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Why is Birmingham, Alabama Called The Magic City

Richard Latimer

March 29, 2022

In terms of population, Birmingham is the biggest city in Alabama, with a metropolitan population of about a million people. Despite the fact that the city of Birmingham was founded on the iron and steel business, the health care sector is currently the region's top employer.

Birmingham is the only spot on the planet where all of the materials necessary to make iron are found in one location: coal, iron ore, and limestone, all within a ten-mile radius of one another.

Birmingham, Alabama, is well recognized as the site of some of the most heinous episodes in the history of the United States.

In 1871, the city of Birmingham was formed, and less than 40 years later, it had a strong steel industry and was considered the "boomtown" of the time. By 1912, the downtown junction of 1st Avenue North and 20th Street had earned the moniker "heaviest corner on Earth," thanks to the construction of four of the tallest structures in the South at that location.

Racial tensions had been simmering in the United States for decades before the Civil Rights Movement rekindled them in the city of Birmingham, Alabama, during the Civil Rights Era as black Americans demanded some form of social and political fairness.

Birmingham was formerly known as the "Magic City" because its soil had the three ingredients essential for the production of iron: limestone, coal, and iron ore, all of which were found in abundance there.

Birmingham was able to develop into one of the most successful industrial hubs in the post-Reconstruction South as a result of this geological situation, and by the 1880s, it had become the steel capital of the Southeast and one of the region's most urbanized places.

Birmingham was far from the usual image of a rural Southern hamlet; rather, it was a metropolis based on the acceptance of technology and industrial innovations rather than on the production of agricultural products.

Birmingham was also known as the Magic City because of its implausible and quick expansion during that time period, although it was not a magical city in any way.

A sequence of geologic occurrences that started more than 400 million years ago culminated in the formation of the city, which provided all of the components necessary to build and maintain the South's largest steel town throughout the early twentieth century.

Iron and lime

The history of Birmingham's steel industry does not begin with any entrepreneur or railroad, but rather with sediments on the ocean bottom 443 million years ago.

The area underneath Birmingham was submerged at the time, collecting runoff from the few mountains that jutted out to the east. Some of this discharge is combined with the lime-containing shells of plankton and other marine creatures to make limestone.

Some of this turned into a thick sludge that later converted into an iron mineral known as hematite, most likely with the assistance of some ancient bacteria.

Jim Lacefield, a retired professor at the University of North Alabama and author of the book "Lost Worlds in Alabama Rocks," said that the mud would have been a greenish clay substance that had been deposited on the ocean bottom.

Those clays would have had had a high iron concentration as a result of the crumbling mountains and volcanoes to the east, in what is now Georgia, but they received an additional boost from the local bacteria.

Lacefield said that the strongest evidence we have is that the bacteria increased the amount of oxygen in the seawater, leading iron that was suspended in the seawater to precipitate out and join the sediments on the ocean floor.

Because of its economic significance, hematite has been designated as Alabama's official state mineral. It also contributed to the hue and name of Red Mountain, which towers above downtown Birmingham.

That hematite developed in seams that were sometimes 30 feet thick across Red Mountain, making it simpler and more lucrative to mine. An estimated 300 million tons of rich iron ore were taken from the mountain's "Big Seam," which runs up the mountain's crest.

Lacefield claims that no new hematite is being generated now since the ancient microorganisms responsible for the formation are no longer present.

And Birmingham's iron ores had an additional unusual ingredient: limy shells from plankton, snails, and other marine life that had been mixed in with the rocks.

Typically, steel producers add limestone to iron ore in order to "flux" it or suck out impurities during the smelting process. According to Lacefield, Birmingham's iron ore already contained sufficient limy material to ensure that little or no more limestone was required. The'self-flushing' ore was wonderful, even magical in its properties.

Why Is Birmingham Called The Magic City

Coal rounds out the recipe

The iron ore and limestone were discovered at a time when most of Alabama was submerged under a shallow ocean. Coal, on the other hand, came around 100 million years later.

