While many of us associate the introduction of steel into economics with the start of the First Industrial Revolution, steel has actually been around for a VERY long time. Steel has always been a game changer, from its invention in the 13th century BC to our modern day “trade wars.”
The story of steel…
“Steel’s indisputable significance is confirmed by the fact that it has become the second most mass-produced commodity after cement production, attaining the world-wide production volume of approx. 750 mil tons yearly.” —The Steel Federation
Let me hit you with some knowledge! Read on for steel’s history, alloys, uses, and more.
- 13th century BC: Invention of steel – Early blacksmiths discovered that iron became harder and stronger when left in charcoal furnaces.
- The earliest known production of steel is evidenced by pieces of ironware excavated from an archaeological site in Anatolia (Kaman-Kalehoyuk), dating from 1800 BC.
- 1400 BC: The Haya people of East Africa invented a type of furnace they used to make carbon steel at 1,802 °C (3,276 °F).
- 6th century BC: Metal production sites in Sri Lanka employed wind furnaces driven by the monsoon winds, capable of producing high-carbon steel. Large-scale Wootz steel production in Tamilakam using crucibles and carbon sources such as the plant Avāram occurred by the sixth century BC, the pioneering precursor to modern steel production and metallurgy.
- 3rd century BC: South Indian and Mediterranean sources including Alexander the Great (3rd c. BC) recount the presentation and export to the Greeks of 100 talents worth of Wootz steel.
- Roman Era: Imperial armies, including those of China, Greece, Persia and Rome, were eager for strong, durable weapons and armor. The Romans learned how to temper work-hardened steel to reduce its brittleness.
- The Chinese of the Warring States period (403–221 BC) had quench-hardened steel,while Chinese of the Han dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) created steel by melting together wrought iron with cast iron, gaining an ultimate product of a carbon-intermediate steel by the 1st century AD.
- 4th century AD: The Iron Pillar of Delhi: Oldest surviving example of corrosion-resistant steel.
- 11th century AD: Damascus steel developed in Middle East. Damascus steel was a term used in Western culture from the Medieval period onward to describe a type of steel created in India and used in swordmaking from around 300 BC to 1700 AD.
- 12th century AD: The land of Serendib (Sri Lanka) seems to have been the world’s main supplier of crucible steel.
- 16th century AD: In 1540, Vannoccio Biringuccio publishes first systematic, detailed volume on metallurgy.
- The production of steel by the cementation process was described in a treatise published in Prague in 1574 and was in use in Nuremberg from 1601. A similar process for case hardening armor and files was described in a book published in Naples in 1589. The process was introduced to England in about 1614 and used to produce such steel by Sir Basil Brooke at Coalbrookdale during the 1610s.
- 18th century AD: Steel was now recognized and well established as a valuable material. Sweden led the way during the 18th century as new techniques began to emerge, which improved quality and consistency.
- 1709: Coke, or coking coal, is first used to smelt iron ore – wood and charcoal, which were becoming harder to obtain, are gradually replaced.
- 1712: English ironmonger Thomas Newcomen builds first commercially successful steam engine – steam and steel combined are increasingly the key drivers of the Industrial Revolution.
- 1740: The crucible steel technique is developed by English inventor Benjamin Huntsman. Crucible-forged steel proves invaluable in the production of accurate, long-lasting clocks.
- 1769: Scottish inventor James Watt perfects Newcomen device and patents first efficient steam engine, propelling the Industrial Revolution in both Great Britain and the rest of the world.
- 1779: Early mills had run successfully with water power, but by using a steam engine (requiring steel) a factory could be located anywhere, not just close to water. Steam mills were an essential early element of the Industrial Revolution.
- 1783: Englishman Henry Cort invents the steel roller for steel production.
- 1794: Welsh ironmaster Philip Vaughan patented a design for steel ball bearings to support the axle of a carriage.
- 1837: John Deere was an Illinois blacksmith and manufacturer. He designed a farm plough that revolutionized agriculture, enabling farmers to better feed their countries’ populations. This was part of a great shift in both Europe and the US as farming gradually became mechanized, employing machines that relied on the strength of steel.
- 1855: The Bessemer process was invented, and it was the first inexpensive industrial process for the mass-production of steel from molten pig iron.
- 1865: Sir Carl Wilhelm Siemens developed the Siemens regenerative furnace in the 1850s, and claimed in 1857 to be recovering enough heat to save 70–80% of the fuel. The open hearth furnace ensured that the production of steel increased greatly.
- 1860s: The American Civil War was one of the earliest true industrial wars. Railroads, the telegraph, steamships, and mass-produced weapons were employed extensively. In the years after the Civil War, the American steel industry grew with astonishing speed as the nation’s economy expanded to become the largest in the world, railways began up open up the US, and Americans made their first moves from rural to urban existence.
- 1868: Tungsten steel is invented by Robert Mushet.
- 1873: Wire fence in the American West! Barbed wire played an important role in the protection of range rights in the U.S. West. and was the first wire technology capable of restraining cattle.
- 1883: First skyscraper (ten stories) in Chicago and Brooklyn Bridge in New York City (first steel wire suspension bridge) open. The newfound use of steel in buildings and bridges was to revolutionize city planning.
- 1901: During the 20th century there was significant growth of steel production due to the rise global conflict. This huge military demand for steel brought many benefits to society as well as new weapons for war.
- 1901: US Steel founded.
- 1912: The invention of stainless steel by Harry Brearley. Stainless steel brought huge benefits both to industry and families.
- 1914-18: Military technology reached a new level during World War I because of steel, which allowed for important innovations in weaponry, grenades, poison gas, and artillery, along with the submarine, warplane and the tank.
