history of steel

Steel is one of the most important materials in the modern world. This alloy of the elements iron and carbon makes much of our engineering and infrastructure possible.

However, steel has had a much longer history than most people are aware of. In this article, we will take a brief glimpse at the history of steel, the metal that has built much of the world as we know it today.

Ancient Steel

While it is uncertain exactly when the combining of iron and carbon to make steel first took place, it is known that the material was in use in the northern areas of Turkey by the early second millennium B.C.E.

The eventual coming of the Hittites to Anatolia and their growth into an empire would spread both the trade and production of steel, making it available slowly to other parts of the ancient world.

By the classical period of Greece, steel tools and weapons were commonly used. Particularly important was the alloy’s application in manufacturing weapons. Blades made from steel featured prominently in the arsenal of the Spartan city state, and were used in both the Peloponnesian war and the resistance of the Persian invasion of Greece.

It was from these Greek sources that the process for the manufacture of steel would eventually reach the Roman empire. From there, the knowledge of manufacturing steel would diversify throughout Europe.

Independent Development in India and Asia

Steelmaking seems to have developed independently in Asia, although the exact time period is unknown.

What is certain in that by the time of Alexander the Great, steel production was commonplace on the Indian subcontinent. Around this time, Damascus steel, a folded high carbon steel known for its hardness and durability, was developed.

Chinese steel was apparently in use by the second half of the first millennium B.C.E, as artifacts from the Warring States Period of Chinese history made from steel have been found. It is likely that the technology reached China from India or other Asian regions already creating it.

Steel making arrived late in Japan, but became critical for much of the arms and armor used in the society’s extremely martial feudal period. It was also here that some of the finest and most durable steel was made.

The Modernization of Steel Manufacturing

The beginning of steel production on a modern industrial scale came about largely because of the work of Henry Bessemer, who created a process for making large quantities easily and cheaply, known as the Bessemer Process.

From this point, steel production quickly spread, and the use of the material in construction and engineering became much more common. This laid the foundations for the modern steel industry.

Today, the world’s steel industry is active in almost every major industrial country. Through the advent of worldwide trade, steel made in China may easily be used for applications in the United States. In addition, steel has continued to improve, as more precise alloy combinations are explored for exact applications.