FW: ANB - Bio of the Day [H.F. DeBardeleben]
From: biod-request@... [mailto:biod-request@...]
Sent: Sunday, April 25, 2004 1:50 AM
To: ANB bioday mailing list
Subject: ANB - Bio of the Day
Special Announcement: OUP is pleased to announce that ANB Online is now
available by individual subscription for $14.95 a month. For more
information or to subscribe, please visit http://www.anb.org
American National Biography Online
DeBardeleben, Henry Fairchild (22 July 1840-6 Dec. 1910), industrial
entrepreneur, was born in Autauga County, Alabama, the son of
Henry DeBardeleben, a South Carolinian who moved to Alabama in
the 1830s to become a cotton planter, and Mary Fairchild of New
York. Upon the death of her husband in the early 1850s, Mary
and her three children moved to Montgomery. In time, the family
joined the household of a friend, Daniel Pratt, a former New
Englander who had accumulated one of the largest fortunes in
antebellum Alabama through cotton gin manufacturing. A free spirit
who loved the outdoors and was never fond of formal schooling,
the young DeBardeleben gladly left school as soon as his guardian
would allow and became superintendent of Pratt's gin factory.
Although DeBardeleben, like Pratt, opposed secession, he enlisted
as a private in the Confederate army but was soon drafted to
supervise a Confederate factory. In 1863 DeBardeleben married
Pratt's only surviving child, eighteen-year-old Ellen, with whom
he had eight children. Increasingly, Pratt depended on his son-in-law
to assist him in his business ventures.
After the war, Pratt, then ill but with some remaining capital,
ventured into the mineral district of Alabama with DeBardeleben
at his side. Although Alabama's antebellum economy was predominantly
agricultural, limited industrial development had taken place
by the time of the Civil War. In the postwar period, speculators,
promoters, prospectors, and railroad men--attracted by iron ore,
coal, and limestone--purchased land in Jefferson County and in
1871 laid out a new town named Birmingham after the English industrial
city. In the spring of 1872 Pratt acquired a controlling interest
in the Red Mountain Iron and Coal Company and placed DeBardeleben
in charge of the enterprise, now renamed the Eureka Mining Company.
Although he succeeded in placing the war-damaged furnaces at
Oxmoor back into operation, DeBardeleben's ignorance of the coal
and iron industry, combined with the limited market for iron
in Alabama, inexperienced labor, and the panic of 1873, spelled
doom for the venture. DeBardeleben later declared, "And I came
in and took charge of what I knew nothing about!" (Armes, p.
239). By the end of 1873 DeBardeleben submitted his resignation
and the Oxmoor furnaces closed. With a cholera epidemic adding
to the woes of Birmingham, activity in the district was at a
standstill by the beginning of 1874.
But DeBardeleben had caught the speculative fever; with the
death of Pratt in May 1873 and Pratt's wife less than two years
later, he had access to an estate estimated at $250,000 with
which he could begin to build his own fortune. Turning his back
on the cotton gins of the Old South, the young man staked his
future on the industry of the New South.
DeBardeleben's demeanor and speculative ventures mirrored the
raucous, frontier atmosphere of early Birmingham. Described as
a "dashingly good looking" man with a "hawk-like look," DeBardeleben
had a "savagely energetic, restless, impatient" manner and appeared
to always have one foot "in the stirrup, and to be itching to
mount and be off and away" (Armes, p. 239). Exulting in the opportunities
of the New South, he declared, "There's nothing like taking a
wild piece of land, all rock and woods . . . and turning it into
a settlement of men and women, making pay rolls, bringing the
railroads in, and starting things going. There's nothing like
boring a hillside through and turning over a mountain. That's
what money does, and that's what money's for. I like to use money
as I use a horse--to ride!" (Armes, p. 343).
Even in the depression years DeBardeleben was busy. When the
ownership of the Oxmoor furnaces reverted back to him, he helped
to sponsor an experiment in February 1876 that resulted in the
first iron made in the district with coke rather than charcoal.
But his main passion was to ride the hills and valleys searching
for land to buy. Utilizing the expertise of one of the few mining
engineers in Alabama, Joseph Squire of the Lancashire coal pits
of England, DeBardeleben bought extensive coal lands. In 1878
he joined with Truman H. Aldrich, a mining engineer, and James
W. Sloss, a developer of railroads, to organize the first big
coal concern in Alabama, the Pratt Coal and Coke Company.
The three men placed all their assets in the project. DeBardeleben,
as president, had the responsibility of obtaining money and land
and promoting the endeavor; Aldrich took charge of the technical
aspects. Opening the first mine in October 1878, the company
also built coke ovens and constructed a rail line from the mines
into Birmingham. In 1879 shipments of high-grade coking coal
from the Pratt field brought life to the district's economy,
but in a pattern that would be repeated, the headstrong DeBardeleben
did not work well with his partners, who withdrew by 1881.
With Pratt coal fueling the great iron boom, Birmingham flourished
in the 1880s. Known as Birmingham's biggest booster, DeBardeleben
invested in a number of other ventures, including the Henry Ellen
coal mines in the Cahaba River basin and the Alice Furnace Company,
which erected the first blast furnace inside the city limits
of Birmingham. By late 1881 DeBardeleben, exhausted and fearing
that he had tuberculosis, decided to move to the drier climate
of northern Mexico. In the first million-dollar deal of the district,
on 29 December 1881 he sold the Pratt company to Enoch Ensley,
a "moneyed man" from Memphis who headed a group of Tennessee
investors. Subsequently, the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad
Company (TCI) absorbed Pratt Coal in 1886 in a $2.25 million
stock deal and became the giant of the district.
