Located on the west side of I-25 in Pueblo, Colorado’s historic Bessemer Neighborhood is the Steelworks Museum of Industry and Culture and CF&I Archives. The Bessemer Historical Society desires to educate the public about the history of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company while simultaneously conserving its archives.
As a result of being the first integrated steel mill in the American west, the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company contributed significantly to the industrialization of Colorado and the west. The company owned the means of production at all levels: it owned the coal mines to supply ore to power the plant; it owned the mines to supply the ore and other minerals necessary to produce steel; and it owned the railroads needed to deliver ore to the plant and final product to its customers. At one point in its history, it was Colorado’s largest employer and Colorado’s largest private landowner.
After consolidating several other companies, former Union Army General William Jackson Palmer formed the Colorado Coal and Iron Company in the 1880s. John Cleveland Osgood formed Colorado Fuel Company in 1883. In 1892 these two companies merged to form Colorado Fuel and Iron. Despite a railroad strike in 1894, the company started a massive modernization effort. The effort included a new office, a new rail mill, a new blooming mill, and the addition of mines and railways.
As a result of the company’s success, the Rockefeller family bought a controlling interest in the company in 1905. Not only was the company successful, its managers and employees played a major role in influencing and shaping of American labor law.
This museum will walk you through this compelling story. The first hall of the museum will educate you on the formation and the history of the steel plant that is located in Pueblo. The next part of the museum tells the story of the company’s sociological department, a pioneering idea for American industry at that time. The department’s founder, Dr. Richard Corwin, also pioneered treatment for industrial injuries. The museum is housed in the company’s former medical dispensary, so you will have a chance to learn much about the history of industrial medicine. Unfortunately, while Dr. Corwin was a pioneer in industrial medicine, he was also a proponent of the now discredited concept of eugenics.
In the rest of the museum are displays on the development of Bessemer, the once independent city that is now a historic section of Pueblo. In addition there are displays on the making of steel, the mining of coal, and the processing of the various ores.
As always, I have only touched on what this museum has to offer. Take your time, and read all the informative placards. It was not all progress for the company and the people who supported it. There was tragedy too. The Ludlow Massacre, the 1918 Spanish Influenza Epidemic, and Pueblo’s Great Flood are all part of the challenges that people associated with CF&I had to overcome.
Visit this museum that sits across the Interstate from the still-active mill and learn about an icon of American industry. Filled with artifacts that range from a nail-making machine to medical equipment used to diagnosis black lung disease, this museum displays and tells a unique American story.