Hands-On History: Sloss Furnaces

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Sloss Furnaces, part of the reason for Birmingham’s existence, has always fascinated me – especially photographically. I’ve taken pictures of it for years, but have never truly explored it. I have left it so unexplored that I didn’t even realize they had a gorgeous visitor’s center, gift shop, and museum.

But naturally it was on our list of field trips for our history project, so when we made it to that point in history, I emailed to inquire about a tour. They have a premium tour which includes the opportunity to create an iron mold and watch iron being poured, so I quickly chose that option. Molten hot metal poured with children watching? For sure – we’re absolutely doing that.

We arrived on a gorgeous day – a perfect backdrop for the exciting photos I knew I’d get to take.

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Sloss Furnaces was a thriving pig iron producer opened in 1882, perfectly situated in the only place in the United States where all the ingredients needed to make iron lay within a thirty-mile radius.

The tour began, and despite our tour guide’s fantastic mannerisms, I might’ve gotten distracted by all the fabulous angles inside of Sloss to fully pay attention.

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I definitely caught some snippets about the terrible working conditions (deafness and death being side effects of employment), but the angles…

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We descended down some crazy narrow metal steps to the underground.

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I remember clearly that he explained what they used to cart back and forth in this tunnel, but … photographs.

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Obviously I need to redo this tour and not be allowed to take my camera along because everything he said was so very interesting and I don’t remember a single word of it.

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I am not fit to be a homeschool mom. I am the worst. And I have the photographs to prove it.

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(This is also Carla Jean’s fault for moving to Colorado because I can’t cheat off of her notes. Which makes me wonder how very much I cheated off her notes last semester…I am really not fit to be a teacher.)

After the riveting tour during which I learned so very much, we went inside the museum and watched a short film about turning Sloss into a National Historic Landmark. Most of Ali’s report (at the bottom) was gleaned from the video. So maybe she was distracted during the tour as well.

Then it was time for the mold making. They gave each of us pressed sand molds and tools for creating our designs.

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This was SO MUCH FUN. And made me wish I had more artistic abilities.

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After we all finished our molds, they were loaded onto a trolley and carted off to these workers, who were casually maintaining the fire as red-hot iron slag dripped out of their container, as it’s supposed to.

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Never have caution signs had such a justified existence.

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The best part of my entire month was when they took the vat of liquid iron and began pouring it into the molds. Watching and photographing the splashing fire made me beyond ecstatic.

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…And totally creeped Noah out. But did I comfort my kid? No. I was too busy watching volcano being poured.

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While we waited for our iron castings to cool a degree or two, we studied the forge’s various collectibles.

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Clearly people had been having fun.

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My kind of fun.

Sloss Furnaces170308f-Sloss-FurnacessThose eyes…so turquoise. That skull…so melted.

The cart arrived with our creations, and the kids enjoyed trying to find their pieces. (Except one of our kids, who refused to claim his piece, insisting that his would NOT have looked like that.)

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Ali, who had worked hard to write mirror-image letters in her mold, was quite proud of how her piece came out. And amazed at how heavy it was.

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It was a most fantastic field trip, even though I totally failed at knowledge retention. I’ll be sure my report card reflects such.

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Here’s Ali’s report:

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Comments

  1. Jen near St Louis says:

    I often suspected the main reasons I had for becoming a homeschool mom were 1. access to school supplies (and an excuse to buy lots) 2. the ability to sleep in (wait, they need to be AT the bus stop at 7:15? Phhhffft, I don’t think so) and 3. going on all the cool field trips (and we’ve lived in Asia and Europe and my husband was stationed in Central America for awhile, we’ve been on some doozies!)

  2. I always associate Sloss with the creepy show that Ghost adventures did there. Hopefully, it’s not so bad during the daytime!

  3. Christen Sparks says:

    The best field trip of the year for sure!

  4. My husband and I are anxious to head up to Sloss and take some of the classes they offer. I had no idea they did this mold-making thing. What fun!

  5. That is so neat that they got to create their own molds! What a cool place! You should get your next family pictures taken there!

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