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Bessemer is a city southwest of Birmingham in Jefferson County, Alabama, United States. The population was 27,456 at the 2010 Census. It is within the Birmingham-Hoover, AL Metropolitan Statistical Area, of which Jefferson County is the center. It developed rapidly as an industrial city in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The town was founded in the postbellum era by the Bessemer Land and Improvement Company, named after Henry Bessemer and owned by coal magnate Henry F. DeBardeleben. He had inherited Daniel Pratt's investments. The mayor and councilmen voted to incorporate the city of Bessemer on September 9, 1887. Located 16 miles southwest of Birmingham, Bessemer grew rapidly and its promoters believed that it might overtake the other city in economic power.
Given the iron ore, coal and limestone deposits in the area, the city became a center of steelmaking from about 1890 through the 20th century. It attracted rural migrants from across the South, as well as European immigrants. By the 1950s, the city was majority African American in population.
The industry went through considerable restructuring in the late 20th century, and jobs moved out of the area. Steel is no longer made here.
Bessemer is located approximately 18 miles (29 km) southwest of Birmingham.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 40.8 square miles (106 km2), of which 40.7 square miles (105 km2) is land and 0.1 square miles (0.26 km2) (0.17%) is water.
Bessemer is situated in the midst of the iron ore and limestone district of Alabama, in the southern part of Jones Valley (about 3 miles (4.8 km) wide). Iron ore was mined on the hills on the city's southeast side, coal was (and still is) mined to the north and west, and limestone deposits were also nearby. All three ingredients were necessary for steelmaking, which led to the area becoming a major steel center from about 1890 through the twentieth century. Steel is no longer made within the city limits, but is still manufactured in the neighboring city of Fairfield.
The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Bessemer has a humid subtropical climate, abbreviated "Cfa" on climate maps.
As of the 2013 American Community Survey, there were 27,336 people residing in the city. 72.0% were African American, 24.0% White, 0.1% Native American, 0.2% Asian, 0.1% from some other race and 0.4% from two or more races. 3.2% were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
As of the census of 2000, there were 29,672 people, 11,537 households, and 7,868 families residing in the city. The population density was 729.0 people per square mile (281.5/km2). There were 12,790 housing units at an average density of 314.2 per square mile (121.3/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 69.55% Black or African American, 28.93% White, 0.28% Native American, 0.18% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.30% from other races, and 0.74% from two or more races. 1.14% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 11,537 households out of which 30.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 34.6% were married couples living together, 29.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.8% were non-families. 29.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.52 and the average family size was 3.12.
In the city, the population was spread out with 26.8% under the age of 18, 9.6% from 18 to 24, 26.1% from 25 to 44, 21.1% from 45 to 64, and 16.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 82.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 75.8 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $23,066, and the median income for a family was $28,230. Males had a median income of $29,413 versus $21,552 for females. The per capita income for the city was $12,232. About 24.2% of families and 27.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 37.8% of those under age 18 and 24.7% of those age 65 or over.
In 1900, Bessemer ranked eighth in population in the state, second in amount of capital invested in manufacturing, and fourth in the value of its manufactured product for the year. By 1911, ore mining, iron smelting, and the manufacture of iron and coke were the chief industries of Bessemer. Truck farming was also an important industry, dating from the area's agricultural past.
Both blacks and whites from rural areas were attracted to the city for its new work opportunities. Gradually African Americans moved into industrial jobs and became part of integrated unions; such jobs enabled many working-class families to enjoy middle-class incomes.
Today, ore mining has ended, as supplies were exhausted. Manufacturing remains a factor, with the U.S. Pipe and Foundry ductile pipe plant on the city's north side. On May 9, 2007, U.S. Pipe announced that it would be building a new $45-million foundry near the current plant. The site was selected, among other reasons, for having available space for potential future expansions. U.S. Pipe is the largest domestic producer of Ductile Iron pipe in sizes 4 inch through 64 inch.
The city was once home to a large railroad car manufacturing factory, operated by Pullman Standard for many decades and later by Trinity Industries. With railroad restructuring in the late 20th century and other manufacturing moving offshore, this plant ceased most production in the 1990s. Other industries have relocated to this facility.
