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William Baird & Company was established in 1830 by William and James Baird. The company had its origins in 1816, when Alexander Baird, whose family is recorded as having owned land in Lanarkshire, Scotland as far back as the 13th century, began working coal leases there. By 1826, he and his sons owned numerous coal and mineral leases. In 1828, two of Alexander’s sons, William and James, began to erect the Gartsherrie Ironworks at Gartsherrie, North Lanarkshire, Scotland, and within fifteen years the works had grown to be the largest in the country with sixteen furnaces. In 1830, William and James took over all the coal leases and formed William Baird & Company.
In around 1843, William and James Baird were involved in the establishment of the Eglinton Iron Company that managed the Gartsherrie Ironworks, building furnaces at Kilwinning, North Ayrshire and purchasing furnaces at Blair and Dalry, North Ayrshire in 1852, Lugar, East Ayrshire in 1856, and Portland in 1864. By the mid 1860s, the company was producing twenty-five per cent of Scotland's output of pig iron with the capacity to produce 300,000 tons per year, and employing 10,000 men and boys. Bairds was probably the largest single producer of pig iron in the world at that time. The company operated blast furnaces at Gartsherrie, coke ovens at Kilsyth, Stirlingshire and Bedlay, Lanarkshire and collieries at Bothwell and Bedlay in Lanarkshire, Kilsyth, and Bathgate, West Lothian. They also owned cement works at Gartsherrie and brickworks at Gartshore, Dunbartonshire.
In 1852, the company was the first to introduce the cylindrical furnace in Scotland. It also experimented with blast heaters, raising the heat to 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Gartsherrie Ironworks gained a reputation for technical sophistication and attracted visitors from England, Europe and America. The Bairds provided schools, churches and recreational institutes for their workforce but opposed trade unionism. The Baird brothers also had considerable interests in banking and held twenty-nine railway company directorships and five chairmanships.
By the 1870s, the company was working mines in the North East of England, in what was the county of Cumberland, and also in Spain. In 1893, the firm was incorporated as William Baird & Company Ltd.