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The Age of Steel

Jeffrey Syken

Iron may have made the Industrial Revolution possible, but its derivative: Steel, would change the world like nothing else before or since. Without steel the modern world we know simply would not be possible. From soup cans to skyscrapers, steel is the main ingredient. In fact, for most of the 20th Century, a nationís ability to produce steel was an indicator of its economic power, vitality and place in the world. For the steelmaker Ė from the blast furnace worker to the CEO, there was a special pride in taking iron, coal and limestone (steelís main ingredients) literally out of the earth and making from it great machines, roads, bridges, buildings, automobiles etc. In many ways, it was a kind of alchemy.

Understanding steelís importance starts with a recognition of the raw materials itís made from, primarily iron ore. The Mesabi Range of Northern Minnesota was the main supply source for iron ore during steel-makingís heyday. Then there are the great steel making plants with their complex processes and equipment that turned the iron ore into steel and then into useful shapes for industry. I-beams make Skyscrapers, sheet steel makes car bodies etc. Steelís two great qualities are strength and ductility and it is a fact that steel has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any building material. By adding other metals, steel can be made harder, tougher, fire-resistant, corrosion-resistant etc.

In the post-WWII era, Americaís once mighty steel producing giants (i.e. Bethlehem Steel Corp.) suffered the effects of Americaís economic decline. Without the record tonnage of steel produced, victory in both world wars would not have been possible. For those who were part of that great patriotic effort, the decline of Americaís most important industry Ė the one so many other industries depended on, was never within the realm of their imagination.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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