Birmingham officially turned 150 today. It is a city that was forged and survived a blast furnace of hard times.
The state legislature chartered the city on December 19, 1871. The Elyton Land Company began selling lots in what would become Birmingham in June 1871.
“The city celebrated this milestone year,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who launched a 150th anniversary celebration in June with the theme ‘Built to last’.
Vulcan Park, where the Vulcan statue symbolizes the city’s industrial history, and various municipal agencies have focused on celebrating the city’s founding and its 150-year history.
The youngest of the state’s major cities, Birmingham was founded six years after the Civil War at the intersection of two railroad tracks, close to one of the richest mineral deposits in the world which helped the city to become a center of iron and steel production.
Governor Robert Lindsey has appointed Robert Henley for a two-year term as Birmingham’s first mayor.
James R. Powell, chairman of the Elyton Land Company, was elected mayor in 1873. Residents of Jefferson County voted to make Birmingham the county seat.
In the summer of 1873, a cholera epidemic struck the city. Thousands of people fled. Among those who remained, brothel owner Louise “Lou” Wooster nursed and fed the sick and helped organize the funeral.
In 1878, the owners of the Pratt Coal and Coke company opened the Pratt Mines.
With the construction of blast furnaces including the Sloss Furnace in 1881, Birmingham became a major producer of pig iron between 1880 and 1890.
The Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company began operating in Birmingham and became an industry leader in the 1880s.
The Louisville and Nashville Railroad shipped Birmingham’s industrial output and helped the city thrive.
The city developed rapidly and acquired the nickname of “Magic City”.
For the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Birmingham sent an iron statue of Vulcan, the Roman and Greek god of the smithy, to symbolize its burgeoning industrial might.
US Steel arrived in Birmingham in 1907 and Birmingham became known as the “Pittsburgh of the South” for its production of iron and steel.
The 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression put an end to a thriving economy.
The city rebounded in the 1940s as World War II created an urgent demand for Birmingham steel production.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Birmingham’s strict segregation laws became the center of protests and civil unrest and damaged the city’s reputation nationwide. The desegregation efforts led by Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth in the 1950s and the 1963 Marches led by Shuttlesworth and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. helped break apart segregation laws. On September 15, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan bombing the Sixth Street Baptist Church killed four black girls, shocked the nation and spurred the passage of the Civil Rights Act .
Birmingham’s first black mayor, Richard Arrington, was elected in 1979 and pushed for the building of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The city’s historic civil rights district is now part of the National Park Service and the focus on the city’s struggle for justice has turned into a positive attraction for visitors.
The Lyric Theater, built in 1917 to host touring shows from Vaudeville; the Alabama Theater, built in 1927 as a cinema palace and “Showplace of the South”; and the Carver Theater, built in 1935 and home to the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, have been renovated and form the heart of the city’s restored theater district.
Baseball and football have played an important role in the city’s sporting scene throughout its history.
Rickwood Field, built in 1910, is the oldest professional baseball stadium in America. It was home to minor league teams as well as the Birmingham Black Barons, a black league team that included Willie Mays and other big stars of the 1940s. Regions Field opened downtown in 2013 and is home to the Birmingham Barons , an AA minor league team that still plays one game a year at Rickwood.
Legion Field, a football stadium that opened in 1927, became known as the “Football Capital of the South” and hosted the Iron Bowl game of college football powers Alabama and Auburn from 1948 to 1988. Numerous games University of Alabama home football were played at Legion Field from the 1920s to the 1980s.
Although Birmingham is still home to many heavy industry manufacturers, it has also become a major medical and banking center for the South, anchored by UAB Hospital and the Bank of the Regions, with a diverse economy and a rejuvenated city center. which includes the new protective stadium and a Legacy Arena as part of the BJCC. A gradual relaxation of state laws and the legalization of brewery bars in 2011 led to a proliferation of new beer, food and entertainment options with Good People Brewing Co. opening a location next to Region Field in 2010 and other breweries popping up around town. This quickly integrated and livened up an already respected and established restaurant scene.
Woodfin encouraged people to take photos and write poems and letters about why they love Birmingham. They can be viewed on https://www.birminghamal.gov/150
âI want to thank all of the residents who participated in our city’s 150th anniversary celebration,â said Woodfin. “There are so many people to thank, but my big thank you goes to the citizens who submitted photos, as well as those who sent letters, explaining why they love Birmingham.”