The History of Steel: How Men Utilize the Alloy

Posted by Casandra Properties on Saturday, April 4th, 2020 at 2:08pm.

The Iron Age, between 1200 B.C. and 600 B.C., is when the use of steel first started appearing. Throughout this time, people across Europe, Asia, and Africa began to make tools and weapons from this valuable metal.

It is possible that the Hittites of the Bronze Age were the first to stumble upon the creation process of steel. However, it wasn't until the Iron Age that steel took off in popularity and began to appear in multiple countries and used in trade.

From the moment steel came into use, it continued to grow in popularity and spread throughout the world. The history of steel stretches back thousands of years and helped lead to what is now the steel industry of the modern age.

How Steel Is Made

How Is Steel Made?

Sometime during 400 B.C., Indian metalworkers discovered the smelting method to create steel.

They used a clay receptacle called a crucible for molten iron. They would put wrought iron bars and charcoal into the crucible. The container was then sealed and placed inside a furnace.

The temperature of the furnace would then soar high as they used blasted air into the furnace via bellows. The wrought iron within would then melt and absorb the exact right amount of carbon from the charcoal.

When the Indian metalworkers let the crucibles cool and withdrew the metal, they discovered it had transformed into pure steel.

From there, Indian metalworkers sold their steel all across the world. For example, Damascus became a regular customer. Syrian smiths used their metal to forge the famous Damascus steel swords.

The Modern Process

Nowadays, the process of creating steel doesn’t resemble in the least the olden days.

While the steps have changed, the modern method uses a similar premise to the Bessemer Process. The Bessemer Process involves using oxygen to lower the carbon content in iron.

Steel production of the modern age uses a combination of recycled materials and raw materials like iron ore, coal, and limestone. There are two different processes that can account for the making of steel: basic oxygen steelmaking (BOS) and electric arc furnaces (EAF).

With the BOS method, metalworkers combine molten iron with recycled scrap steel and put it into a converter. It burns at a high temperature with oxygen circulating through the converter. This reduces the carbon content to create steel.

The EAF method is by far the most modern technique used today. Workers put recycled steel scrap into an electric arc. The scrap is melted down and converted into high-quality steel.

Both BOS and EAF methods are only the first step. Once steel forms from either method, it must undergo an additional step to adjust the composition. There are several different processes used to achieve the final product, including:

  • Ladle furnace
  • Ladle injection
  • Stirring
  • CAS-OB
  • Degassing

From there, steel undergoes a secondary forming technique. This involves manufacturing, fabrication, and finishing to make the steel take its final shape.

America Enters the Fray

Andrew Carnegie helped America get a foothold in the steel industry.

Carnegie founded the Carnegie Steel Company. This company began producing steel for use in bridges and in a new type of building called skyscrapers. During this period, Carnegie's company produced half as much steel as all of Britain.

By the 20th century, the American steel industry boomed. As World War I began, the demand for steel rose.

At first, America was under neutrality laws that prevented it from selling weapons to either side. This fact didn't stop certain enterprisers from meeting with key officials like Winston Churchill in private. 

One person, Charles Schwab, met with England's Secretary of State for War and agreed to help them produce weaponry. He then went to his next meeting with Churchill, where he agreed to help build submarines for England's Royal Navy.

Once America entered into World War I as well, steel production for the Allied forces no longer need be kept secret. At this point, steel production from America more than doubled and gave the Allies a definitive advantage over their enemies.

Once the war ended, the steel industry in the United States continued to grow ever stronger. Towering Art Deco towers sprung up overnight in New York and Chicago. However, skyscrapers weren’t the only innovation to come out of the steel industry during this time.

Items like cars, home appliances, and food cans became popular. Railroad tracks continued to be built across the country and steel beer cans first came into production. The steel industry continued to grow, with little slowing it down.

Several years later and the world once more experienced another great war. During World War II, the U.S. placed a ban on steel being used for consumer goods. Instead, steel went toward the production of ships, planes, tanks, and guns.

When World War II ended, the ban on steel consumer goods lifted. This is when steel goods really ratcheted up in numbers. Soon, cars, toys, and home appliances all used steel in some way or another.

The State of Steel Today

No longer is the world dominated by one or two monolithic steel production companies.

Steel is now made by smaller mills spread across the country. The metal is commonplace and found in everyday household items.

Steel transformed the world as we know it. It went from holding a revered status as the best kind of sword during ancient times to becoming a deciding factor in how the World Wars played out.

No longer is steel rare and reserved for the powerful and elite. It is so commonplace now that you can even find steel buildings for sale at any given time.

The History of Steel Is Prestigious

The history of steel shows that the metal has changed the course of human civilization countless times. From starting off as a revered metal used for weapons, to helping fuel a time of crisis during World Wars, steel has countless uses. One of its most popular forms now consists of holding canned goods.

If you found this article informative, please take a moment to look around our site for other great reads before you go!

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