Shelby Iron Works

Shelby, Alabama



Chemical Plant

Posted: 03/23/2013  By: Daniel Valles

World War I brought a demand for acetic acid, which had been a by-product of charcoal production. The Chemical Co. was operated by the US Government, producing wood alcohol, acetate of lime, acetic acid, charcoal and other products used in explosives.  The Iron Company, which deeded the land to the government, used the charcoal.

The company continued operations, however restricted, into the 20th century.  The principal market remained in train car wheel production.  World War I gave a temporary boost to the company when both furnaces turned to war production.  A plant to make wood alcohol from charcoal was begun.  This was abandoned when the war ended.  After the war, only one furnace remained in operation until 1923 when the industry was shut down.


Above is a copy of a letter sent by Shelby Iron President M. W. Bush to company Asst. Treasurer J. G. Hendrick.

In 1918, Shelby Iron deeded land to the U.S. Government for construction of a plant to refine chemicals from wood. A separate company was set up to construct and operate the proposed chemical plant. It was to be known as the Shelby Chemical Company..

As early as October, 1916, discussion between Shelby and iron company management, located at the time in Hartford, Conn., was underway.
Shelby Iron was interested in establishing a wood by-products plant. Demand for these by-products, including acetate of lime and acetic acid, were increased substantially by the war effort. Shelby’s idea was to obtain these substances, among others, and use the remaining charcoal to fuel the company iron furnaces.

The letter above was from Shelby Iron officer Ward. W. Jacobs, who was also treasurer of the Mechanics Savings Bank, in Hartford. The letter’s recipient, B. F. Wilson, would become an officer in the soon to be formed Shelby Chemical Company.

Above is the reply from B. F. Wilson in Shelby to Ward Jacobs regarding the possibility of establishing a wood by-products plant in conjunction with Shelby Iron Works. The plant, under the name of Shelby Chemical Company, would be constructed in 1918

This ad ran on the front page of “The Peoples Advocate” newspaper published on November 6, 1918, in Columbiana, Alabama. It is likely the advertisement sought help for work related to the Shelby Chemical Company.

The Chemical Plant is it remains today. Click here to see more pictures »