Peter King


In the Iron Act 1750, the British Parliament sought to encourage the production of iron in America, but to discourage its manufacture into finished wrought iron goods. It thus prohibited the erection or continuance of iron processing works of various kinds. This article examines these processes to provide context for the Act. It also reviews the returns that it required from colonial governors, which provide some details of the American iron industry at that period and particularly of existing works for the prohibited processes, and the extent and significance of iron imports from America.


British Statute: cited from Statutes at large:
English patents: B Woodcroft 1854, Alphabetic index of patents of inventions from 2 March 1617 (14 James I) to October 1 1852 (16 Victoria) and cognate Chronological list … (London).
JHC: Journal of the House of Commons.
Knight a/c: Stour Works accounts, Worcestershire Record Office, b899:310 BA 10470/3.
SML: Science Museum Library, Weale MSS, MS 671.
TNA (The National Archives): TNA, CO 5 – Colonial Office papers, America. Transcripts of these British records are also held in the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
TNA, CUST 3 – Customs ledgers of imports and exports. Some of this data is printed in appendices to Bining 1933.
TNA, classes C and E 134 – Court proceedings.
TNA, E 190 – (Customs) Port Books.

Awty B 2019, Adventure in iron: the blast furnace and its spread from Namur to northern France, England and North America: a technological, political and genealogical investigation, eds J S Hodgkinson and C H C Whittick (Tonbridge).
Barraclough K C 1984, Steelmaking before Bessemer: I Blister Steel: the birth of an industry (London).
Barraclough K C 1990, 'Swedish iron and Sheffield steel', History of Technology 12, 1-39.
Belford P and Ross R A 2007, 'English steelmaking in the seventeenth century: excavation of two cementation furnaces at Coalbrookdale', Historical Metallurgy 41, 105-123.
Belford P 2018, Blood, faith and iron: a dynasty of catholic industrialists in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England (Oxford).
Bining A C 1933, British regulation of the colonial iron trade (Philadelphia, PA).
Boyer C S 1931, Early forges and furnaces of New Jersey (Philadelphia, PA).
Brown J S 1976, 'New history of old Tinton Falls', in W A Barrett (ed), Historical scrapbook of the borough of Tinton Falls, New Jersey (Tinton Falls, NJ), 5-10.
Brown P J 1988, 'Andrew Yarranton and the British tinplate industry', Historical Metallurgy 22, 42-48.
Day J 1973, Bristol brass: a history of the industry (Newton Abbot).
Donald M B 1961, Elizabethan monopolies: The history of the Company of Mineral and Battery Works from 1565 to 1604 (Edinburgh).
Draper T 1996, A struggle for power: the American Revolution (New York).
Freiday D, 'Tinton Manor: the ironworks', in W A Barrett (ed), Historical scrapbook of the borough of Tinton Falls, New Jersey (Tinton Falls, NJ), 11-22.
Gerhold D 2009, 'The Hallen family, iron platers and frying pan makers', International Journal for the History of Engineering and Technology 79, 34-58.
Gordon R 1996 (repr 2001), American iron 1607-1900 (Baltimore, MD).
Gordon R 2021 'Transfer of blast-furnace finery-forge technology to New England', Historical Metallurgy 53(2), 76-83.
Hart C 1971, Industrial history of the Forest of Dean (Newton Abbot)
Hartley E N 1957 (repr 1990), Ironworks on the Saugus: The Lynn and Braintree ventures of the Company of Undertakers of Ironworks in New England (Norman, OK).
Hatch R jun and Gregory T G 1962, 'The first American blast furnace 1619-22: the birth of a mighty industry on Falling Creek, Virginia', Virginia Magazine of Biography and History 70, 259-95.
Hussey D P (ed) 2000, The Gloucester Port Books database. Data available at
King P W 1988, 'Wolverley Lower Mill and the beginnings of the tinplate industry', Historical Metallurgy 22, 104-113.
King P W 1995, 'Iron ballast for the Georgian Navy and its producers', The Mariner's Mirror 81, 15-20.
King P W 1996, 'Early statistics for the iron industry: a vindication', Historical Metallurgy 30, 23-46.
King P W 1999 (for 1996-7), 'The development of the iron industry in south Staffordshire in the 17th century: history and myth', Transactions of the Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society 38, 59-76.
King P W 2003a, The Iron Trade in England and Wales 1500-1815: the charcoal iron industry and its transition to coke. Unpublished PhD thesis, Wolverhampton University; also associated files deposited with the Archaeological Data Service, York, England.
King P W 2003b, 'The cartel in oregrounds iron: trading relationships in the raw material for steel', Journal of Industrial History 6, 25-48.
King P W 2005, 'The production and consumption of bar iron in early modern England and Wales', Economic History Review 58, 1-33.
King P W 2011 (for 2009), 'John Fell & Co of Sheffield, ironmasters', Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society 25, 18-33.
King P W 2020, A gazetteer of the British iron industry, 1490-1815 2 vols (Oxford: British Archaeological Reports BS 652).
May E C 1945, Principio to Wheeling 1715-1945 (New York).
Middleton A P 1953, Tobacco Coast: a maritime history of Chesapeake Bay in the colonial era (Baltimore, MD).
Minchinton W E 1957, The British tinplate industry: a history (Oxford).
Molander B 1987, 'Forsmarks stångjärnståmpel in över 250 år' [Forsmark's bar iron stamp over 250 years], in A Attman and J Norrby (eds), Forsmark och vallonjärnet [Forsmark and Walloon iron] (Stockholm), 71-88.
Paar H W and Tucker D G 1977, 'The technology of wiremaking at Tintern, Gwent 1566-c.1880', Historical Metallurgy 11, 15-24.
Robbins M W 1986, The Principio Company: iron-making in colonial Maryland, 1720-1781 (New York).
Rollason E C 1973, Metallurgy for engineers 4th edn (London).
Rowlands M B 1975, Masters and Men in the West Midlands metalware trades before the industrial revolution (Manchester).
Samson R 1998, The Forges du Saint-Maurice. Beginnings of the iron and steel industry in Canada 1730-1883 (Quebec).
Schubert H R 1957, History of the British iron and steel industry from c 450 BC to AD 1775 (London).
Tylecote R F 1992, A history of metallurgy 2nd edn (London).
Unglik, H 1987, 'Metallurgical investigation of cast irons from Les Forges du Saint-Maurice Ironworks, Quebec, Canada', Historical Metallurgy 21, 1-7.
How to Cite
The British Iron Act 1750: its context and impact. (2023). Historical Metallurgy, 54(1), 36-45.