By the 15th cent., Birmingham was a market town with a large leather and wool trade; by the 16th cent. it was also known for its many metalworks. In the English Civil War the town was captured by the royalists. Birmingham's industrial development and population growth accelerated in the 17th and 18th cent. In 1762, Matthew Boulton and James Watt founded the Soho metalworks, where they designed and built steam engines. Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen, lived for a time in Birmingham. In 1791 a mob, incensed at his radical religious and political views, burned his home.
The town was enfranchised by the Reform Bill of 1832 (see under Reform Acts) and was incorporated in 1838. John Bright represented it in Parliament from 1857 to 1889. During the 1870s, while Joseph Chamberlain was mayor, Birmingham underwent a large program of municipal improvements, including slum clearance and the development of gas and water works. Birmingham was among the first English localities to have a municipal bank, a comprehensive water-supply system, and development planning. The area of the city was enlarged in 1891 and again in 1911 under the Greater Birmingham scheme.
Birmingham was severely damaged in World War II. Subsequent rebuilding resulted in modernization, especially of the city center. Notable buildings include the town hall, built in 1834, modeled after the temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome; the 18th-century baroque-style Cathedral of St. Philip; and the 19th-century Cathedral of St. Chad, the first Roman Catholic cathedral to be built in England after the Reformation. Bull Ring, in the center of Birmingham, is the site of the city's oldest market. Also in the center of the city is the Univ. of Aston. The Univ. of Birmingham is in the suburb of Edgbaston, as is the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, a Roman Catholic shrine that was formerly the parish house of John Henry Cardinal Newman. There is a museum and art gallery (noted for its pre-Raphaelite collection) and a museum of science and industry. Annual music festivals date from 1768, and Birmingham has a noted symphony orchestra and ballet company. The city library includes an excellent Shakespeare collection.
Birmingham was founded in 1871, just after the U.S. Civil War, as an industrial enterprise. It was named after Birmingham, one of the UK's major industrial cities. Through the middle of the 20th century, Birmingham was the primary industrial center of the Southern United States. The astonishing pace of Birmingham's growth through the turn of the century earned it the nicknames "The Magic City" and "The Pittsburgh of the South". Much like Pittsburgh in the north, Birmingham's major industries centered around iron and steel production.
Over the course of the 20th century, the city's economy diversified. Though the manufacturing industry maintains a strong presence in Birmingham, other industries such as banking, insurance, medicine, publishing, and biotechnology have risen in stature. Birmingham has been recognized as one of the top cities for income growth in the United States South with a significant increase in per capita income since 1990.
Today, Birmingham ranks as one of the most important business centers in the Southeastern United States and is also one of the largest banking centers in the U.S. In addition, the Birmingham area serves as headquarters to one Fortune 500 company: Regions Financial. Five Fortune 1000 companies are headquartered in Birmingham.
Birmingham was founded on June 1, 1871 by real estate promoters who sold lots near the planned crossing of the Alabama & Chattanooga and South & North railroads. The first business at that crossroads was the trading post and country store Yeilding's, run by the still prominent Yeilding family. The site of the railroad crossing was notable for the nearby deposits of iron ore, coal, and limestone - the three principal raw materials used in making steel. Birmingham is the only place worldwide where significant amounts of all three minerals can be found in such close proximity. From the start the new city was planned as a great center of industry. The founders borrowed the name of Birmingham, one of England's principal industrial cities, to advertise that point. Birmingham was off to a slow start: the city was impeded by an outbreak of cholera and a Wall Street crash in 1873. However, it began to grow shortly afterwards at an explosive rate.
The turn of the century brought the substantial growth that gave Birmingham the nickname "The Magic City" as the downtown area developed from a low-rise commercial and residential district into a busy grid of neoclassical mid-rise and high-rise buildings and busy streetcar lines. Between 1902 and 1912 four large office buildings were constructed at the intersection of 20th Street, the central north–south spine of the city, and 1st Avenue North, which connected the warehouses and industrial facilities stretching along the east–west railroad corridor. This impressive group of early skyscrapers was nicknamed "The Heaviest Corner on Earth". Optimistic that the rapidly growing city could be further improved, a group of local businessmen led by Courtney Shropshire formed an independent service club in 1917. The group would later incorporate and become the first chapter of Civitan International, now a worldwide organization.
The Great Depression hit Birmingham especially hard as sources of capital that were fueling the city's growth rapidly dried up at the same time that farm laborers, driven off the land, made their way to the city in search of work. New Deal programs made important contributions to the city's infrastructure and artistic legacy, including such key improvements as Vulcan's tower and Oak Mountain State Park.
The wartime demand for steel and the post-war building boom gave Birmingham a rapid return to prosperity. Manufacturing diversified beyond the production of raw materials and several major cultural institutions, such as the Birmingham Museum of Art, were able to expand their scope.
In the 1950s and '60s Birmingham received national and international attention as a center of the civil rights struggle for African-Americans. The city was given the derisive nickname Bombingham because of a string of racially motivated bombings that took place during this time.
A watershed in the civil rights movement occurred in 1963 when Birmingham Civil Rights Movement leader Fred Shuttlesworth requested that Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) come to Birmingham to help end segregation. Together they launched "Project C" (for "Confrontation"), a massive assault on the Jim Crow system. During April and May daily sit-ins and mass marches were met with police repression, tear gas, attack dogs, and arrests. More than 3,000 people were arrested during these protests, many of them children. These protests were ultimately successful, leading not only to desegregation of public accommodations in Birmingham but also the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
While imprisoned for having taken part in a nonviolent protest, Dr. King wrote the now famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, a defining treatise in his cause against segregation. Birmingham is also known for a bombing which occurred later that year, in which four black girls were killed by a bomb planted at the 16th Street Baptist Church. The event would inspire the African-American poet Dudley Randall's opus, The Ballad of Birmingham, as well as jazz musician John Coltrane's song, "Alabama."
In the 1970s urban renewal efforts focused around the development of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which developed into a major medical and research center. In 1971 Birmingham celebrated its centennial with a round of public works improvements, including the upgrading of Vulcan Park. Birmingham's banking institutions enjoyed considerable growth as well and new skyscrapers started to appear in the city center for the first time since the 1920s. These projects helped the city's economy to diversify, but did not prevent the exodus of many of the city's residents to independent suburbs. In 1979 Birmingham elected Dr. Richard Arrington Jr. as its first African-American mayor.
The population inside Birmingham's city limits has fallen over the past few decades. From 340,887 in 1960, the population was down to 242,820 in 2000, a loss of about 29 percent. However, the growth of Birmingham's suburbs over that same period has kept the metropolitan population growing.
Today, Birmingham has begun to experience a bit of a rebirth. Currently there are around a billion dollars being invested in reconstructing the downtown area into a 24-hour mixed-use district. The market for downtown lofts and condominiums has mushroomed while restaurant, retail and cultural options are beginning to sprout up. In 2006 the visitors bureau selected "the diverse city" as a new tag line for the city.
Birmingham occupies Jones Valley, flanked by long parallel mountain ridges (the tailing ends of the Appalachian foothills) running from north-east to south-west. The valley is drained by small creeks (Village Creek, Valley Creek) which flow into the Black Warrior River. The valley was bisected by the principal railroad corridor, along which most of the early manufacturing operations began.
Red Mountain lies immediately south of downtown. Many of Birmingham's television and radio broadcast towers are lined up along this prominent ridge. The "Over the Mountain" area, including Shades Valley, Shades Mountain and beyond, was largely shielded from the industrial smoke and rough streets of the industrial city. This is the setting for Birmingham's more affluent suburbs of Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Homewood, and Hoover. South of Shades Valley is the Cahaba River basin, one of the most diverse river ecosystems in America.
Sand Mountain, a smaller ridge, flanks the city to the north and divides Jones Valley from much more rugged land to the north. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad (now CSX Transportation) enters the valley through Boyles Gap, a prominent gap in the long low ridge.
Ruffner Mountain, located due east of the heart of the city, is home to Ruffner Mountain Nature Center, one of the largest urban nature reserves in the United States.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 151.9 square miles (393.5 km²), of which, 149.9 square miles (388.3 km²) of it is land and 2.0 square miles (5.3 km²) of it (1.34%) is water.
The spring and fall months are pleasant but variable as cold fronts frequently bring strong to severe thunderstorms and occasional tornadoes to the region. The fall season features less rainfall and fewer storms, as well as lower humidity than the spring, but it is also a secondary severe weather season. Birmingham is located on the heart of a tornado alley known as the Dixie Alley due to the frequency of tornadoes in Central Alabama. The Greater Birmingham area was hit by two F5 tornadoes – in 1977 and 1998 occurring on its western (1998) and northern suburbs (1977). In late summer and fall months, Birmingham experiences occasional tropical storms and hurricanes due to its proximity to the Central Gulf Coast.
|Monthly Normal and Record High and Low Temperatures|
|Rec High °F||81||83||89||92||99||102||106||103||100||94||85||80|
|Norm High °F||53.2||58.6||68.5||74.1||82.6||87.8||90.8||90.7||87.9||74.9||65.5||57|
|Norm Low °F||31.8||34.6||42.4||48.4||57.6||65.4||69.7||69.4||64.6||51.9||42.6||34.8|
|Rec Low °F||-6||3||2||26||35||42||51||51||37||27||5||1|
By Alabama law, an issue before a city council must be approved by a two-thirds majority vote (Act No. 452, Ala. Acts 1955, as supplemented by Act No. 294, Ala. Acts 1965.). Executive powers are held entirely by the mayor's office. The current mayor of Birmingham is Larry Langford, who was voted into office in 2007
|3||Valerie A. Abbott|
|5||William A. Bell|
|7||Miriam Witherspoon||President Pro-Tem|
In 1974 Birmingham established a structured network of neighborhood associations and community advisory committees to insure public participation in governmental issues that affect neighborhoods. Neighborhood associations are routinely consulted on matters related to zoning changes, liquor licenses, economic development, policing and other city services. Neighborhoods are also granted discretionary funds from the city's budget to use for capital improvements. Each neighborhood's officers meet with their peers to form Community Advisory Committees which are granted broader powers over city departments. The presidents of these committees, in turn, form the Citizen's Advisory Board, which meets regularly with the mayor, council, and department heads. Birmingham is divided into a total of 23 communities, and again into a total of 99 individual neighborhoods with individual neighborhood associations.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Birmingham's economy was transformed by investments in bio-technology and medical research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and its adjacent hospital. The UAB Hospital is a Level I trauma center providing health care and breakthrough medical research. UAB is now the area's largest employer and the largest in Alabama with a workforce of about 20,000. Health care services provider HealthSouth is also headquartered in the city.
Birmingham is also a leading banking center, serving as home to two major banks: Regions Financial Corporation and Compass Bancshares. SouthTrust, another large bank headquartered in Birmingham, was acquired by Wachovia in 2004. The city still has major operations as one of the regional headquarters of Wachovia. In November 2006, Regions Financial merged with AmSouth Bancorporation, which was also headquartered in Birmingham. They formed the 8th Largest U. S. Bank (by total assets). Nearly a dozen smaller banks are also headquartered in the Magic City, such as Superior Bank and New South Federal Savings Bank.
Telecommunications provider AT&T, formerly BellSouth, has a major presence with several large offices in the metropolitan area. Major insurance providers: Protective Life, Infinity Property & Casualty and ProAssurance among others, are headquartered in Birmingham and employ a large number of people in Greater Birmingham.
The city is also a powerhouse of construction and engineering companies, including BE&K and B. L. Harbert International which routinely are included in the Engineering News-Record lists of top design and international construction firms.
Metropolitan Birmingham has consistently been rated as one of America's best places to work and earn a living based on the area's competitive salary rates and relatively low living expenses. One 2006 study published at Salary.com determined that Birmingham was second in the nation for building personal net worth, based on local salary rates, living expenses, and unemployment rates.
A 2006 study by Bizjournals.com calculated Birmingham's "combined personal income" (the sum of all money earned by all residents of an area in a year) at $48.1 billion.
The Birmingham Public Library with 21 branches serves the entire community to provide education and entertainment for all ages.
The Birmingham area is home to some of America's best schools. In 2005, the Jefferson County International Baccalaureate School in Irondale, an eastern suburb of Birmingham, was rated as the #1 high school in America by Newsweek, a national publication. The school remains among the nation's Top 5 high schools. Mountain Brook High School placed 250 on the list. Other local schools that have been rated among America's best in various publications include Vestavia Hills High School and the Alabama School of Fine Arts located downtown. The metro area also has two highly regarded prep schools: The Altamont School, located in Birmingham proper, and Indian Springs School in north Shelby County near Pelham.
