Mining Engineer, Philanthropist
Many northerners were drawn to the South by its natural resources during the industrial boom of the late nineteenth century. Some came as outsiders to exploit, while others committed themselves to the interests of the new community. Erskine Ramsay, one of the latter, became a major contributor to the welfare and future of his adopted state.
Born of working-class immigrant parents at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on September 24, 1864, Ramsay learned mining on the job from his father and uncle. His formal education was built upon the school of hard work, as well-as he rose to the top of his class while laboring to supplement the family income and pay for his own education. Hard work and knowledge would serve him well throughout his life. Advancing quickly in the mining industry, Ramsay filled a supervisor's post by the age of twenty, earning him the sobriquet "youngest mine superintendent in history" and accolades from such industry notables as Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie. Leaving their association for Southern fields in 1887, Ramsay accepted a position with the Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company as an engineer and superintendent of Pratt Mines in Birmingham.
Thereafter, his professional contributions ranged beyond management and administration to the technical aspects of engineering, as reflected by a host of inventions that made solid contributions to the industry. His concepts improved efficiency, produced a better quality product, saved labor, increased profits, subsidized higher wages, and contributed to safety. His success made him the target of mining companies all over the world, but highly attractive offers and higher pay could not lure him away from his adopted state.
Ramsay's dedication to his new home and its resources is reflected by generous gifts to both public and private enterprises at all levels. Colleges and universities, churches, boys clubs, and hospitals benefited from his contributions. Sharing his valuable time and energy, as well as financial resources, he served as president of the Birmingham Board of Education, as Alabama State Mine Examiner, and - for one brief year (1907)- as head of the Republican National Committee. Amid continual pressure to run for such other offices as mayor, senator, and governor, he steadfastly refused, saying that he was just a mining engineer.
Civic, education, religious, humanitarian, and social groups bestow upon such men awards far too numerous to list. For Ramsay, one he held especially dear deserves note: The William Lawrence Saunders Gold Medal of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers.
Erskine Ramsay was inducted into the Alabama Men's Hall of Fame in 1998.