Ironton is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Lawrence County. The municipality is located in southern Ohio along the Ohio River. The city includes the Downtown Ironton Historic District.
The population was 11,129 at the 2010 census. Ironton is part of the Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). As of the 2010 census, the MSA had a population of 287,702. New definitions from February 28, 2013 placed the population at 363,000.
Ironton was founded in 1849 by John Campbell, who was a prominent pig iron manufacturer in the area. Interested in expanding his foundry business, and due to the area's rich iron-ore content (particularly in the hills to the north), he became interested in the lands surrounding what would later become the city of Ironton. The location of Ironton was chosen for its position along the Ohio River, which would allow for transport of the much-needed commodity, iron-ore, and the slope of the land itself, which facilitated movement of the raw material to the local blast furnaces.
Between 1850 and 1890, Ironton was one of the foremost producers of iron in the world. England, France, and Russia all purchased iron for warships from here due to the quality; iron produced in Ironton and surrounding areas was used for the USS Monitor, the United States' first ironclad ship. There were more than ninety furnaces in operation at the peak of production in the late 19th century. The wealth created from the pig-iron industry led to the construction of many opulent residences.
With much wealth pouring into the city from the iron industry, new industries opened that included soap and nail production. The Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad, which stretched through two states, helped fuel Henry Ford's plants in Michigan. The city had a street railway, the Ironton Petersburg Street Railway, and four daily newspapers and a few foreign-language publications. Ironton was also known for its lax attitude towards sin and vice. It was home to a racetrack, numerous saloons, and brothels. Numerous chapels offered "quick and quiet" marriages.
Underground Railroad and Civil War
During the American Civil War, local military regiments were mustered, quartered, and trained at Camp Ironton, a military post located at the county fairgrounds. Among them was the 91st Ohio Infantry, which was organized at Camp Ironton on August 26, 1862.
Changing economics of iron industry
The downfall of Ironton came as the market for iron changed. The quality of the iron that had once made Ironton one of the leading producers of pig iron was no longer considered as desirable. All of the easily accessible iron had been mined by 1899, and the continued production costs began to outweigh the benefit. Also, the nation was making the transition from a demand for iron to steel. After a nationwide economic recession in the late 19th century, Ironton was no longer growing. The Great Depression of the 1930s and two major floods (1917, 1937) devastated the city to the point that most if not all the city's industries had closed down for good. Nevertheless, some commerce remained; the Norfolk and Western Railway built a new railroad station downtown in 1906, and it continued in operation throughout the period.
As the iron industries closed, Ironton had little with which to replace them. A labor-oriented town, Ironton managed to keep alive by trying to attract heavy industry to the region. Companies like Allied Signal and Alpha Portland Cement did build in town The continued dependency on labor industries has severely hurt the region as a whole, and Ironton even more so. By 2004, both Alpha Portland Cement and Allied Signal were gone, and Ironton had shrunk by almost 50%.
Professional Football & The Thanksgiving Day Football tradition
Ironton had one of the first professional football teams in the United States, called the Ironton Tanks. The team was first organized in 1919 and had a record of 85 wins, 19 losses, 14 ties, including an undefeated season in 1922, a state championship in 1926 and dual victories in 1930 over National Football League (NFL) powerhouses the Chicago Bears and New York Giants. The football field previously used by the Tanks is now home to the Ironton High School Football team, the Ironton Fighting Tigers.
The Tanks were the originators of what is now the National Football League's Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day Game tradition. The Tanks played a game the day after Thanksgiving with the Lombards, a crosstown rival on Friday Nov 26, 1920 winning 26-0. They began the actual string of Thanksgiving Day games by defeating the Huntington Boosters 12-0 on Nov 30, 1922. The Tanks continued playing on this national holiday each year thru 1930, which was the Tanks final season. Several Tank players (including Glenn Presnell) continued their football careers by joining the nearby Portsmouth Spartans who continued the annual tradition until their demise after the 1933 season. The Spartans assets were acquired and moved to Detroit where they were renamed the Lions. Asked by their new owner (G.A. Richards) about ways to improve ticket sales, the players replied that they always got a good turnout on Thanksgiving Day. He promptly scheduled the first Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit.