History of the Lithgow Blast Furnace

Lithgow and Australian steel manufacturing

The history of Lithgow is forever tied together with the history of steel manufacturing in Australia, as the city was where Australia’s first iron and steel works took place. In 1875, after ore had been discovered on Eskbank land and a foundry was quickly constructed.

The initial Iron and Steel works houses a blast furnace, a foundry and two bar rolling mills along with supplemental fitting and smitheries. This setup created over 20,000 tonnes of pig iron which was crafted into rails and bars until the blast furnace was pulled down and the castings converted to make merchant iron.

As production at the Iron and Steel works increased to 100 tons of iron a week for the growing rail network, it was decided to build a new, purpose-built site, which would later be known as the Lithgow Blast Furnace.

Located close to the existing railway line, the Furnace was constructed circa 1906 and was dedicated to smelting iron from ore. It ran in conjunction with the existing foundry which was often confused with the Blast Furnace. Due to the booming railworks market both sites continued to operate in the short term, but the owner William Sandford Ltd had over-extended their capital and was forced to sell to iron pipe manufacturer Hoskins Bros in 1908. After the transfer of ownership, the new owners built an additional 80 coke ovens and a twin blast furnace on the same site in 1913. Demand continued to outstrip supply so fifteen more coke ovens were manufactured and put into place shortly after.

Enter competition

World War I challenged the market considerably. While the war effort required even more iron smelting than ever before, the introduction of new players in the market such as BHP threatened the Hoskin Bros’ market share. BHP opened a plant in Newcastle in 1915 which continued to operate for over eighty years since. To counter this, Hoskins Bros diversified into work from Lithgow’s Small Arms factory which financed further expansion of the Blast Furnace, which ended up with five blowing engines in 1923 and made it the largest in Australia at 400 tons.

Shortly after, the decision was made to move operations to Port Kembla, the portside town 200 kilometres away that offered more natural resources and transport options. While a skeleton crew remained until 1932, the Lithgow Blast Furnace was formally abandoned in 1928.

Demolition and Rebirth

The process of demolishing the Blast Furnace took almost four years. While all the internal machinery was transported out to Port Kembla, repeated attempts to destroy the solidly-built walls and foundations were met with little success. Thus, the remnants of the Furnace were left mostly intact. Residents of Lithgow reported that, beyond the lack of smoke emitting from the Furnace’s chimneys, the biggest change they noticed was the deafening silence that changed the city’s soundscape for decades.

The Lithgow City Council bought the site and, in 1988, opened it to the public as the Lithgow Blast Furnace Park. Work continued to improve the site’s access and facilities until it was re-opened in May 2018, welcoming visitors to explore, play and relax around this historic landmark.

ShapeCUT is always interested in the history, present and of course the future of steel. The possibilities of flame cutting and hot rolled steel weren’t even dreamt of when the Lithgow Blast Furnace first fired into action, and we can’t wait to see what will happen in the world of steel 100 years from now. Contact ShapeCUT today to find out what we can do for your business.