History of Tyson Furnace

Ron Patch

Issac Tyson Jr. was born of wealthy Quaker parents in Baltimore, Maryland in 1792. Issac Jr. was educated in geology and metallurgy.

While in France, Issac Jr. visited a mine where they were mining chrome yellow. Seeing this mineral reminded him of a mineral he had seen when roaming the Maryland hills. Returning to Maryland he informed his father of his discovery. Immediately they began buying these deposits. In 1816 they began producing chromate pigments, and other chemicals in a laboratory in Baltimore. This became a prosperous enterprise.

In 1827 Issac Jr. received a patent for a new method of smelting copper pyrites. In 1829 Issac Jr. established a copper smelting operation in Strafford, Vermont. In 1833 he sold his interest in the Baltimore operation to devote his time to the Vermont industry.

tyson furnace
Myron Dimmick painting of Tyson Furnace. Photo provided by Vermont Historical Society.

While travelling through Plymouth, Vermont in 1835 he recognized iron ore deposits in rock outcroppings. Also present was the limestone he needed for the smelting process as well as an abundance of trees that he could harvest to make the charcoal his furnace would need.

On November 10th, 1836 he formed a partnership with other men and formed the “Windsor and Plymouth Ascutney Iron Company.” Almost overnight a small town known as Tyson Furnace was born. In 1837 he opened his “Haematite Mine” and fired up his furnace that fall. Hematite is the mineral form of iron oxide.

This stone furnace was of the hot blast variety that stood 34 feet tall and 32 feet in diameter at the base and sat on three large arches. The stack was surmounted by a round cupola and a tall chimney.

To fire his furnace first charcoal was tossed in through a door in the cupola. On top of the charcoal crushed limestone was placed to act as flux. Next came the iron ore. This process was repeated several times with each layer four or five feet thick.

To give you an idea of the volume of each of these ingredients it would be approximately: 12 bushels of charcoal, eight to 14 boxes (about 100 pounds each) of iron ore and two boxes of crushed limestone also about 100 pounds each. The Plymouth iron ore was about 50 percent pure and it was said 100 bushels of charcoal would produce one ton of iron.

Now this is where it gets interesting. Many of us will know how a blacksmith forge works with bellows to make the fire hotter. Tyson Furnace had two giant bellows. These bellows were driven by a water powered overshot wheel. The air passed through a wooden pipe 100 feet long and 15 inches in diameter to a wooden tank. Next this air passed through a coil of iron pipes in a heating furnace where the air’s temperature was significantly increased.

tyson furnace
Tyson Furnace 1839 stove. Photo provided by Chester Historical Society.

This heated air blast created quite the sight as witnessed by a Tyson resident. “Tyson Furnace, when in blast, was an awe inspiring sight. The bellows made a dismal groaning and creaking sound, in damp weather could be heard three miles away, and the flames leaped 20 feet above the top of the stack with a roaring which made Echo Lake a realistic name….”

Tyson Furnace produced cast iron stoves, iron pipes and wholesaled iron to other manufacturers. A popular and inexpensive stove was their 1839 box stove. This stove while small was an adequate bedroom stove. It is easily identified with its clipper ship cast in the sides. Issac Jr.’s father ran a clipper ship line in Baltimore, Maryland. This may have inspired Issac Jr. to use the clipper ship design.

Tyson Furnace also produced column stoves. This was an early attempt at producing a more efficient stove. A column stove had a normal firebox with a major improvement. On top of the firebox at the left and right were two vertical and hollow round metal columns about a foot tall. Above these columns was a hollow ornate cast iron top. As the firebox heated, heat would rise from the firebox through the columns up into this upper cast iron section. This diminished heat escaping up the chimney.

In its first two years of operation Issac Jr., invested $60,000, with over 100 employees and produced 600 to 1,000 tons of iron annually. From this commercial operation a small village emerged complete with a store.

Information for this article is from Victor Rolando’s book, “200 Years of Soot and Sweat.” If you can find a copy, buy it!

This week’s old saying is from Milton Berle. “A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.”

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