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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Columbus

Muscogee Iron Works

SOURCE: Columbus: Georgia's Fall Line Trading Town by Joseph B. Mahan, 1986.

 

Muscogee Iron Works, as a Carmack family enterprise, dated from October 20, 1940, yet its useful services have significant precedents originating at least eighty years earlier. In August 1861, a Columbus Enquirer writer told of visiting Muscogee Iron Works and observing the successful operation of a mill to hull cotton seed, crediting Isaac Mitchell with its development. The Civil War made Columbus a center of arms manufacturing by 1861. Louis Haiman and his brother developed the South's largest sword factory, and Haiman bought Muscogee Iron Works to help meet the demand for such weapons. Haiman sent his brother to Europe to obtain steel and run it through the federal blockade. By 1863 Haiman's Columbus production reportedly reached 250 swords and cutlasses per day. This operation was a high-priority target for destruction when Wilson's Raiders arrived in Columbus as the war ground to an end.


Haiman’s Sword Factory was the largest plant of its type in the South during the Civil War. Louis and Elias Haiman came to Columbus from Prussia in the 1830s and established a tinsmith shop. At the War’s start they established a small sword factory, moving to this site (where Downtown Elementary is now located) later to manufacture swords and other various army equipment. By 1863, they employed over 400 workers. That year they also began to manufacture the Colt Navy Pistol, selling the machinery to them Confederate Government in 1864. The facilities were burned by Federal forces April 17, 1865.


Muscogee Iron Works did not reappear in Columbus' history until Comer A. Carmack and L.L. Knighton purchased C.A. Butler's Center City Shop in October 1940, renaming the business Muscogee Iron Works because they liked the name and considered it appropriate. They moved to 1324 Eleventh Avenue. Evidence of this location's former use as a livery stable and blacksmith shop turned up as the new owners unearthed many such scraps of iron. Muscogee Iron Works occupied nearly three city blocks along Thirteenth Street and Eleventh Avenue, including the interestingly named Apple Street and Cherry Avenue. Knighton left the business to resume a farming life, and Muscogee Iron Works became family-owned, with Comer A. Carmack, Sr., as chairman of the board, Comer Carmack, Jr. as president, C.A. Carmack III as vice president, B.L. Funderburke as vice president/ treasurer, and E.J. Moore as works manager. The elder Carmack entered Auburn in 1925, returned to Columbus to engage in mechanical and electrical work in local plants for fifteen years, then invested in the small machine shop that became Muscogee Iron Works. Comer Carmack, Jr., graduated from Auburn in Industrial Management, completed U.S. Air Force service in 1956, and returned home to rejoin the business. C.A. Carmack III also graduated from Auburn in Mechanical Engineering and joined the business in 1980.


L-R: Comer Carmack, Jr., C.A. Carmack III (Trey), and Comer A. Carmack, Sr.


Comer Carmack, Jr., who took an interest in his father's business from age ten, saw a series of expansions beginning in 1945 that steadily enlarged the limited machinery and welding repair operations. Equipment and services were added year by year until Muscogee Iron Works achieved capacities not found within a radius of several hundred miles. The business continuously completed one expansion and then started on another. Public awareness of Muscogee Iron Works among Columbus consumers of retail goods and services was limited because the firm was organized to serve industries in such ways as constructing their buildings and designing their machinery, not supplying products for individual shoppers.



The company manufactured all-steel, all-welded lumber, and farm wagons under the Muscogee name, then moved into the manufacture of truck bodies. Muscogee Iron Works stepped up its production force during World War II and contributed to the war effort through the manufacture of Liberty Ship steering engine parts and served as a special service shop for local and outside contractors and then engaged in enlarging military training facilities at nearby Fort Benning (now Fort Moore). As builders and repairers of special machinery, and as steel fabricators, the people of Muscogee Iron Works were directly connected with many developments and improvements in the area. Services included research and development, design, fabrication, and manufacture of products needed by customers for special uses, and assistance in patenting was given in many cases. Muscogee Iron Works designs are found in innovations developed for the soft drink bottling trade, textiles, printing, paper, dairy, farming, lumber, military, construction, mining, brick manufacturing, medical, and transportation fields.



Engineers, welders, and machinists used special equipment in their work. A bending roll formed metal shapes such as angles, leg-in and leg-out, channels and beams with flanges-in and flanges-out, bars on-flat and on-edge, tubes, and pipes. Automatic hacksaws cut to micrometer tolerances. Fabricating facilities included plate and circle shears, press brakes, plate and structural rolls, iron workers, punches and presses, bulldozers, pipe benders, and welders. The radial drill press did large and small boring and thread tapping. Milling machines, planers, a carbon steel cutting service, and one of the largest-capacity lathes in the area were part of the operations. Several press brakes form plates into channels, angles, Z-bars, stair treads, and conical or funnel shapes. Plate rolls fabricate tank sections and smokestacks. The shop produced heavy-duty tool buggies widely used in the pulp and paper industries.



Muscogee Iron Works operated one of the Columbus area's most complete steel fabrication, machine design, and repair businesses. Serving industrial firms mainly within a 150-mile radius, it also did international business reaching customer locations as distant as Guam, Hawaii, the Bahamas, on occasion even to Russia, and secured raw materials not only from Atlanta, and Birmingham, and Gadsden in Alabama, but also from foreign countries including Korea, Belgium, and South Africa. The business grew for many years under the ownership and management of the three generations of Carmacks.

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