Isaac Tyson was born to a wealthy Baltimore, Maryland Quaker family. His experience in mining led him to Strafford, Vermont, in 1828 to investigate the copper mines. While Tyson maintained his involvement in the copper mines of Vermont for almost a decade, he became extensively involved in Vermont’s iron industry.
In 1835, while looking for minerals, Isaac Tyson, Jr. discovered iron ore in the valley of the Black River near Plymouth (originally named Saltash in its charter of July 6, 1761, the town name was changed Plymouth by the Vermont legislature on February 23, 1797). He set up his iron works in the southern part of Plymouth, which he named Tyson Furnace. During the first 2 years he invested $60,000 in the operations which numbered more than 100 men. During its first seven years the furnace produced 600 to 1,000 tons of iron annually that was cast into stoves, hollow ware, mill gear, plows, and water pipes. According to account records, stoves and other iron products were distributed throughout the Northeast via Lake Champlain and Connecticut River.
Isaac Tyson never lived at Tyson Furnace, but by 1837, in addition to the mines and blast furnaces, he had built a town to house his workers. When the iron works were at their peak of production, Tyson Furnace was a self-contained world. Eventually, the town of Tyson Furnace consisted of a store, warehouses, three tenant houses, a machine shop, a schoolhouse, an agent’s house, and other houses for 20 families of the miners and furnace men. The works closed in 1855, when Tyson retired, and were reopened in the early 1860s by a Boston firm. In 1885 the town's name was changed to Tyson. Today, Tyson is largely a summer settlement located at the south end of Echo Lake.
What was it like to work at Tyson Furnace?
Who worked there and where did they live?
Most of the workers were unmarried and lived and ate at the boarding house, buying supplies on credit at the company store. Some of these men were immigrants from Ireland. As the company expanded, however, some workers brought families.
Who else worked at Tyson Furnace?
In addition to the men who worked in the mines or furnace, Tyson Furnace had a large workforce. They included:
- wood cutters who supplied the thousands of cords of wood to power the furnaces
- men who converted the wood into slower- burning charcoal
- teamsters who hauled the stoves and ironware in their wagons over the mountains to Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River
- salesmen who sold the stoves
What was their schedule like?
Tyson hired workers on an annual basis. Because of the major capital investment, workers usually were on the job six days a week to keep equipment running and producing. When the furnaces were active, workers were expected to be on call around the clock. Some of the more skilled workers, such as iron molders, had written contracts that clearly defined responsibilities and schedules for a specific wage.