Heather Guy


Sloss Furnaces has always been an important part of Birmingham – it was founded by the man who convinced the railroad to run a line through what would become the city - and was a large part of it’s economy for nearly 100 years.

Colonel James Withers Sloss was important figure in the early history of Birmingham. The land surrounding the new town in the late 19th Century was rich in the minerals needed to make iron. In 1880 he helped form the Pratt Coke and Coal Company to mine out rich coal deposits needed for the blast furnaces to make iron.

A year later in June 1881 construction began on a 50 acre site to construct the city’s second blast furnace – this would become Sloss Furnaces. Working with a British inventor, the furnaces used new methods making them the biggest and the hottest in the city and equal to the ones used in the more industrialized northern US.

Colonel Sloss retired in 1886 as one of the major architects of the new South - the Southern States were recovering from the Civil War and changing their economies over from agriculture to industrial – and sold the company to a conglomerate.

In 1899 the conglomerate was reorganized into the Sloss-Sheffield Steel & Iron and had become the second largest pig iron producer in Birmingham. By the time the USA entered World War I it was one of the largest in the world.

By the time the US entered the Second World War in 1941 half the population worked in the iron ore business with two thirds of the labor force being African American. The managers all the way down to the foremen were all white lording over a mostly African American labor force.

Safety was not a concern at all – if a worker died he could be replaced by someone else the next day.

Many innovations that helped fuel the American Industrial Revolution – coal and iron being the basis of it – we’re developed and or used at the Furnaces including “blowing engines” which radically improved the efficiency and size of the furnaces.

By the middle of the 20th Century air pollution had become a serious issue in the Birmingham area. With the Clean Air Act and the creation of the EPA the older iron production facilities were being encouraged to close down; Sloss being one of them.

In 1971 the furnaces were shut off and the site was closed down. The owners donated the site to the Alabama State Fair in hopes of the site being converted in a Museum.

It was quickly determined the cost of the conversion was simply too expensive and plans were made to demolish the site. The local population, though, fought this step and halted the demolishment.

In 1977 the population of Birmingham voted to devote 3.3 billion dollars to rehabilitate the site. The remaining structures were brought up to codes and a visitor center was built.

Today, the Sloss Furnaces function as a museum as well as a center for the community hosting everything from barbeque cook offs to Pridefest. They also function as a historical museum with the only remaining blast furnace open to the public in the United States as well as one of best preserved industrial sites.

In 2012 construction began on a brand new 10 million dollar visitor center.

Paranormal Activity

Birmingham Police have recorded over 100 calls regarding paranormal activity at the site. That’s only the people brave enough to call the police and risk ridicule by reporting it to the them. Statistically, this means between 1,000 and 1,500 paranormal incidents have been witnessed since the site’s closure; at least.

Hundreds of workers perished in accidents while this site was open.


James “Slagg” Wormwood was the worst of the worst foremen. He worked on the graveyard shift when there were no managers present so he impressed them the only way he could – numbers. His shift produced more iron than most, but a horrific cost.

During his years as a foreman 45 workers were killed – 10 times higher than any other shift – and countless workers were maimed and injured most losing their ability to work and support their families. In one incident, a small engine blowing house exploded blinding six workers.

Safety meant nothing to Slagg - only production numbers met anything - certainly not the lives of his workers.

Slagg met his untimely demise by falling from the top of the tallest furnace – Big Alice – and into molten iron. Needless to say, he was dead and gone in less than a second. Rumor has it he did not fall at all but was pushed by workers who had finally had enough of his draconian ways.

Either way there have been stories of his ghost returning almost immediately after his death.

Reports include seeing his dark apparition around the furnace he died in, being shoved hard by invisible hands and a phantom voice snarling, “get back to work”.

He is also responsible for one of the few verified stories of a ghost attack resulting in the death of a living person.

One the last nights Sloss was open, the night watchman – Samuel Blumenthal – was taking a nostalgic walk through the site when he came face to face with Slagg. He described Slagg as a horrific combination of man and demon. Slagg tried to push him up the stairs but Blumenthal fought back. Slagg became more violent beating the night watchman with his fists.

Blumenthal was hospitalized after the attack and confirmed to have deep burns where Slagg had punched him. He would die of his injuries.

Other Activity: Apparitions of former workers and their families – in its hey day Sloss had worker’s housing on site -; shadow figures; feelings of unease, fear, extreme rage, not being wanted, nausea, being watched and not being alone; phantom sounds including voices, screams, yelling, bangs and crashes, electrical disturbances; unexplained light anomalies; mysterious mists including some moving against the wind; cold spots, warm spots and phantom smells as if the furnaces were still operating.