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An Abridged History of Steel

Steel can be found adding strength and durability to countless applications throughout our nation. From homes and kitchens, to bridges and buildings, steel is incorporated into our everyday lives. While blacksmiths have been heating and manipulating steel with hand tools for centuries, it wasn't until the 1600s with the advent of new production methods that steel became a more popular material.

Then in the 19th century, the Bessemer process was invented, making the mass production of steel less expensive. Creating oxidation by air blowing through molten pig iron, the process removed impurities from iron. Named for the inventor, Henry Bessemer of England, the new process made it possible for the steel industry to produce large quantities while at low cost.

The steel industry was modernized once again with the invention of the open-hearth steel production process (also known as the Siemens-Martin process), making it possible for companies to produce steel out of domestic iron ores. As a batch process, excess carbon and other impurities were burnt out of the iron to produce steel. A major advantage of the new process included more control which led to no exposure to excessive amounts of nitrogen, which would otherwise cause the steel to become brittle.

Steel production innovations were driven by the increased need and want for steel from multiple industries including railway, automobile and construction. The open-hearth process was used for most of the 20th century until the basic oxygen process was invented. Similar to the Bessemer method, oxygen is blown through carbon-rich molten pig iron, creating low-carbon steel. It's known as "basic" because chemical cleaning agents, either burnt lime or dolomite (both bases), are added to remove impurities.

While the basic oxygen process is still used in steelmaking today, the electric arc furnace (EAF) process is also popular. Ranging from small units with nearly one-ton capacity to large units with up to 400-ton capacity, furnaces heat charged material by electric arc. Reaching temperatures anywhere from 3,000˚F to 5,000˚F, the electric arc furnace produces batches of molten steel, known as "heats."

According to the World Steel Association, 1630 million tons of steel was produced in 2016. Out of the top 20 steel-producing countries last year, China, Japan, India, USA and Russia rank in the top five. For your metal supply needs in Houston, Texas Iron & Metal is your go to surplus steel supplier. For all of your product needs from angle to steel pipe to square tubing, contact the Texas Iron & Metal team today.