In the previous two parts of this series on the various uses of cast iron, we’ve seen how iron foundries make cast iron for applications as different as cast iron skillets and entire lighthouses. This time we’ll be focusing on its decorative uses in numerous different structures. In this article, we will discuss Decorative Cast Iron Applications.
First, let’s return to Philadelphia. In part two, we discussed how the City of Brotherly Love developed along with the Industrial Revolution, making it an ideal place to experiment with cast iron in a variety of ways. Previously, we focused on the use of cast iron as structural support. The architects of the bustling port city didn’t only concern themselves with function, however. They also applied this new and versatile material to form. In addition to girders and beams, the iron foundries of Philadelphia were also busy producing decorative domes and facades.
There are numerous examples of these. Two of the finest are the Horticultural Hall and Memorial Hall, both of which had magnificent domes made of glass and cast iron. Sadly, the Horticultural Hall was damaged in a hurricane and torn down in 1955.
Many other examples of cast-iron facades and decorative structures exist around the world. The fact that the iron could be cast and then safely shipped straight from the foundry made it an attractive option for those who could afford it. In fact, structures could be shipped from Glasgow, Scotland all the way to Chile. Beautiful galleries of cast iron exist in New Orleans and other verandas can still be found in such far-flung places as Australia. Wherever the Industrial Revolution went, cast iron went with it.
It was not only the private sector that made use of cast iron domes. The United States, for example, has made extensive use of it in the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. When new extensions to the building were needed to accommodate the expanding Congress, architect Thomas Ustick Walter used cast iron for everything from the pipes to the window trim. And of course, the dome is one of the largest and oldest examples of this kind of structure in the world.
Numerous churches also have called upon iron foundries to provide decorative cast iron for a number of applications. In St. Petersburg for example, one can find another massive dome atop St. Isaac’s Cathedral. More common than domes are of course cast iron bells that have sounded the call to Mass from Europe to South America to Australia for centuries.
There are even churches that have used so must decorative cast iron applications in their construction that they are referred to as Iron Churches. Two of them were built in the 19th century and are located in Liverpool. The iron framing, windows, parapets, and other elements represent not just excellent function, but the height of artistic form as well.
Another Iron Church is located in Istanbul. After St. Stephen’s original wood structure burned up, it was replaced with as many fire-proof elements as possible. Many cast iron components of the Orthodox church were prefabricated in Vienna in the late 19th century and shipped across to Istanbul. The elements included the frame, six bells, and more.
However, smaller-scale uses of cast iron for decorative purposes have been in existence for far longer. The middle ages boasted of ornamental works in China as far back as the ninth century. One could find cast-iron statues in abundance. Even the Czars of Russia made use of cast iron, adding decorative railings to the bridges of St. Petersburg.
Cast iron has been used in more ways that it is possible to recount. One can find it in certain obvious places such as boat anchors and some completely unexpected such as ornate street lamps. If you have spent any time in large gardens you have no doubt seen cast iron planters, benches, and statues. It can also be found inside the home in oil lamps, mantelpieces, candle holders, mirror frames, and the list goes on. Cast iron even may be seeing a resurgence in engines. It had been used in old engine blocks but was replaced by the lighter aluminum. However, improvements in smelting technology have made it possible to produce less brittle cast iron that is also more durable than aluminum engine blocks.
Whatever your walk of life, wherever you live, it is likely that cast iron has been part of your life, a part provided by iron foundries and the people who work them. People like the professionals of Faircast Inc.