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Slag ladle, about 1840-1900

CFM 1999.060.0040
Gift of Wilmington Iron Works

Description: This ladle was used for working with slag or hot metal. It has a long, thin metal handle welded to a deep saucer with shallow spouts for pouring hot metal on opposite sides of the bowl. The ladle is 32.7” from the top of the handle to the end of the bowl and 9.06” from the ends of each spout and the bowl is 3.94” deep.

This ladle is the type and size that metal workers refer to as a “hand ladle.” Hand ladles are used to transport small amounts of molten metal to a flask or mold. A hand ladle is usually carried by one man and, depending on the size, can hold from one to seventy pounds of hot metal. The handle of a hand ladle is generally between three and four feet long. There is usually a crutch or cross-piece at the end that is used to steady the ladle during transport.

History: The company that came to be known as the Wilmington Iron Works was a fixture of the Wilmington business scene from 1838 until 2000. In 1840, a Mr. Hart and a Mr. Porter advertised the “Tin and Sheet Iron Ware Manufactory.” The Manufactory was able to manufacture “all articles . . . at the shortest notice” and they had many stoves in stock for purchase. Soon after the partnership broke up, Levi A. Hart (1809-1882) partnered with a Wilmington gun-maker, Stephen P. Polley. In 1855, Polley and Hart parted ways and then in 1859 Levi A. Hart partnered with John C. Bailey (1818-1880), a Swedish pattern maker. The company became known as Hart and Bailey, and subsequently Burr and Bailey when Henry A. Burr married Hart’s daughter. John C. Bailey died in 1880 and Levi A. Hart in 1882. The company was continued by Edward P. Bailey, the nephew of John C. Bailey, and Hart’s son in law. Burr and Bailey became the Wilmington Iron Works in 1892 and retained that name until 2000 when the firm went out of business.

When its doors closed, the Wilmington Iron Works was the oldest business in Wilmington, and maybe the oldest foundry in the state. The iron works offered many diverse products to the people of Wilmington and the surrounding region. Among the many goods created by the foundry were turpentine stills, cannonballs and cannon shot for the Confederate Army, and much of the decorative iron work that can be found in public areas and private houses in the downtown area.

Over the course of its existence the Wilmington Iron Works foundry produced a wide range of goods including cast-iron balconies, street furniture, stills, and storefronts for Wilmington’s public spaces and homes. Records from the St. James Church in 1847 tell that the Iron Works produced iron work for the church and in 1848 made their brass lanterns. The iron works also produced and/or erected many of the iron fittings present in the Oakdale Cemetery and historic homes in the downtown area. The popularity of decorative iron continued from the 1840s until the 1920s, for almost an entire century, before the failing economy caused the fad to fade out. During World War II the demand for scrap metal heavily depleted the streets of Wilmington of its decorative iron. Efforts to revitalize the downtown area show businessmen making an effort to preserve their historic ironwork and replace lost and damaged pieces. In 1983 R. V. Asbury Jr., then the director of the Historic Wilmington Foundation, joked “Wilmington’s coming full-circle, by the year 2000, downtown may be back completely to a turn-of-the-century look.” While this prediction has not come true, efforts have been made to preserve the architectural history of the Port City.


814 Market Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-4370 • Fax 910-798-4382