Founded in 1871, the city of Birmingham sprang up along L&N Railroad’s north and south line which ran through the Jones Valley in north-central Alabama. Uniquely situated for iron production with ample supplies of nearby iron ore and coal, Birmingham quickly became one of the country’s largest producers of steel. James Withers Sloss, a northern Alabama merchant and railroad man, saw Birmingham’s potential in steel production and founded the Sloss Furnace Company in 1881. Later renamed as Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron, the company was successfully operated until the late 1960s when the U.S. steel industry experienced a severe decline. By the early 1970s, Sloss Furnaces, the oldest remaining blast furnaces in Birmingham, was shut down.
Although the complex of furnaces, pipes, and stacks may have been idle, the citizens of Birmingham recognized the complex’s historic connection to the very beginning of the city and organized a movement to not only stabilize and preserve the structures, but to renovate them for civic use. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1981, the site was opened two years later as museum of the City of Birmingham and included facilities for civic events, festivals, conferences, and a metal arts program. In 2003 The Sloss Furnace Historical Society had grown concerned about the corrosion and loss of metal occurring on the blast furnaces, but because of its high-profile and historic nature, this need for corrosion protection had to be balanced with a visual appearance appropriate to such a structure. A Tnemec system was chosen that would meet the criteria.
Series 63-1500 Filler and Surfacer was selected to fill pits left in the steel after surface preparation, followed by a prime coat of Series 135 Chembuild, a modified polyamidoamine epoxy chosen for its surface tolerant and film-building characteristics. Series 175 Endura-Shield, an aliphatic acrylic polyurethane, was carefully selected as the topcoat based on its excellent exterior performance and its eggshell finish which provided the proper low-gloss appearance for the historic structure.
Fully protected from the elements and maintaining its image as an important centerpiece of a continuing downtown renovation, the Sloss Furnace will remain an unique and enduring link to Birmingham’s vibrant past.