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GEORGE PEACOCK, proprietor of Peacock Iron Works of Selma, Alabama (general foundry and machine shop, manufacturer of mining cars and automatic self-oiling tram car wheels of his own invention), was born on a farm near Stockton-on-Tees, England, on 5 May 1823. His parents moved to Stockton when he was seven years of age. There he was educated until he was fourteen, when he was apprenticed by his father to the Potrick Lane iron works [presumably the Portrack Lane works of G. Brown and Brothers ], and he served seven years to learn the trade of an iron moulder. He learned the art of founding in all its branches.
At the age of 17, 'he mastered a practical problem, which is to the present time considered the most difficult in metallurgy, namely, the laws of expansion and contraction. Perhaps no one at the present day has gone, deeper into this difficult subject than has Mr. Peacock. On completing his apprenticeship, the endorsement he received soon secured him a position in one of the largest establishments in Liverpool. There he won rank and preferment, and remained in this position three years. He was offered positions as an expert in this country, by two parties, one of whom was the celebrated Ericsson, who wanted him to assist in heavy castings in the construction of his caloric engines.
'After his arrival in New York, in September, 1848, some misunderstanding led to a cancellation of the engagement, and Mr. Peacock accepted a position in Townsend's foundry and machine shops at Albany, N. Y. Here again he won a wide-spread reputation as an iron worker, and was much sought after.
'In about two years he was induced to accept a position as foreman of the foundry department of the firm of Coller, Sage & Dunhams, at West Troy, N. Y. They were then trying to get into the cast-iron pipe business, and Mr. Peacock remodeled and improved the plant, and in less than one year he was promoted to the superintendency of the entire works. The business grew rapidly, soon increasing from ten tons per day to fifty tons per day. Early in life Mr. Peacock developed great executive ability, as is evidenced by the fact that, at the age of twenty-nine, he was superintendent over 500 men. He has always manifested great inventive genius, which was first developed in the improvement of shop tools, and he now has a national reputation for the invention of labor-saving tools. He revolutionized the system of pipe making in this country, being the first to introduce the casing flask for casting pipe on the end. Next, he invented what is known as the drop pattern, now used in all machine molding. Then came the green sand core bar, used in casting soil pipe. Also a system for casting all kinds of branches, curves, tees and crooked connections of all kinds of pipes. Then he invented the collapsable core bar, so valuable in the manufacture of large sized pipes, dispensing with the use of hay rope and much other expense well known to the trade. He next invented the casing for bells.
'After serving Coller, Sage & Dunhams for three and a half years, he was induced to go to Cleveland, Ohio, where he built a grand new works for Ashcraft, McCammon &, Co., designed especially for cast iron pipe. They were the first works on the flats, as that locality is called. At this time there are over $200,000,000 worth of plants on these flats. There he manufactured all the piping for the Cleveland city waterworks.
'After remaining there three years, he went to Louisville, Ky., for which city he also manufactured the water pipe. He was next at Natchez, Miss., as manager for C. B. Churchill & Co.'s iron works. This firm was among the first to manufacture munitions of war for the southern Confederacy, consisting of brass cannon, shot and shell. Here again Mr. Peacock's inventive talent was brought into exercise, resulting in an improved method of making shot and shell, by which the molder made four times the number as by the old method, and there was a less percentage of imperfection. At the fall of the lower Mississippi, in the fall of 1862, this concern moved their plant to Columbiana, Ala. In the meantime, a company then building a large ordnance foundry at Selma Ala., wrote Mr. Peacock to come at once to take charge of the foundry department. Before these works were completed they were sold to the Confederate States government, and the correspondence with Mr. Peacock was renewed by the officers in charge, but he could not accept the terms offered him.
'After he had fully established the ordnance works at Columbiana, he was several times interviewed by the officers in charge of the Confederate states naval cannon foundry, and at length his terms were accepted by them, and he removed to Selma as superintendent of foundry, an office which was created at the time by a special act of the Confederate congress. While serving in this capacity Mr. Peacock invented a system of core making for shell, by which three times as many shells could be made as was possible under the old system. He also invented a system of taking iron from reverberatory furnaces by which any desired amount of metal could be withdrawn from the furnace, even if there might be twenty tons of molten metal in the furnace. It was under his supervision that reverberatory furnaces were put into successful operation in the melting of iron for the making of cannon by burning wood. This was then a novel experiment and a great success, as high as 50,000 pounds of iron being melted at one lighting and being reduced to fluid in eight hours, and at the same time the tensile strength of the metal being increased from 30 to 40 per cent. It was from this iron that was made the greatest cast iron cannon the world has ever seen.
'At the time these works were being started up there was mined in the state no coal that would coke, and it was while Mr. Peacock was in search of coal for this furnace that he found coking coal first, on the Raglin estate in St. Clair county. He at once built a coke oven of the bee hive pattern, in the fall of 1862, at Columbiana. Soon afterward he found a much better quality of coking coal in the Cahawba valley district, and during his travels in Calhoun county he found tripoli of good quality and in sufficient quantity to polish all articles made at the government works during the war. This tripoli was found in St. Clair county, where was found the first coking coal.
'At the close of the war Mr. Peacock established the first foundry in Selma, in June, 1865, which he since then has continued to operate. And he has also been otherwise variously employed in the manufacture of machinery and in the conduct of important enterprises. He is the inventor of the celebrated Peacock car wheel, many of which are in use throughout the United States. His self-oiling tram car wheel, invented in 1887, is a pronounced success, and he is now manufacturing this wheel and mining cars as a specialty, and employing some forty men. He is one of the few students of mechanical philosophy possessing inventive genius, the latter being conspicuously manifested in the invention of labor saving machinery, in the foundry, machine shop, on the railroad and on the farm-a cotton press and a plow being among the latest of these inventions. Mr. Peacock's executive capacity has already been mentioned.
'He was married in England, at the age of twenty-two and one-half years, to Miss Mary Ripley, who died at Selma, Ala., in 1875. Mr. Peacock is a Knight Templar Mason, an Odd Fellow, and a communicant of the Protestant Episcopal church. He is a member of the city board of education, and has been for twenty-three years a member of the board of trustees of the Dallas academy, has for many years been chairman of the executive committee of that board, thus showing that he is held in high esteem in many different ways by his fellow-citizens.'
'His apptitude for invention amounted almost to genius'. During the American Civil War, Peacock's services, as 'the most expert foundryman then in the South', were obtained by Commander C. ap Jones, Chief of the Ordnance Works at Selma. For much more information on this aspect of Peacock's work, see 'The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama'