Birmingham is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Alabama and the county seat of Jefferson County. The city's population was 212,237 in the 2010 United States Census. In the 2010 US Census, the Birmingham-Hoover Metropolitan Statistical Area had a population of about 1,128,047, which is approximately one-quarter of Alabama's population.
Birmingham was founded in 1871, during the post-Civil War Reconstruction period, through the merger of three pre-existing farm towns, notably, former Elyton. It was named for Birmingham, England, the UK's second largest city and then major industrial city. The Alabama city annexed smaller neighbors and developed as an industrial and railroad transportation center, based on mining, the new iron and steel industry, and railroading. Most of the original settlers who founded Birmingham were of English ancestry. The city was developed as a place where cheap, non-unionized, and African-American labor from rural Alabama could be employed in the city's steel mills and blast furnaces, giving it a competitive advantage over unionized industrial cities in the Midwest and Northeast.
From its founding through the end of the 1960s, Birmingham was a primary industrial center of the southern United States. Its growth from 1881 through 1920 earned its nicknames as The Magic City and The Pittsburgh of the South. Its major industries were iron and steel production, plus a major component of the railroading industry. Rails and railroad cars were both manufactured in Birmingham. Since the 1860s, the two primary hubs of railroading in the Deep South have been nearby Atlanta and Birmingham. The economy diversified in the latter half of the 20th century. Banking, telecommunications, transportation, electrical power transmission, medical care, college education, and insurance have become major economic activities. Birmingham ranks as one of the largest banking centers in the United States and as one of the most important business centers in the Southeast.
In higher education, Birmingham has been the location of the University of Alabama School of Medicine (formerly the Medical College of Alabama) and the University of Alabama School of Dentistry since 1947. Since that time it has also gained the University of Alabama at Birmingham (founded circa 1969), one of three main campuses of the University of Alabama System. It is also home to three private institutions: Samford University, Birmingham-Southern College, and Miles College. In total, the Birmingham area has major colleges of medicine, dentistry, optometry, physical therapy, pharmacy, law, engineering, and nursing. The city has three of the state's five law schools: Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham School of Law, and Miles Law School. Birmingham is also the headquarters of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and Southeastern Conference, one of the major U.S. collegiate athletic conferences.