The decline of mining and exodus of the steelmaking and railcar manufacturing industries resulted in extensive loss of jobs. The city has lost population since a peak in 1970. It faced an economic crisis in the early to mid-1980s, as unemployed workers constituted more than one-third of the workforce. Since that time the city, through the efforts of the Bessemer Area Chamber of Commerce and the Bessemer Industrial Development Board, has been successful in diversifying its economy. It is recognized for its business growth. In June 2018, Amazon announced that it would build a new 800,000 square feet (74,000 m2), $325 million fulfillment center in Bessemer which will initially create 1,500 new jobs.
Crime increased following the rise in unemployment and social disruption from the decline of manufacturing industries in the area. As of 2017 Bessemer ranks 7th in terms of violent crimes for cities across the US, a study found. The list also ranks neighboring Birmingham in the top 20 cities. But this is within a context of violent and other crime decreasing across most of the nation since the early 21st century.
The performance center Bessemer Civic Center provides multiple performance spaces for music and theatre.
Bessemer uses the mayor–city council form of government. The council has seven members, elected from single-member districts. As of 2016, Kenneth Gulley is mayor, a position elected at-large. He was first elected in 2010 and reelected to a second term in 2014.
A satellite Jefferson County courthouse is located in downtown Bessemer. There is a special county government district, known as the "Bessemer Cutoff", which was established in the middle of the 20th century when Bessemer was a major city in its own right. A separate county government was considered a possibility, but there was not sufficient land area to meet legislative requirements for a county. The "Cutoff" had a separate series of Alabama license plates, with a different numeric prefix than the rest of the county.
Bessemer has since been surpassed in size by Birmingham suburbs such as Hoover. But Bessemer retains the branch county courthouse to this day. The term "Bessemer Cutoff" continues to be used regularly by area residents.
The United States Postal Service operates the Bessemer Post Office.
The state Alabama Department of Corrections operates the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility, a prison for men, in unincorporated Jefferson County, Alabama, near Bessemer. The prison includes one of the two Alabama death rows for men.
Bessemer operates its own school system independent of Jefferson County schools. The system includes:
The Board of Education also operates the Quitman Mitchell Opportunity Center, which includes an adult learning center, Even Start child care center, and New Horizon Alternative School.
K–12 private schools in the Bessemer included Bessemer Academy and Rock Christian School.
Lawson State Community College operates the former Bessemer Technical College campus. The two schools merged in 2005 as a cost-saving measure.
The Western Star is a weekly newspaper which covers Bessemer and nearby communities.
The Birmingham News is published three days per week, and also publishes a weekly section devoted to news from Bessemer and nearby communities.
One radio station, WZGX (1450 AM), operates within the city; it broadcasts some Spanish programming and music to appeal to the growing Mexican-American population of Jefferson County. It also continues a tradition of broadcasting high school football games on Friday nights. All of metro Birmingham's stations are heard in Bessemer, as well as several stations broadcasting from Tuscaloosa.
Television station WDBB (channel 17) is licensed to Bessemer, but broadcasts from studios in Birmingham, simulcasting with WTTO (channel 21). All of Birmingham's television stations may be viewed in Bessemer, and some have established news bureaus there.
In 1911, the town was served by five railroad lines: Alabama Great Southern (Queen & Crescent route), the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, the Kansas City, Memphis & Birmingham (St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad system), the Birmingham Southern Railroad, and the Atlanta, Birmingham & Atlantic railways. Passenger service decreased after people started choosing to travel by automobiles, increasingly so after World War II. In addition, there was widespread restructuring in the railroad industry that also applied to freight lines.
By 2006, the companies noted above had consolidated to CSX Transportation, which has lines to Birmingham and Brookwood; and the Norfolk Southern Railway, with lines to Birmingham, Mobile and New Orleans; Birmingham Southern continues in service. A major railroad feature is the "High Line", constructed by Tennessee Coal & Iron (predecessor to U.S. Steel) to ship iron ore from the mines on the city's south side to the steel works in nearby Fairfield. This elevated line traverses the eastern side of the city. Though tracks were removed over much of the High Line when the mines closed, part of the line is still used by the Birmingham Southern. All of the roadbed and bridges remain in place.
Bessemer is served by the small Bessemer Airport to the southeast of the city. Commercial service in the region is provided by the much larger Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, located 5 miles (8.0 km) north of downtown Birmingham (about 21 miles away in total).
Major highways in Bessemer include I-20/59, I-459, U.S. Route 11, and State Route 150, which connects Bessemer with Hoover.
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