In the early 20th century professional planners helped lay out many of the new industrial settlements and company towns in the Birmingham District, including Corey (now Fairfield) which was developed for the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company (subsequently purchased by U. S. Steel). At the same time, a movement to consolidate several neighboring cities gained momentum. Although local referendums indicated mixed feelings about annexation, the Alabama legislature enacted an expansion of Birmingham's corporate limits that became effective on January 1, 1910.
The Robert Jemison company developed many residential neighborhoods to the south and west of Birmingham which are still renowned for their aesthetic quality.
A 1924 plan for a system of parks, commissioned from the Olmsted Brothers is seeing renewed interest with several significant new parks and greenways under development. Birmingham officials have approved a City Center Master Plan developed by Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh, which advocates strongly for more residential development in the downtown area and includes a major park over several blocks of the central railroad reservation to be called the Railroad Reservation Park. Along with Ruffner Mountain Park, and the proposed Red Mountain Park, Birmingham would rank first in the United States for public green space per resident.
|Wachovia Tower||34||454 ft (138 m)|
|Regions-Harbert Plaza||32||437 ft (133 m)|
|AT&T City Center||30||390 ft (119 m)|
|Regions Center||30||390 ft (119 m)|
|City Federal Building||27||325 ft (99 m)|
|Leer Tower||20||287 ft (87 m)|
|John Hand Building||20||284 ft (87 m)|
|Daniel Building||20||283 ft (86 m)|
Birmingham is served by Birmingham International Airport (there is another airport of the same name in Birmingham, England) which serves more than 3 million passengers every year. With more than 160 flights daily, the Birmingham International Airport offers flights to 37 cities across the United States. Commercial passenger service through Birmingham is provided by United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, US Airways, Southwest Airlines, and Northwest Airlines.
Birmingham is served by three major freight railroads. Norfolk Southern, CSX Transportation, and BNSF Railway all have major classification yards in the metro area. Smaller regional railroads such as the Jefferson Western and Birmingham Southern also serve Birmingham's freight customers. Amtrak's Crescent connects Birmingham with the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Greensboro, Charlotte, Atlanta and New Orleans. The Birmingham Amtrak Station is situated at 1819 Morris Avenue.
Electric power is provided primarily by Southern Company-subsidiary, Alabama Power. However, some of the surrounding area such as Bessemer and Cullman are provided by TVA. Bessemer also operates its own water and sewer system Natural gas is provided by Alagasco, although some metro area cities operate their own natural gas services. The local telecommunications are provided by AT&T. Cable television service is provided by Bright House Networks within the cities of Birmingham and Irondale, and Charter Communications in the rest of metro area.
As of the census of 2000, there were 242,820 people, 98,782 households, and 59,269 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,619.7 people per square mile (625.4/km²). There were 111,927 housing units at an average density of 746.6/sq mi (288.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 73.46% Black or African American, 24.07% White, 0.17% Native American, 0.80% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.62% from other races, and 0.83% from two or more races. 1.55% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 98,782 households out of which 27.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 31.1% were married couples living together, 24.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.0% were non-families. 34.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 3.09.
In the city, the population is spread out, with 25.0% under the age of 18, 11.1% from 18 to 24, 30.0% from 25 to 44, 20.4% from 45 to 64, and 13.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females there were 85.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 80.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $26,735, and the median income for a family was $31,851. Males had a median income of $28,184 versus $23,641 for females. The city's per capita income was $15,663. About 20.9% of families and 24.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 35.4% of those under age 18 and 18.5% of those age 65 or over.
Cities and suburbs are listed in order of population.
The downtown district, relatively free from crime, is patrolled by City Action Partnership (CAP), formed in 1995 to increase the perception of safety. The organization, funded by a downtown improvement association, reports a 62% decline in criminal activity within its 109 block area.
Other entertainment venues in the area include:
Birmingham's nightlife is primarily clustered around Five Points South and Lakeview, but an additional $55-million entertainment district has been approved for an area adjacent to the BJCC. Birminghamtrends, Birmingham's Online Guide to the City's Nightlife. Birmingham also has a very popular local music scene that has made the city a breeding ground for some of the nation's best musicians.
Birmingham has its own Orange Lodge. Birmingham "Sons of William" LOL 1003 was instituted as a Lodge in January 2004. The man behind the formation of this lodge was Rev Paul Zahl. The lodge has a close relationship with Maghera "Sons of William" LOL 209 from Northern Ireland. The members of the Birmingham Lodge have travelled to Northern Ireland to participate in the Annual "Twelfth" parade.