Much of Alabama had risen above sea level by then, but the state's coastline was not where you would expect it to be, given its location in the Southeast. There was an ocean covering much of the northern half of the state at that period, around 323 million years ago, extending from what is now the Shoals region south into Tuscaloosa.

The land between that sea and the young Appalachian Mountains would have been filled with coal swamps — humid river deltas with 130-foot trees and huge insects and amphibians – and would have been blanketed with coal.

The decaying remnants of such fecund swamp woods were transformed into Alabama's coalfields, particularly in Jefferson, Walker, and Tuscaloosa Counties, but also across the state.

The city built on steel

The discovery of iron ore in Birmingham opened the door for the city to grow, but it required one more component before it could take off - people.

When the mines and furnaces first opened, thousands of new citizens from all across the United States and other nations descended upon the city in record numbers. Thousands of residents from Alabama's rural Black Belt communities have also relocated to Birmingham in search of a better life.

Not all of them had chosen to be there. Slavery has come to an end as a result of the American Civil War. However, Alabama was using a convict leasing scheme at the time in order to provide additional employees for the mines and steel mills, and more than 90 percent of the prisoners who were transported to do forced hard labor were African-Americans.

Many critics referred to the arrangement as "slavery by another name" since the government and industrial enterprises benefited from the low-wage labor supply.

The major steel and iron businesses established their own company towns, in which they provided accommodation, retail, medical care, entertainment, and sports teams, all of which were managed by firms.

A lasting legacy

Birmingham's iron mining industry lasted until the early 1970s, according to historical records. By then, the industry had started to slow down, but the air in the Jones Valley was still thick with pollution, with a layer of haze visible from the summit of Red Mountain, a reminder of what had happened.

Company towns and other communities near the still-operational coke factories and other significant industrial sites have the scars of heavy industry that have accumulated over the years.

Following an investigation into soil contamination in three neighborhoods in north Birmingham, the United States Environmental Protection Agency designated the 35th Avenue Superfund site in 2012. The area was designated as a Superfund site due to high levels of contamination in the soil of substances such as benzo(a)pyrene, arsenic, and lead.

Over the last decade, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has spent millions of dollars removing soil from the most polluted premises, despite opposition from certain sectors and public authorities to attempts to test and remediate the soil.

Many of the steel mills and blast furnaces have closed their doors, although a handful is still in operation.

Birmingham is currently known as a medical center, but it was founded on a foundation of iron and steel, thanks to a plan devised by steel barons in the nineteenth century to turn the city into the "Pittsburgh of the South." And it was only because of ancient germs and muck from 400 million years ago that those plans were made feasible.

So, the next time someone tells you Birmingham is the Magic City. You can say no.

Just a site where three significant geologic processes happened virtually (and sometimes literally) on top of one other, with mud and plankton forming limestone, clay and bacteria forming iron ore, and tropical swamps being squeezed into coal, all at the same time.

Despite the fact that the steel industry in Birmingham seems to have sprung up suddenly, it has really been in the making for 400 million years.

Reasons to consider Birmingham, Alabama, a magic city.

Reason One

Sloss Furnaces was in operation for about 90 years, producing pig iron. Despite the fact that none of the original furnace complexes has survived, it is the only facility of its sort that has survived anywhere in the globe.

 The museum, which is a National Historic Landmark, is administered by the city and is open to the public.

Watch out for ghosts, however, whether you're attending a play or just strolling around the grounds: it's been named one of the top 100 spots in the world for paranormal activity by National Geographic.

Reason Two

This city is watched over by Vulcan, a Roman god of the forge, who also moons one of its affluent suburbs. The monument was initially commissioned to promote Birmingham's manufacturing economy during the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.

Vulcan Statue In Birmingham Is One Of The Best Landmarks

Reason Three

Early Birmingham's unsung heroes included a prostitute by the name of Louise Wooster, who assisted in the conversion of the town's brothels into clinics and the rehabilitation of sick residents during the fatal cholera outbreak that struck the city in 1873.

She launched her own brothel a few years later and accumulated a substantial amount of fortune, most of which she contributed to charitable organizations.

Reason Four

A surprising number of native Birminghamians are unaware that the Birmingham Jail, where Martin Luther King Jr. first penned his now-legendary letter in the margins of The Birmingham News in 1963, continues to stand in the exact location it did then, on 6th Avenue South.

However, you'd be excused for passing right by the inconspicuous building without giving it a second thought: The Detention Division of the Birmingham Police Department is identified only by its name on the exterior of the building.

Reason Five

In addition to being one of the largest urban parks in the nation, Red Mountain Park is also 40 percent larger than Central Park in New York City. The park is a 1200-acre public area that serves the whole city.

Reason Six

As several nearby villages were absorbed by the city in the early twentieth century, the city saw rapid expansion, earning it the moniker "The Magic City."

Reason Seven

Birmingham is the only area on the planet where all three of the raw materials for steel (coal, limestone, and iron ore) can be found in natural abundance within a ten-mile radius of one another.

Reason Eight

At the top of the Alabama Power Building, there is a statue of the Divinity of Light (although most people just refer to her as Electra).

As early as 1926, a reporter for the Birmingham Post started printing excerpts from the love tale of Electra and Vulcan, ascribing the potholes in downtown Birmingham to their footprints as they made their way to see one another on their visits.

Reason Nine

The Kirklin Clinic, located downtown, was created by renowned architect I.M. Pei, who was also responsible for the East Building of the National Gallery of Art and the Grand Louvre in Paris.

Reason Ten

The Storyteller, a play by Frank Fleming, was written to honor the oral storytelling traditions of the South. The Satanic Fountain is the term used to allude to the installation of the ram-headed guy and his companions in a colloquial sense.

Reason Eleven

On the outskirts of the city, there is a replica of the Statue of Liberty, which is worth seeing. When it was built in 1956, it was commissioned by the founder of Liberty National Life Insurance Company, and it stood proudly above the company's downtown offices until its demolition in 1989.

Reason Twelve

It is situated just outside of the city boundaries, at Barber Motorsports Park, which is home to the world's biggest motorcycle museum. It was officially recognized by Guinness World Records last year.

Reason Thirteen

Rickwood Field, the nation's oldest baseball stadium, is located in this city. Rickwood Field was formerly home to baseball legends such as Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Dizzy Dean, and Willie Mays, among many others (who just so happened to be a native Birminghamian).

Reason Fourteen

Other well-known Birmingham residents include Emmylou Harris, Courteney Cox, rapper Gucci Mane, novelists Fannie Flagg and John Green, who both grew up in the city, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Reason Fifteen

A transplant from Birmingham In 1903, Mary Anderson created and received a patent for the windshield wiper.

FAQ

What is the city of Birmingham, Alabama, famous for?

As the birthplace of Veterans Day, Birmingham is renowned for hosting the nation's oldest and biggest Veterans Day event, which takes place every year on November 11. Birmingham is the only spot on the planet where all of the materials necessary to make iron are found in one location: coal, iron ore, and limestone, all within a ten-mile radius of one another.

What do you call someone who lives in Birmingham, Alabama?

Both Birmingham's are comparable in size and share an industrial heritage. While our city is known as the "Magic City" because of the rapidity with which it was formed and flourished, Birmingham, England (which was founded in the 6th century) is referred to as the "Brum," and the people who live there are known as Brummies.

What proportion of Birmingham, Alabama's population is black?

There are 71.6 percent black people, 24.6 percent white people, and 3.5 percent Hispanic people in the city. Fast Fact: Birmingham ranks sixth among the 150 major US metro areas in terms of the percentage growth in the millennial population since 2000. (ages 25-34).

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