Tredegar Iron Works, Richmond, Virginia: A Study of Industrial Survival, 1873-1892

Lee Ann Cafferata

Major Professor: Paula Petrik, PhD, Department of History and Art History

Committee Members: Michael O'Malley, Tyler Cowen

Johnson Center, E
April 22, 2016, 10:00 AM to 08:00 AM


Tredegar Iron Works, Richmond, Virginia: A Study of Industrial Survival, 1873-1892, probes the business and technological trajectory of the South’s principal iron manufacturing concern during much of the nineteenth century. Tredegar Iron Works had been the fourth largest iron manufactory in the nation during the antebellum period, the principal supplier of armaments to the Confederacy during the Civil War, and a mainstay of southern economic recovery in the post-War era. With the onset of the Panic of 1873, however, Tredegar faced financial ruin when its railroad markets collapsed. Technological obsolescence loomed as the emergence of the steel industry slowly, but inexorably, eclipsed portions of the iron industry during the 1870s and 1880s.

In order to remain in business during this crisis period, Tredegar followed a path of adaptive evolution rather than dramatic innovation. Instead of revamping product lines and initiating manufacturing processes that entailed radical technological shifts, the company shored its bottom line through continuing to manufacture traditional iron products with reliable markets and introducing incremental upgrades to plant machinery and manufacturing processes. A tightly-held, family-owned corporation, the values and priorities of its owners, proximity to natural resources, and the circumstances of the social and political framework in which the company functioned propelled these rational business decisions. This corporate persistence enabled the company to emerge from a period of receivership, manage indebtedness, and regain profitability.