Pennsylvania Slag Stones

The History

The Pennsylvania Slag Stone, or Slag Glass, is a beautiful historical artifact of the famed iron furnace era of the 18th and 19th centuries. There were a number of furnaces in Centre County, including Centre Furnace (Centre Furnace Mansion) in State College and Eagle Iron Works (Curtain Village) in Milesburg. Both are excellent examples of preserved furnaces and museums in PA that are worth visiting! *

Throughout the state, iron ore was mined and converted into pig iron through the process of smelting in massive stone furnaces. The pig iron was then sold to forges in locations such as Pittsburgh for further refinement into steel, and often hammered into wrought iron in local forges prior to shipment. The byproduct of the iron ore smelting process was known as “slag” which furnace workers simply discarded as waste. Once cooled and solidified, it had a blue/green glassy or stone-like appearance.


Pennsylvania is not the only location to have slag stones with similar history. In fact, one of the first known origins and uses of slag was in Greece during the Bronze Age (3300-1200 BC) where slag from copper foundries was used in jewelry and ceramic pieces 4,5. Slag from past iron ore charcoal blast furnaces in Michigan, Sweden, and Tennessee are well known for their local historical significance and beauty, and are celebrated as semi-precious gemstones often featured in jewelry pieces.

The Process of Iron Ore Smelting

The basic process of iron ore smelting included the use of charcoal mostly made from nearby ash, hickory, or oak wood as the furnace heat source which was brought up to temperatures of 2200-2700° F using blasts of cold air pumped through the furnace by huge bellows powered by a waterwheel 2. Limestone, abundant in the state was added as a flux to aid the separation of impurities (slag) from the iron. Coke, which was mostly carbon, reacted with the air to form carbon monoxide. The carbon monoxide acted as a reducing agent with the iron oxides in iron ore (mainly magnetite and hematite), resulting in molten iron. During this process, the limestone broke down from the heat and gasses within the furnace into calcium oxide. This reacted with acidic impurities in the iron, primarily silica, resulting in calcium silicate, the main component of slag. At peak temperature, the heavier iron settled to the bottom of the crucible in the furnace and the lighter slag remained above the molten iron which was later discarded.

PA Slag Stones vary greatly in color ranging from solid to variegated rich blues and greens to a dark black-blue or dark green. Although PA Slag Stones are considered glass due to their composition, often possessing a dense transparent appearance, some slag is opaque and porous with a sponge-like texture. Each stone’s unique color and texture is a result of the heating and cooling processes, along with the chemical composition of the slag after separation from the iron 7. The composition of PA Slag Stones vary but are primarily composed of silicon, calcium, magnesium, aluminum, manganese, iron, sulfur and often several other elements 1,3,6,7.

Creating Pendants

Every piece that I find is examined for quality and characteristics best suited for jewelry, and each step of its journey from unearthing to setting into a finished pendant is done with care.

A combination of hand-shaping, cutting, and polishing in addition to tumbling are used to finish each piece to accent the natural shape and unique characteristics of each stone.

Once shaping and polishing is completed, each piece's individual characteristics are used to create a unique pendant design specific to the features of each piece including its shape, color, and particular features which vary greatly among Pennsylvania Slag Stones!

Your new PA Slag is not just a necklace but a unique, beautiful, and direct part of local Pennsylvania history that played a significant role in shaping our community. Keep this pamphlet and visit the provided links to our local furnace museums so that you may also share your stone’s story with those around you.

* https://centrehistory.org

* https://www.curtinvillage.com/

Citations

(1) Bhatt, C. R., Goueguel, C. L., Jain, J. C., Edenborn, H. M., & McIntyre, D. L. (2017). Analysis of charcoal blast furnace slags by laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy. Applied optics, 56(28), 7789-7795

(2) Flowers, Paul; Robinson, William R.; Langley, Richard; Theopold, Klaus (2015). “Occurrence, Preparation, and Properties of Transition Metals and Their Compounds”. Chemistry. OpenStax. ISBN 978-1938168390

(3) Piatak, N. M., Parsons, M. B., & Seal II, R. R. (2015). Characteristics and environmental aspects of slag: A review. Applied Geochemistry, 57, 236-266

(4) Lilyquist, C. & Brill, R.H. 1993. Studies in early Egyptian glass. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art

(5) Lucas, A. & Harris, J. 1962. Ancient Egyptian materials and industries, 4th edition. London: Edward Arnold

(6) Sloto, R.A., and Reif, A.G., 2011, Distribution of trace metals at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Berks and Chester Counties, Pennsylvania: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5014, 79 p

(7) Wallace G. Imhoff , “Gasses Affect Fluidity of Slag”, Iron Trade Review, September 9, 1929, , p. 647-651

For more information and resources about the history and smelting process, visit the Centre County Historical Society at www.centrehistory.org. Both Centre Furnace Mansion in State College, PA, and Curtin Village, in Milesburg, PA, offer tours!