The McWane Science Center is a regional science museum with hands-on science exhibits, temporary exhibitions, and an IMAX dome theater. The center also houses a major collection of fossil specimens for use by researchers. Other unique museums include the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, with the largest collection of motorcycles in the world, the Iron & Steel Museum of Alabama at Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park near McCalla, the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, and the Talladega Superspeedway International Motorsports Hall of Fame museum.
South of downtown on Red Mountain, Vulcan Park features the world's largest cast iron statue, depicting Vulcan at his forge. It was cast for the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, and erected at Vulcan Park in 1938.
The Southern Heritage Festival began in the 1960s as a music, arts, and entertainment festival for the African-American community to attract mostly younger demographics. Do Dah Day is an annual pet parade held around the end of May. The Schaeffer Eye Center Crawfish Boil, an annual music festival event held in May to benefit local charities, always includes an all-star cast of talent. It typically draws more than 30,000 spectators for the annual two-day event. The annual Greek Festival, a celebration of Greek heritage, culture, and especially cuisine, is a charity fundraiser hosted by The Cathedral of Holy Trinity & Holy Cross. The Greek Festival draws 20,000 patrons annually.
Alabama Bound is an annual book and author fair that celebrates Alabama authors and publishers. Hosted by the Birmingham Public Library, it is an occasion when fans may meet their favorite authors, buy their books, and hear them read from and talk about their work. Book signings follow each presentation.
Kelly Ingram Park, site of notable civil rights protests and adjacent to historic 16th Street Baptist Church. Oak Mountain State Park is about South of Birmingham. It is one of the southernmost wrinkles in the Appalachian chain, and a scenic drive to the top provides views reminiscent of the Great Smoky Mountains further north. To the west of the city is located Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park, a Civil War site which includes the well-preserved ruins of the Tannehill Iron Furnaces and the John Wesley Hall Grist Mill. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a 67 acre (270,000 m²) park displaying a wide variety of plants in interpretive gardens, including formal rose gardens, tropical greenhouses, and a large Japanese Garden. The facility also includes a white-tablecloth restaurant, meeting rooms, and an extensive reference library. It is complimented by Hoover's 30 acre Aldridge Gardens, an ambitious project open since 2002. Still under development, Aldridge is currently more valuable to locals looking for a place to stroll than to tourists, but promises unique displays in coming years. The Birmingham Zoo is a large regional zoo with more than 700 animals and a recently opened interactive children's zoo. Alabama Adventure Theme Park (formerly Visionland) is an amusement park with two independent sections: Splash Beach Water Park and Magic Adventure Theme Park,. The theme park has 25 different thrill rides including The Rampage wooden roller coaster and Zoomerang, a steel roller coaster purchased in 2004 from the Brisbane expo. (The park was renamed at the start of the 2006 season, and major expansion plans were announced at that time.)
Club Sport Founded League Venue
Southern League: South Division
Other area sport facilities include:
Birmingham Weekly, Birmingham Free Press and Black & White (published biweekly) are Birmingham's free alternative publications. The Birmingham Times, a historic African-American newspaper, also is published weekly.
Birmingham is served by the city magazine of the Chamber of Commerce, The Birmingham magazine.
Birmingham is part of the Birmingham/Anniston/Tuscaloosa television market, which is the nation's 40th largest. The major television affiliates are WBRC 6 (FOX), WBIQ 10 (PBS), WVTM 13 (NBC), WTTO 21 (CW), WBMA 33/40 (ABC), WIAT 42 (CBS), WPXH 44 (ION), and WABM 68 (MyNetworkTV).
Over 45 radio stations serve the Birmingham market, which is the nation's 56th largest radio market. Major broadcasting companies who own stations in the Birmingham market include Clear Channel, Cox Radio, Citadel Broadcasting, and Crawford Broadcasting. The Rick and Bubba show, which is syndicated to over 25 stations primarily in the Southeast, originates from Birmingham's WZZK-FM. The Paul Finebaum sports-talk show, also syndicated to a network of stations mainly in Alabama, originates from WJOX-FM.
Visitors and tourists can watch City Vision TV to find out where to eat, shop, and sight see around the Magic City. City Vision TV is a new, but growing, local station available in most hotel rooms throughout Greater Birmingham.