Sheep ranching in Mexico, DeBardeleben not only recovered his
health but also made contacts in Texas that would bring new capital
to Birmingham. With a Kentucky lawyer, William Thompson Underwood,
DeBardeleben constructed the Mary Pratt furnace (named after
his daughter), which went into blast in 1883, but his largest
new venture involved founding a city that he intended to rival
Birmingham. Together with David Roberts, a young Welshman who
secured additional investors from Charleston, Baltimore, and
London, DeBardeleben incorporated DeBardeleben Coal and Iron
Company in 1886 in Jefferson County, Alabama. Although he named
their new town Bessemer after the English steel maker, DeBardeleben
never realized his dream of establishing a steel plant; however,
he fostered industrial development in western Jefferson County,
continued to raise capital, and developed more companies.
By 1891 TCI officials feared DeBardeleben Coal and Iron Company
as a rival. On 18 March 1892 an agreement was reached that merged
the two companies, kept the TCI name, placed DeBardeleben and
his associates on the board of directors, and made TCI the largest
iron and coal company in the South. Content to serve as the first
vice president for only a year before attempting to gain control
through stock manipulation, DeBardeleben found himself defeated
by the "Wall Street wilderness," lost most of his fortune, and
was forced to sell his shares to his chief rival, New York speculator
John Inman. He remained vice president until compelled to resign
on 22 October 1894.
Although DeBardeleben continued to promote new industries and
founded the Alabama Fuel and Iron Company, he never regained
his fortune or a position of prominence in the district; the
time of the freewheeling, laissez faire entrepreneur had passed.
He suffered a heart attack while visiting his Acmar Mines and
died three days later at his Birmingham home.
Once proclaiming that life was "one big game of poker" (Armes,
p. 343), DeBardeleben was one of the first "big moneyed" men
of Birmingham. Later judgments have held him at least partly
responsible for the unstable boom or bust nature of Birmingham's
early growth. Not an iron man, he was a speculator, promoter,
and booster, responsible for bringing capital into the district.
An investor remarked, "It's many a man has been lured upon the
rocks of Alabama by that siren tongue of DeBardeleben!" (Armes,
p. 331). Milton H. Smith, president of the Louisville & Nashville
Railroad, declared that DeBardeleben was "the darndest man I
ever knew in my life! Why, I've spent thirty millions following
that man!" (Armes, p. 343). But he was a builder, and ultimately
his properties became the center of the Birmingham holdings of
the U.S. Steel Corporation, which took over TCI in 1907. By then,
the times had passed DeBardeleben by, but the city he helped
develop became the industrial capital of the New South.
Business records of the DeBardeleben Coal Company (Collection
No. 914) are in the Birmingham Public Library. The records of
the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company, U.S. Steel Corporation
Records, Fairfield, Ala., contain information on some of the
DeBardeleben companies that were absorbed by TCI. An early typescript
history of TCI is W. B. Allen, "History of TCI," in U.S. Steel
Corp. records. For vividly descriptive, contemporary accounts
of DeBardeleben and other early entrepreneurs of the Birmingham
district, see Ethel Armes, The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama
(1910), and Armes, "The Spirit of the Founders," Survey 27 (6
Jan. 1912): 1453-63. Candid comments on DeBardeleben and other
Birmingham industrialists are in the diary of James Bowron, Jr.
(a TCI official) in the James Bowron Papers, the University of
Alabama Library, Tuscaloosa. Uncritical but interesting information
is in George M. Cruikshank, A History of Birmingham and Its Environs,
vols. 1 and 2 (1920). A comprehensive survey of DeBardeleben
is Justin Fuller, "Henry F. DeBardeleben, Industrialist of the
New South," The Alabama Review 39 (Jan. 1986): 3-18. DeBardeleben's
efforts to enter the steel business are described in Fuller,
"From Iron to Steel: Alabama's Industrial Evolution," The Alabama
Review 17 (Apr. 1964): 137-48. Fuller, "History of the Tennessee
Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company, 1852-1907" (Ph.D. diss., Univ.
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1966), contains information
on the various mergers. Furnaces built by DeBardeleben are discussed
in Joseph H. Woodward II, Alabama Blast Furnaces (1940). General
overviews of DeBardeleben's role in the industrial development
of the Birmingham district can be found in Leah Rawls Atkins,
The Valley and the Hills: An Illustrated History of Birmingham
and Jefferson County (1981), and Wayne Flynt, Mine, Mill and
Microchip: A Chronicle of Alabama Enterprise (1987). An obituary
is in the Birmingham News, 7 Dec. 1910.
Marlene Hunt Rikard
Back to the top
Marlene Hunt Rikard. "DeBardeleben, Henry Fairchild";
American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published
by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.
Note: This email has been sent in plain text format so that it may be
read with the standard ASCII character set. Special characters and
formatting have been normalized.
Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of the
American National Biography of the Day and Sample Biographies provided
that the following statement is preserved on all copies:
From American National Biography, published by Oxford University
Press, Inc., copyright 2000 American Council of Learned Societies.
Further information is available at http://www.anb.org
American National Biography articles may not be published commercially
(in print or electronic form), edited, reproduced or otherwise altered
without the written permission of Oxford University Press which acts as
an agent in these matters for the copyright holder, the American Council
of Learned Societies. Contact: Permissions Department, Oxford University
Press, 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016; fax: 212-726-6444.
To unsubscribe please send an email message (from the account that you wish
to unsubscribe) to biod-request@... and include the word "remove" in
the subject line.