When the first settlers arrived in North America in the seventeenth century, iron tools, weapons, and cooking implements were staples of Northern European life. Unwilling to rely on imported objects from Europe, the early colonists established their own integrated ironworks in Saugus, Massachusetts in 1646. All of the natural resources needed for iron production were available in abundance in Pennsylvania, and production began in 1716. The high quality of the resources made Pennsylvania iron among the best iron in the world.
The first ironworks were established in Berks and Chester Counties, but by 1767 entrepreneurs saw the potential for great profits in the sparsely populated area west of the Susquehanna. After the American Revolution, 83 new iron works were established in Pennsylvania with 30 percent of the new growth concentrated in the center of the state.
In the 1770s and 1780s, prominent Philadelphians bought large quantities of land in Centre County. In the spring of 1792, Centre Furnace, located on this site, went into blast and became the first major operation in what was then Northumberland and Mifflin Counties. When Centre County was formed in 1800, it was named for Centre Furnace. Other businesses quickly followed and by 1850, the “Juniata Iron Region” boasted 48 furnaces and 42 forges. The Region consisted of Blair, Centre, Clinton, Huntingdon, and Mifflin Counties with the greatest concentration of ironworks in Huntingdon and Centre. Until the rise of coal and coke iron making, this Region produced more iron than any other in the nation.