Summary of The Entire History of Steel

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Iron and steel have played a pivotal role in the history of human civilization. In this article for Popular Mechanics, journalist Jonathan Shifman describes the major milestones marking the history of the metal. getAbstract recommends it to everybody who wants to understand the role of steal in human history and global politics.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How humans invented steel and
  • Why steel had a decisive impact on the history of human civilization. 

About the Author

Jonathan Shifman is a writer based in New York City. 



The ancient Egyptians were the first to make objects out of iron. The iron-nickel alloy they used stemmed from meteorites, which were rare. Around 1,800 BC, humans developed techniques to separate iron ore deposits out of the Earth’s crust from stones and minerals, marking the beginning of the Iron Age. The Chalybes people in the Black Sea area were the first to build hearths to extricate iron from the ores, make it malleable and forge weapons from it. Around 500 BC, the Chinese developed smelters that allowed them to liquify the metal and create objects by pouring it into molds. A century later, India’s ironsmiths developed a furnace that allowed the molten iron to absorb just enough carbon from added charcoal to make it tougher than the wrought iron used by the Chalybes but not as brittle as the cast iron produced in China – a first version of steel. In the early Middle Ages, metal workers in what is present-day Germany began to produce cast iron in large blast furnaces that reached temperatures of up to 3,000°F (1,650°C). Meanwhile, demand for steel skyrocketed in Europe following the invention of cannons and firearms at a time of frequent warfare and global expansion. Since the iron alloy didn’t lend itself well to the fine mechanics involved in clockmaking, Englishman Benjamin Huntsman (1704–1776) developed a coal-fired smelter that produced reliably strong yet easily weldable steel. A century later, the English engineer Henry Bessemer invented a process that efficiently removed excess carbon and impurities from iron, which enabled mass production of high-quality steel.  

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