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The Heroult ASM Historical Site Project

For the past several years George Binczewski has been working to have the former town of Heroult, the site of the first facility in the western hemisphere to use electric furnaces in the direct reduction of iron ore.  This September his efforts will come to fruition in the dedication of the former town of Heroult as an ASM International historic landmark.

On Saturday, September 25, 1999, ASM International recognized the town of Heroult, California, as an historical landmark. It was at this site in 1907 that the first electric arc furnace in the western hemisphere was built and used for the direct reduction of the region’s naturally occurring iron oxide deposits into iron metal, the raw material used by foundries and steelmakers. The site was named Heroult, in honor of the furnace inventor Paul L. T. Heroult of France.

The furnace was purchased by a group of visionary Northern California entrepreneurs from the Noble Electric Company. They recognized the opportunities offered by the Shasta County natural resources of magnetite ( iron ore), limestone, charcoal and hydroelectric power. Heroult himself visited the area and assisted in the technical installation of the furnace.

In appreciation and acknowledgment of his contribution to the emerging enterprise, located at the confluence of the Pitt and McCloud rivers, the Noble Electric people named the site in his honor. The town of Heroult appears distinctly on the state geologic maps of the period. It was submerged by the waters behind Shasta Dam in 1945.

Heroult2a.tif (147664 bytes)The town site eventually grew to nearly 500 inhabitants. It prospered for more than 20 years and was noted for supplying a very high quality, low impurity iron to the San Francisco foundry trade. But eventually, rising costs and the availability of iron from eastern and mid-west production centers forced a decline in the town's primary business.

Paul Heroult's electric furnace invention is the watershed of the current mini-mill steel industry plants in the United States. These mini-mills, which have significantly reduced costs and displaced the massively large integrated steel mills, have kept the United States competitive in what has become a cut-throat worldwide steel industry. Large mill closures have resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of steel jobs over the past 30 years. The economics of the mini-mills have kept this situation from becoming desperate. The major advantage of the electric arc furnace over the traditional blast furnace for making iron and steel is its environmental friendliness. Although this was not a particular concern in the 1907, the electric arc furnace dramatically reduced atmospheric emissions, the amount of raw materials used, and the energy consumed. The overwhelming economic impact of the electric furnace on the global steel industry is illustrated by the worldwide 1998 steel production of 750 million tons. Of this amount, a total of 275 million tons were produced in the Heroult type electric furnaces.

Paul Heroult (1863-1914) was a prolific inventor. He is recognized as co-inventor of the aluminum electrolytic reduction process developed in 1886. Charles Martin Hall from Oberlin, Ohio, is also credited with this invention. Known around the world as the Hall-Heroult process, it is the mainstay of today's aluminum industry, little changed from its patent description except for improvements in efficiencies. There is little doubt that Heroult and Hall made their discoveries independent of each other on different sides of the ocean and very close in time. However, today's history books tell us that "undoubtedly, Heroult made the discovery first".

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The Dedication

The dedication of the town of Heroult was performed on September 25, 1999.   The dedication included the placing of a plaque commemorating the town of Heroult and speeches given by the following:
bulletMike Ryan, Shasta Dam and the Bureau of Reclamation
bulletAndy Coulter, mayor of the City of Shasta Lake
bulletGeorge Binczewski, Golden Gate Chapter of ASM International, (Fellow of ASM)
bulletChris Bickert, vice president of Pechiney Corporation (owns American National Can, 30 billion cans per year) biographer of Paul Heroult's aluminum endeavors, from his offices in Paris and New York
bulletBernard Guest, grandson of Paul Heroult (Paris)
bulletSteven Frodge, Chair of the Electric Furnace Division of the Iron and Steel Society
bulletDr. Hans Portisch, ASM International (Austria)

Also attending was Dr. Raymond Smith, former president of ASM International and former president (17 years) of Michigan Tech.

The unveiling ceremony began at noon and was followed by a luncheon at 12:45 pm. 

The Golden Gate Chapter of ASM International arranged bus transportation from Walnut Creek to and from Lake Shasta.

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(From the October 1999 Newsletter)

Successful Heroult Steel Refining Site Historical Recognition Event

Speakers at the September 25th ceremony were Mike Ryan representing Shasta Dam and the Bureau of Reclamation; Andy Coulter, Mayor of the City of Shasta Lake; Dr. Raymond Smith, former president of ASM International and former president (17 years) of Michigan Tech; George Binczewski (FASM) of Golden Gate Chapter and spearhead of the effort; Chris Bickert, vice president of Pechiney Corporation (owns American National Can, 30 billion cans per year) and biographer of Paul Heroult's aluminum endeavors, from Paris; Bernard Guest, grandson of Paul Heroult (Paris); Steven Frodge, Chair of the Electric Furnace Division of the Iron and Steel Society; and Dr. Hans Portisch, (FASM) ASMI President and vice president at Krupp-VDM, Austria. Dr. Portisch unveiled the commemorative ASMI plaque in hand with Mr. Guest.

We had attendees from the Bay Area as well as around Northern California. The impressive credentials of the speakers and the professional quality of the preparations by the various organizers (most notably George, and the Shasta Historical Society) combined for a real impact! The addresses were memorable, moving, and done in a timely manner, a rare combination. They addressed the historical significance of the site, some of the achievements that were involved, and touching human interest aspects of the story. The event was a great success.

If that wasn't enough, George also arranged for a commemorative postcard issued and cancelled for the event, and a very nice brochure was arranged by a group led by Lisa Thomas. The material from the brochure has been posted on the Chapter web site. Many thanks to all who contributed!

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