Abstract: Foundry Fathers: Poole & Hunt, the United States Capitol Extension, and Baltimore's Antebellum Industrial Legacy

Benjamin Schwantes


During the antebellum period, a diverse and sophisticated iron-founding industry emerged in the Baltimore region. In 1851, machinists Robert Poole and German Hunt established a small iron foundry in downtown Baltimore that quickly expanded into the most significant manufacturing plant in the city, and eventually achieved nationwide recognition when it was selected to cast the iron columns and support structure for the base of the United States Capitol dome in 1855. Poole and Hunt's participation in this unprecedented government construction project offers unique insights into the state of iron manufacturing in the Chesapeake region prior to the Civil War and highlights the interplay between personal relationships and politics in the shadowy netherworld of antebellum government contracting. "Foundry Fathers" builds on recent studies of industry, politics, and regional development in the antebellum period including Sean Patrick Adams' Old Dominion, Industrial Commonwealth (2004) and John Majewski's A House Dividing (2000). It is based on primary source materials from the collections of the Architect of the United States Capitol, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives, as well as the Baltimore Museum of Industry and the Enoch Pratt Library. The paper explores new scholarly ground in the field of business history by shedding light on the connections between regional industries and national development in the antebellum period and explores the lasting architectural and engineering contributions of the Baltimore iron industry to one of America's most recognizable public structures.