In the spring of 1871 the Elyton Land Company in Alabama announced a public sale of lots in Jones Valley. The land was to be the site of a new «workshop town» at the projected intersection of two important railroads. It was the start of Birmingham, the «magic city» of the South. While most cities emerge along some prominent body of water, Birmingham had no such asset. It was the area’s rich mineral deposits that attracted the railroads, land speculators, and settlers. In the early years the Birmingham district was «a wild country, sparsely populated, and rough in appearance» but in the age of industrialization, the sheer abundance of coal, iron, and limestone was enough to fuel a continuing faith in the city’s future as the «Pittsburgh of the South». In this work, Daniel Letwin brilliantly tells us the changing of the land from a valley «beautifully diversified by fields and forest, spring and running stream» to «the manufacturing center of the habitable globe». In this process the major role was played by African American skilled workers. This essay is reprinted from the first chapter of Daniel Letwin’s book The Challenge of Interracial Unionism: Alabama Coal Miners, 1878-1921, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1998, pp. 9-30.