History of Steel

May 30, 2022 | Categorised in:

forging steel

Following the Iron Age, steel dates back several thousand years but has maintained its popularity as a building material. There are a number of reasons for this, from the variety of shapes that it can be formed into, to its strength and relatively low weight compared to other metals. But where did it come from, and how has it changed since its invention?

Steel basics

First let’s cover what steel actually is. Steel is an alloy that consists primarily of iron and a small amount (usually a few tenths of a percent) of carbon. Depending on the grade and type of steel, it can also have other elements such as chromium, manganese, or nickel. Different additives give the final metal desirable properties like increased hardness, corrosion resistance, and more. This flexibility has allowed steel to continue to adapt and be refined over the centuries and maintain its spot as the most widely-used metal in the world.

When was steel invented?

Going back to the beginning, we’ve found evidence of steel artifacts as far back as 1800 BC. However, the earliest signs of true steel production is from the 13th century BC in modern-day Turkey. Early steel had a wide range of how much carbon was in the metal, from less than 0.1% (low carbon steel) to 1% (high carbon steel), which could lead to the higher-carbon steel being very brittle. This brittleness can be reduced by tempering the steel, which is a form of heat treating that was used in Egypt as early as 900 BC.

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When was carbon steel invented?

The first type of steel created was called blister steel, because the initial process caused carbon monoxide gas to form in the metal, which worked its way to the surface and created “blisters.” While most early steel was considered carbon steel (having no other alloying elements besides iron and carbon), carbon steel wasn’t reliably and consistently produced until 500 AD in Demascus steel and Japanese swords.

Who invented steel?

While no one knows of one person (or even one culture) that invented steel first, the “Father of Steel” is widely considered to be Sir Henry Bessemer. An English engineer in the 1800s, he played a huge role in the beginning of the modern steel industry. He developed the first process for inexpensively manufacturing steel, which eventually led to the invention of the Bessemer converter. A crucial part of the process, these converters allowed impurities to be removed from up to 30 tons of metal at a time, and improved the efficiency of the steel-making process.

How steel has changed

There are a number of major ways that steel has evolved over the last several thousand years. One of these is improvements to the manufacturing process, with Henry Bessemer being among the biggest innovators. Another huge change to this process is that steel is now typically not made from scratch anymore, and is mostly recycled. Because of its ability to not lose any strength after being melted down and reformed, using scrap steel for production is increasingly common and makes production even more efficient. Not only that, but the technology behind steel recycling has improved to be more effective and environmentally friendly with the development of EAFs (electric arc furnaces) to replace traditional blast furnaces.

There are also countless different variations of steel now. From mild steel to stainless steel and dozens (or even hundreds) of different grades of everything in between, there is a steel for every job. By adding different elements, or different amounts of each element, the material can be completely tailored to fit a certain application or industry.

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If you’re looking for premium structural carbon steel for your project, Service Steel can supply it. We’ve been in the business for almost 60 years and our massive inventory of steel products is ready to ship for a variety of manufacturing and construction projects.


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