One of the greatest advantages of our modern society is undoubtedly the variety of materials that we can use. While our ancestors had to content themselves with rocks and simple metals, the modern manufacturer has a multitude of materials to choose from.
However, there’s one material that undoubtedly defines the modern age: steel. Found in almost everything, from spare parts to sheets in a Baileigh industrial bead roller, steel is one of the hallmark materials that have helped shape the modern world.
But how exactly did we come upon this metal? What was the journey that led it from being an almost unknown, mythic metal to what it is today?
First of all, it’s important to define what steel exactly is. “Steel” refers to an alloy or two metals joined together. In this case, iron and carbon are melted together to form a combination of metal that we now call steel. Different processes that developed over the years have vastly improved the qualities of steel that we can produce, and this has led to it being the most common manmade material that we manufacture and use.
One of the advantages of steel is how strong it is for its relative tensile strength (or how much metal can stretch before it breaks) in comparison to its cost. Vastly outperforming other materials in terms of how easy it is to craft and deploy, steel has become the hallmark of modern construction.
However, the idea of steel itself was far from a modern invention. Steelmaking techniques have been unearthed in countries that date back 4000 years ago in a place where we now know as modern day Turkey. This steel was still quite impure and far from the ones that we know today but undoubtedly, the techniques and processes required for refining metal were known to our ancestors.
The main reason so much of ancient steel is flawed was simply due to the fact that a key part of refining steel was impossible for them to reach: the extremely high temperature required to cleanse away impurities. The process for creating steel was more luck and chance than refinement.
On the other hand, modern steel development found its roots in the Industrial Revolution but didn’t really take off until more stable and cheaper alternatives to production were found. While certainly still leagues above the steel produced by the earlier manufacturers, it was cost, not the technology, that limited modern steel from becoming affordable.
Once this cost barrier has been breached, it becomes a veritable booming economy for steel manufacturing. The alloy is now the material of choice for many industries, including construction, military, commercial, and medical. Lightweight, inexpensive, and easy to work with, future iterations of the metal would be even better, such as stainless steel.
A modern marvel of our time, steel has become the material of choice that continues to be a strong foundation for the development of civilizations. While other metals and other materials may become more available to us in the future as we innovate, there is no denying that the legacy it has left on our world today will remain.