Iron production during the early nineteenth century usually occurred on "plantations." These were relatively isolated communities established on land owned by an iron company. Usually, all of the items necessary to produce iron, limestone, timber, coal, and iron ore, were readily available. Once the workers exhausted their supply of these materials, the furnace would close and move to new ground with an ample supply of resources. Most of these furnaces produced pig iron, which would then be constructed into machinery, building supplies and kitchen items. A few people established iron forges, which produced a higher quality of iron than furnaces.
Initially, most iron furnaces in Ohio were located in the northeastern section of the state. One of the first iron manufacturing establishments in Ohio was Hopewell Furnace. Established in 1804, Hopewell Furnace was located near Youngstown. At the same time that the Hopewell Furnace operated, Daniel Eaton built an iron furnace at Poland, Ohio, where he was able to produce nearly two tons of iron each day. James Heaton developed one of the first iron forges in the state, near modern-day Niles.
While iron production originated in the northeastern corner of Ohio, during the first half of the nineteenth century southern Ohioans dominated the industry. The most productive area was centered near Hanging Rock, along the Ohio River. By 1860, southern Ohioans had established sixty-nine iron furnaces, producing more than 100,000 tons of iron annually, across Gallia, Hocking, Jackson, Lawrence, Scioto, and Vinton Counties. The manufacturers sent much of the iron up and down the Ohio River to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, allowing southern Ohioans to prosper. It was in these two cities where most of the iron produced in southern Ohio was fashioned into finished products such as household utensils and tools. Most of the iron producers in the southern part of the state relied on charcoal to fuel their furnaces. As the availability of charcoal and iron ore declined following the American Civil War, the economic prosperity of southern Ohioans also quickly deteriorated.
The northeastern part of Ohio emerged as the primary region for iron production in the state during the second half of the nineteenth century. During the 1840s, northeastern iron producers replaced charcoal furnaces with coal ones. Coal furnaces produced iron of a cleaner and finer quality. The population in northeast Ohio grew quickly as a result of increased iron production, as well as because of the discovery of abundant coal resources. Numerous business owners, including John Rockefeller, located their companies in Akron, Cleveland, Canton, and Youngstown, because of the abundant coal and iron in the region. For example, Cleveland's population skyrocketed from seventeen thousand people in 1860 to 160,000 by 1880. Iron production and coal mining allowed Ohio to emerge as one of the most prosperous states by the late 1800s.