Let's Learn About: The Rodman Cannon

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Across the street from the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District, the Fort Pitt Foundry produced nearly 1,200 guns and 60 percent of the cannons used by the Union Army during the Civil War.

In 1864, Thomas Jackson Rodman, a Union Army general, inventor and artillerist, developed a special process at the Fort Pitt Foundry that would help produce the world's largest cast iron cannon. Before Rodman's innovative process, cannons were cast solid, which led the hot metal to cool unevenly and resulted in cracks or irregularities that caused the weapon to burst when fired.

After 10 years of experimentation, Rodman discovered a new way to refine the casting process. By developing a special hollow core, the molten metal cooled evenly and any weaknesses in the structure were eliminated.

The 90-ton smoothbore Rodman cannon measured 20 feet in length and could fire a 20-inch cannon ball 41/2 miles. To put that distance in perspective, if the gun was fired from the Strip District today, its cannonballs could easily reach the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh or Allegheny Observatory on the North Side.

Due to the significant contributions of the Fort Pitt Foundry in the Strip District and the Allegheny Arsenal in Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh was known as the "Arsenal of the Union" during the Civil War.

As part of the History Center's Pennsylvania's Civil War exhibition, researchers spent more than two months creating an exact replica of the Rodman cannon utilizing 3-D printing technology. The reproduction weighs nine tons and spans 26 feet in length. The barrel alone measures 20 feet with a 16-foot circumference at the widest point.

Visitors to the Pennsylvania's Civil War exhibition can see the 26-foot replica Rodman cannon along with more than 150 artifacts, rare archival images, six life-like museum figures, and immersive settings. The exhibition helps to bring to life the personal stories of those impacted during the 4-year war, including soldiers, women, African-Americans and children.

For more information: www.heinzhistorycenter.org/civilwar.

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