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          A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

  The history of steel 1

Originally, the material iron was obtained by heating iron ore at very high temperatures using charcoal and then removing the slag, this however was of a low quality. In the beginning of the 18th century, iron products were rare. Several wars, right up to the second world war from 1939 to 1945, would give a strong boost to the production of iron and later also steel. We, at least in Continental Europe, were still in the pre-industrial period, of course there were no steelworks and coal was not yet really mined either.

No specialist staff existed. Strong young men were needed, e.g., farmers sons. Indeed of course, they were not always available, particularly during the harvest time. There were already blacksmiths, but they were all more of an artisan nature. In addition, it was hot work, with temperatures way above 1000C. Nowadays, one can still observe the steel-workers, e.g., in India, without protective clothing the half-naked workers transport red-hot molten steel.

How does the the whole thing get started? Firstly, one needs a reliable supply of wood, entire forests in fact, and one needs water, a great deal of water. Sometimes one person has the wood and the other person the water. It takes some time before everything fits together. At that time, the Ruhr area was still a long way away from being a landscape of smoking chimneys. It was a rural area, where only approx. 150.000 people lived. The estates were possessed by nuns convents, which now had to busy themselves with the production of iron.

It took until the following century, before certain family-clans emerged. Stinnes, Thyssen, Krupp and Haniel in Germany, Schneider and de Wendel in France. In the end only one concern would remain, Thyssen-Krupp, which no longer deals with steel manufacturing. The French industry was nationalised under the name Usinor and as a part of Arcelor would become e.g., the biggest European supplier for the automobile industry.

Just as the Ruhr area changed, up to the mid 1900's other regions would as well, e.g., the Lorraine in France. As late as around 1850, Germany was still a long way away from the advanced technologies being used in England. The knowledge that coal, which had a higher heat-value, could be more efficient than wood, was slow in coming. The symbiosis between steel manufacturing and coal mining could now be foreseen. By the way, the dependence was on both sides because underground, in the pits, a great deal of steel was used.

If before the industrial revolution, the people living and working in Central Europe were more spread out, they now gathered themselves around the new factories. Entire towns developed in this way, e.g., Oberhausen. in 100 years, the population of the Ruhr area increased tenfold. A patriarchal society emerged, where seemingly, the workers and their families were cared for, in reality, they were also being supervised and controlled. The workers themselves didn't see it that way, they considered themselves to be a part of the factory and that they were participating in the important task of building up a new element of society. 05/12

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Translator: Don Leslie - Email:

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