Skip to main content

James Bowron papers

Identifier: MSS-0193

Scope and Contents note

This collection centers on the 1632-page autobiography written by James Bowron and includes his diaries, in which he made daily entries, which he used to prepare his life story. Bowron kept many of the papers and newspaper articles written by and about him in scrapbooks. There are also some three hundred letters between Bowron and his colleagues. His letter books from 1875-1901 are included in the collection, as well as tributes and biographical sketches. Bowron kept written records on every facet of his life and preserved them for later generations, including things like his billiard record.

The collection documents the development of the iron and steel industry in the South and, more specifically, the history of the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company (TCI). In his autobiography and diaries, Bowron develops the story of coal and iron-ore mines in the Birmingham district, both from a technological and financial standpoint. The documents provide a sense of the TCI board of directors' management style from 1882-1901 and the South's dependency on Northern capital. He also lays out the struggle to employ convict labor economically, often through political corruption, while defending the open shop against growing union strength.

Iron marketing at home and abroad, the impact of railroad rates on the iron industry, Southern political ideology, and the social, religious, and political character of Birmingham may also be explored. Valuable information on Henry F. DeBardeleben, Nathaniel Baxter, Henry Badham, George McCormack, and other Alabama industrialists, as well as detailed information on the Bessemer Coal and Land Co., Gulf States Steel, and various Birmingham banks is included.

Bowron's diary was edited by Robert J. Norrell, former professor of history at The University of Alabama, and published by the University of North Carolina Press in 1991.


  • 1861-1928


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Due to the nature of certain archival formats, including digital and audio-visual materials, access to certain materials may require additional advance notice.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers are responsible for using the materials in conformance with United States copyright law as well as any donor restrictions accompanying the materials. The user assumes all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any copyright claimants in collection materials. Copyright for official University records is held by The University of Alabama. The library claims only physical ownership of many manuscript collections. Anyone wishing to broadcast or publish this material must assume all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any claimants of literary property rights or copyrights. Please contact Special Collections ( with questions regarding specific manuscript collections. For more information about copyright policy, please visit: Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals without the consent of those individuals may have legal implications, for which the University of Alabama assumes no responsibility.

Biographical/Historical note

Born in England on November 16, 1844, James Bowron and his father came to South Pittsburgh, Tennessee, in the 1870s to develop the rich mineral lands for an English syndicate. In 1882 the fledgling Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company (TCI) purchased what the father and son had developed and made the younger of them its secretary/treasurer. Bowron managed the company through numerous crises as the board of directors in New York was more interested in manipulating the books and speculating on the company's stock than in building a healthy business. In 1895 TCI transferred Bowron to Birmingham, Alabama, where he was quickly accepted among the city’s social and business elite. He became convinced that, without steel-making capabilities, the very life of his and other similar companies was threatened. He thus began a quest to develop facilities to produce steel in Birmingham, a dream that was realized by TCI in 1899. According to Bowron himself, this was his greatest accomplishment.

Bowron left TCI in 1901, citing the directors' financial mismanagement and undue concern for stock prices as the primary causes. In addition to undertaking extensive foreign travel over the next decade, he devoted much time and energy to the Dimmick Pipe Works, the Bessemer Coal and Iron Company, and various banks in Birmingham, on whose boards he served as a director. In 1910 he took over management of a practically insolvent company that he reorganized as Gulf States Steel. For the next eighteen years, until his death in 1928, he helped to develop it into a well-managed and profitable business.

Besides his contributions to industry, Bowron had much impact on the social, religious, and political institutions of Birmingham. He was a high-ranking Mason, served as chairman of the trustees of the Birmingham YMCA and director of the Chamber of Commerce, steered a conservative agenda for South Highlands Presbyterian Church (Birmingham, Alabama), initiated the drive for incorporation of a greater Birmingham, and contributed to the development of water, sewer, and public welfare services. A prolific orator, he spoke on Christian fundamentalism, Republican politics, and industrial development. Despite these numerous demands on his time he still found time to keep a detailed diary, write his autobiography, and raise eleven children to adulthood.

Bowron married Ada Louisa Barrett on June 20, 1870. Ada died of pleuropneumonia on January 10, 1883; they had eight children: (1) Charles Edward, born May 25, 1871; (2) Kathleen Mary, born July 10, 1872, died September 20, 1872; (3) Francis "Frank" James, born December 11, 1873, died October 17, 1878; (4) Frederick William, born January 7, 1875; (5) Arthur John or "Jack", born January 19, 1876; (6) Thomas Whitwell, born September 9, 1878; (7) Edith Ellen, born December 1, 1879, died on June 24, 1881; and (8) Ada Mary, born May 8, 1882. Bowron married Adah Cunningham on June 14, 1887. They had six children: (1) Edith Josephine, born on August 10, 1889, died 1917; (2) Richard Louis, born July 20 1891; (3) James Edgar, born February 2, 1893; (4) Harold Alfred, born July 17, 1895; (5) Robert Henry; and (6) Paul Joseph, born February 8, 1905.


7.6 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



A substantial collection of papers and materials relating to James Bowron, one of the nineteenth century iron and mining pioneers in the Deep South. It includes Bowron's 1632-page, unpublished autobiography, as well as his daily journals, letters, and pictures.


Gift of Bowron Family by J. Edgar Bowron, 1952

Processed by

George Prewett, August 1988; revised and updated by Lauren Gilbert and Martha Bace, November 2009
Guide to the James Bowron papers
1988; 2009
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266