Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Eureka Iron Works

In 1853, Philip Thurber spent a summer vacationing near Marquette, Michigan. Thurber was enthralled by the recent discovery of iron ore deposits in Northern Michigan. After testing a sample of the ore, Thurber returned to Detroit and reported the superior quality to a few potential capitalists. Among these men was Captain Eber Brock Ward, who would function as financial and organizational backbone of the Eureka Iron Company. On October 15, 1853 the Eureka Iron Company was officially recognized.

Following an inspection of potential locations for the Eureka Iron Works, a decision was made to purchase a 2,200-acre plot from Major John Biddle known as “the Wyandotte” for $44,000 in 1854.  The location, which is in present-day Wyandotte, Michigan, allowed for direct access to the Detroit River and was in close proximity to other natural resources including timber and limestone. Ward signed a contract with Captain William Bolton to transport the stone needed to construct the Eureka Iron Factory, consisting of two furnaces and a rolling mill.

In 1864, using a process developed by William Kelly and named for Sir Henry Bessemer, the Eureka Iron Company produced the first steel ingots. This was the first time that steel was commercially produced in America. The following year, on May 25, 1865, the company produced the first Bessemer steel rails. By using Kelly’s converter, Ward was able to remove the impurities from iron to produce steel. With the implementation of this new technology, the Eureka Iron Company laid the foundation for the steel industry in the United States and modern America.

The Eureka Iron and Steel Company continued to flourish throughout the 1860s. However, during the 1870’s the company began its decline. This failure of the Eureka Iron and Steel Company occurred for several reasons. First, Eureka Iron Works was not designed for steel production. Instead of changing the factory’s production methods, Eber Ward decided to shift steel production to Chicago.  A second reason was the company’s consumption of over 50,000 cords of wood a year, which resulted in a timber shortage. The shortage required the company to ship charcoal in from greater distances resulting in higher production costs. Third, the iron market declined due to an increased demand for steel. The death knell occurred on June 1, 1888 when a boiler explosion rocked the foundation of the Eureka Iron and Steel Company. The company officially halted production in 1892 and the Eureka Iron Works were dismantled.

Written by Ryan DiBrano