- 1920’s and 30’s: Stainless steel was en vogue during the Art Deco period.
- 1939-45: World War II. The 20th century’s two world wars had huge consequences for steelmaking. Steel was required for the railways and ships that carried troops and supplies. Steel plates proved vital in the development of shipping and other forms of transport, as well as for other obvious military uses. Warfare advances in technology hugely increases steel’s worldwide production.
- 1950s-60s: The “Steel Age” begins. In the 1950s and 60s, steelmaking was a major industry and science was increasingly unlocking the mysteries of steel. Significant developments were made in steel processes, which allowed production to move away from military and shipping to cars and home appliances. This brought huge growth in the range of steel home appliances that were made available to consumers. Also of note is the EAF innovation during this time that enabled scrap steel to be efficiently and economically recycled.
- 1951: The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) is formed following the Treaty of Paris (1951) by ‘the inner six’: France, Italy, the Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) and West Germany. The ECSC served to unify democratic countries of Europe during the Cold War.
- 1950s: Adopted by US military in the late 1950s, shipping containers, which were large reusable steel boxes used for intermodal shipments, helped standardization.
- 1967: The World Steel Association founded as the International Iron and Steel Institute (IISI) in Brussels, Belgium on 19 October 1967.
- 1969: The mini mills transformation. Using Direct Reduced Iron (DRI) or pig iron as input materials, mini-mills were smaller and simpler to build and operate. When Nucor – which is now one of the largest steel producers in the US – decided to enter the long products market in 1969, they chose to start up a mini mill, with an Electric Arc Furnace as its steelmaking core, a move that was soon followed by other manufacturers during the 1970s.
- 1970s: Steel innovation in the East. Japan and South Korea developed massive state-of-the-art integrated facilities.
- 1990s: The steel industry saw its focus shift to the emerging markets, as these economies required huge amounts of steel for urbanization and industrialization.
- 2000s: China stepped up its steel game, and by the end of 2011 was by far the world’s largest steel producer.
- 2006: ArcelorMittal becomes both the largest and first global steel company in 2006 from the takeover and merger of Arcelor by Mittal Steel.
- The world steel industry peaked in 2007.
- 2011: Nippon Steel merged with Sumitomo Metal to become Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation.
- In 2016 a breakthrough in creating a strong light aluminium steel alloy which might be suitable in applications such as aircraft was announced by researchers at Pohang University of Science and Technology. Adding small amounts of nickel was found to result in precipitation as nano particles of brittle B2 intermetallic compounds which had previously resulted in weakness. The result was a cheap strong light steel alloy—nearly as strong as titanium at ten percent the cost.
- ArcelorMittal S.A. is the world’s largest steel producer, accounting for more than 6% of global crude steel production.
- The top global steel producers are: ArcelorMittal SA, Baosteel, POSCO, Nippon Steel Corp, JFE Holdings, Jiangsu Shagang Group, Tata Steel, US Steel, Ansteel, Gerdau, and Nucor.
Steel’s Alloys & Uses:
- The noun steel originates from the Proto-Germanic adjective stakhlijan (made of steel), which is related to stakhla (standing firm).
- The carbon in typical steel alloys may contribute up to 2.1% of its weight.
- Steel’s strength compared to pure iron is only possible at the expense of iron’s ductility, of which iron has an excess.
- Common elements alloyed with steel include: manganese, nickel, chromium, molybdenum, boron, titanium, vanadium, tungsten, cobalt, and niobium.
- There are many types of heat treating processes available to steel. The most common are annealing, quenching, and tempering.
- Steel is one of the world’s most-recycled materials, with a recycling rate of over 60% globally.
- In the United States the steel recycling rate is around 83%.
- Steel is 100% recyclable with no downgrading in quality, which makes steel the most recycled material in the world.
- Approximately 96% of steel is continuously cast, while only 4% is produced as ingots.
- Carbon steel, composed simply of iron and carbon, accounts for 90% of steel production.
- Recent Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations have given rise to a new variety of steel known as Advanced High Strength Steel (AHSS).
- Stainless steels contain a minimum of 11% chromium, often combined with nickel, to resist corrosion. Some stainless steels, such as the ferritic stainless steels are magnetic, while others, such as the austenitic, are nonmagnetic. Corrosion-resistant steels are abbreviated as CRES.
- Some more modern steels include tool steels, which are alloyed with large amounts of tungsten and cobalt or other elements to maximize solution hardening. This also allows the use of precipitation hardening and improves the alloy’s temperature resistance.
- Other special-purpose alloys include weathering steels such as Cor-ten, which weather by acquiring a stable, rusted surface, and so can be used un-painted.
- Maraging steel is alloyed with nickel and other elements, but unlike most steel contains little carbon (0.01%). This creates a very strong but still malleable steel.
- Eglin steel uses a combination of over a dozen different elements in varying amounts to create a relatively low-cost steel for use in bunker buster weapons.
- Hadfield steel (after Sir Robert Hadfield) or manganese steel contains 12–14% manganese which when abraded strain-hardens to form an incredibly hard skin which resists wearing. Examples include tank tracks, bulldozer blade edges and cutting blades on the jaws of life.
- Most of the more commonly used steel alloys are categorized into various grades by standards organizations. For example, the Society of Automotive Engineers has a series of grades defining many types of steel. The American Society for Testing and Materials has a separate set of standards, which define alloys such as A36 steel, the most commonly used structural steel in the United States. The JIS also define series of steel grades that are being used extensively in Japan as well in third world countries.
Thanks for reading!