Monday, January 21, 2013

Alger's Gun Works

Cyrus Alger, 1827.

Cyrus Alger was born in West Bridgewater Massachusetts in 1781, and learned metal casting from his father. He set up a foundry in  Easton, and in 1809 moved to South Boston, recently stolen (legally, of course) from Dorchester and annexed to Boston . One source has him supplying cannon balls to the government during the War of 1812.

Cyrus Alger mortar, cast in 1863, currently located on the grounds of the North Carolina State Capitol (Wikimedia Commons).

Alger's Iron Foundry, South Boston, 1852.

In 1816, Alger bought from the South Boston Land Association most of the land west of the Dorchester Turnpike (now Dorchester avenue), and soon began filling in the mudflats of the South Bay. Here, he built his foundry, and made a name for himself as one of the leading metallurgists of his time. Alger developed a process for purifying cast iron, producing a much stronger material, and produced the first rifled gun in the nation. He personally supervised the pouring of the Columbiad, the largest gun to be produced up until that time.

From the Boston Directory, 1848-49. Although now known for his cannons, Alger's company supplied castings for many commercial uses. He had patents for improving both stoves and plows.

The red 'X' marks the 1855 location of the Alger foundry in South Boston, and shows both water and railroad access (BPL map collection). Much of the land at the site marked above was created by Alger.

Closeup map view of Cyrus Algers' Boston Iron Works, Iron (later Foundry) street, South Boston, 1852. The South Boston (Dover street) bridge crosses the South Bay on the left, and the Turnpike to the right.The site had both water and rail access - note Alger's Wharf  and the tracks of the Old Colony railroad.

Alger's gun yard, end of Sixth street, at the outer edge of South Boston (red), United States gun yard (blue) 1852. Cannon were tested by the batch. Samples would be taken from each batch, and fired into earthen walls repeatedly to test for defects. If there were no failures, the batch would be shipped.They also fired guns from Nut island, Quincy towards a target on Peddock's island.

Cyrus Alger was also active in the community. He served on Boston's Common Council and as an Aldermn.  He paid to have sidewalks laid and trees planted along Dorchester avenue. He is said to have kept his workers on half time when they weren't needed, and introduced the 10 hour day to South Boston industry. When he died, stores closed along the route of his funeral, and factories all over South Boston shut down. Today, Alger cannons sit in front of Town Halls and on village greens all over the country, and are bought and sold by collectors as pieces of American history.

Sources: Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston, Nancy S. Seasholes.

 A genealogical history of that branch of the Alger family which springs from Thomas Alger of Taunton and Bridgewater, in Massachusetts. 1665-1875


  1. Hello! I just wanted to thank you for your informative blogs and articles. I'm currently writing historical fiction set in Boston in the 19th Century and your direction on research articles/books has been invaluable. Thank you!

  2. As a Tour Guide on Boston Harbor for the past 24 years , I find your information both informative and exciting , Thanks very much for keeping this history alive

  3. Boston harbor is such a great subject - glad too help.

  4. Examples of what I believe are 32-pound Columbiads are in Nashua, NH, at the Civil War monument. The cannon at the monument are of approximately 6-inch bore and are of the shape of the typical Civil War era Columbiad. They are marked with an engraved anchor and with the engraved letters "C A & Co" followed by a serial number. The Nashua Civil War monument is in the "Y" formed by the intersection of Amherst Street and Concord Street at the top of Main Street. This is often referred to as "Library Hill" from the old library building that is nearby.

    1. Thanks. I could see the cannon in Google View.

  5. Thanks for posting this. Cyrus was my Great Great Great Great Grandfather. Have been trying to locate where his foundry was situated. This is a great map. Is there an online version of this map that you can point me to?

  6. We have a pair of 32-pounder naval guns from C.A. Alger located in Saltonstall Park, Main Street Watertown MA.

  7. Amherst NH has a pair of 32-pounder Alger guns at the Soldier's Memorial adjacent to the Town Green.

  8. My uncle has an old foundry and is trying to identify a bronze cannon with the letters C.A. & Co. Would you mind taking a look at the photo? Tom Avril, Jenkintown, PA

  9. I forgot to add my contact info:, re the bronze cannon labeled with C.A. & Co.

  10. A C.A. & Co. cannon can be found within Fort Sumter. Mike Zerfas, Reading, Mass.

  11. My 4x great grandfather worked at the South Boston Iron Co for over 40 years. He was also a member of the Common Council. Mr. Alger was an Alderman, but I don't find his name among Common Council members. A very interesting piece; thank you!