The city was founded in 1871 by the Elyton Land Company. The lots were located at the crossing of the South & North Alabama and Alabama and Chattanooga railroads. The first establishment at the site was a trading post and a country store. The area around the crossing had one important distinction - it contained iron, coal and limestone deposits. These three materials are used for making steel and Birmingham is one of the few places in the world where all three can be founded in close proximity. Considering this, the city was planned as a future industrial center right from the start and it was named after Birmingham, England, one of the major European centers of industry at the time.
The initial growth of Birmingham was rather slow due to outbreaks of cholera and later by the Wall Street crash of 1873. The city managed to recover and once it did its growth was unstoppable. At the turn of the century Birmingham developed a mix of neoclassical mid-rise buildings and skyscrapers, as well as industrial facilities, plants and warehouses.
The Great Depression did hit Birmingham but the city managed to bounce back during the World War II, when there was a very high demand for steel. After the war, the economy in Birmingham diversified and the city got many important civic institutions.
Birmingham was one of the cities in the center of the Civil Rights movement. The most prominent figure of the movement in the city was Fred Shuttlesworth who in 1963 invited Martin Luther King, Jr. and the members of the Southern Christian leadership Conference to come to Birmingham and help fight segregation and Jim Crow laws. They organized a series of protests and sit-ins, during which they had to endure police brutality and some 3,000 people were arrested. The protests were ultimately successful, resulting in the desegregation of the city and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Dr. King wrote his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” while in custody. The same year there was a bombing in a church in the city in which four African American girls were killed and many were seriously injured.
The 1970s were a period of great development in the city, especially at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which became one of the nation’s leading research centers. The city also got a number of new skyscrapers and various public structures. In the 1980s, like so many other American cities, Birmingham experienced white flight and the city core started to decay. Today the city is experiencing a whole new period of development, downtown is becoming a mixed-use district and the cultural and entertainment options are starting to expand.
The city is located in Jones Valley, surrounded by the tailing ends of the Appalachian Mountains. Red Mountain is the closest to the city. Other mountains include Sand Mountain and Ruffner Mountain. The valley has several creeks which come together to form the Black Warrior River. The city occupies an area of 151.9 square miles.
Birmingham has a humid subtropical climate, with hot summers, mild winters and plenty of rainfall. The city lies in the Tornado Alley, actually in its center, and was by F5 tornadoes on two occasions - in 1977 and in 1998.
At the 2010 Census Birmingham had 212,237 residents. The racial makeup was 73.4% Black or African American, 22.3% White, 3.6% Hispanic or Latino of any race, 1.0% Asian, 0.2% Native American, 1.0% two or more races and 2.1% some other race.
The city has the tenth-highest crime rate and the seventh-highest murder rate in the nation.
In 2000, the median household income was $26,735 and the per capita income was $15,663.
Even though it is not as prominent as it used to be, steel industry is still a major contributor to the local economy in Birmingham. The city is home to American Cast Iron Pipe Company and McWane, and companies such as Nucor, CMC Steel and U.S. Steel also have a major presence.
Another important sector in Birmingham is bio-technology and medical research, especially at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and its hospital, a Level I trauma center.
As a major banking center, Birmingham is home to BBVA Compass, Regions Financial Corporation and SouthTrust. It also hosts the headquarters of the insurance companies Infinity Property & Casualty, Protective Life, ProAssurance and Liberty National.
The former BellSouth phone company, now part of the AT&T Inc., has a major nexus in the city and owns one of its most prominent skyscrapers.
In addition, Birmingham is home to two of the largest soft-drink bottlers - The Coca-Cola Bottling Company United and Buffalo Rock Company.
Birmingham is the cultural and entertainment center of Alabama. It is home to the Alabama Ballet, Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Birmingham Ballet, Birmingham Concert Chorale and Opera Birmingham. Major venues in the city include the historic Alabama Theatre, the Carver Theatre, Alys Stephens Center for the Performing Arts, Boutwell Auditorium, the Verizon Wireless Music Center and the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.
The city hosts the Sidewalk Moving Pictures Festival, the Southern Heritage Festival and Taste of 4th Avenue Jazz Festival.
Notable museums in the city include the Birmingham Museum of Art, Southern Museum of Flight, Alabama Museum of Health Sciences, the Arlington Home and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.
Other sites of interest include the Vulcan statue (the world’s largest cast iron statue in the world), the historic 16th Street Baptist Church, Railroad Park, Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham Zoo and Birmingham Botanical Garden.
Institutions of higher education in Birmingham include the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Samford University (and its Cumberland School of Law), Miles College, Birmingham School of Law, Jefferson State Community College, Lawson State Community College and Virginia College in Birmingham.
Birmingham has one of the most extensive highway networks in the region. Major highways include I-20, I-22, I-65 and I-59, as well as I-459, U.S. Highway 280 and U.S. Highway 31.
Mass transit is operated by Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority and consists of buses, trolleys and paratransit service.
Railroad freight companies serving the city include CSX Transportation, BNSF Railway and the Norfolk Southern Company, while passenger rail service is provided by Amtrak (Crescent service).
The primary airport for the city is Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, located five miles northeast of downtown Birmingham.