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History of the modern steel industry

For details of the technology see Steelmaking and steel.
For the history of earlier processes see History of Ferrous Metallurgy.

The History of the modern steel industry began in the late 1850s, but since then steel has been basic to the world's industrial economy. This article is intended only to address the business, economic and social dimensions of the industry, since the bulk production of steel began as a result of Henry Bessemer's development of the Bessemer converter in 1857. Previously steel was expensive to produce and only used where nothing else would do.



Germany has become one of the world’s most important steel-producing nations. The "German Steel Federation" was established in 1874.[1]

Asia: Japan, India, China

The Indian steel industry began expanding into Europe in the 21st century. In January 2007 India's Tata Steel made a successful $11.3 billion offer to buy European steel maker Corus Group PLC. In 2006 Mittal Steel (based in London but with Indian management) acquired Arcelor for $38.3 billion to become the world's biggest steel maker.

United States

In the United States the central figure was Andrew Carnegie, who made Pittsburgh the center of the industry. He sold his operations to US Steel in 1901, which became by far the dominant corporation for decades.


Main article: Andrew Carnegie

Carnegie's great innovation was in the cheap and efficient mass production of steel rails for railroad lines.

In the late 1880s, Carnegie Steel was the largest manufacturer of pig iron, steel rails, and coke in the world, with a capacity to produce approximately 2,000 tons of pig metal per day. In 1888, he bought the rival Homestead Steel Works, which included an extensive plant served by tributary coal and iron fields, a 425-mile (685 km) long railway, and a line of lake steamships. A consolidation of Carnegie's assets and those of his associates occurred in 1892 with the launching of the Carnegie Steel Company.

By 1889, the U.S. output of steel exceeded that of Britain, and Andrew Carnegie owned a large part of it. By 1900, the profits of Carnegie Bros. & Company alone stood at $40,000,000 with $25,000,000 being Carnegie's share. Carnegie's empire grew to include the J. Edgar Thomson Steel Works, (named for John Edgar Thomson, Carnegie's former boss and president of the Pennsylvania Railroad), Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Works, the Lucy Furnaces, the Union Iron Mills, the Union Mill (Wilson, Walker & County), the Keystone Bridge Works, the Hartman Steel Works, the Frick Coke Company, and the Scotia ore mines. Carnegie, through Keystone, supplied the steel for and owned shares in the landmark Eads Bridge project across the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Missouri (completed 1874). This project was an important proof-of-concept for steel technology which marked the opening of a new steel market.

US Steel

Main article: US Steel

By 1900 the US was the largest producer and also the lowest cost producer, and demand for steel seemed inexhaustible. Output had tripled since 1890, but customers, not producers, mostly benefitted. Productivity-enhancing technology encouraged faster and faster rates of investment in new plants. However during recessions, demand fell sharply taking down output, prices, and profits. Charles M. Schwab of Carnegie Steel proposed a solution: consolidation. J. P. Morgan and Elbert Gary led the team that worked with Carnegie and Schwab to create United States Steel, by far the largest non-railroad corporation in the world in 1901.

US Steel combined finishing firms (American Tin Plate, American Steel and Wire, and National Tube) with two major integrated companies, Carnegie Steel and Federal Steel. It was capitalized at $1.466 billion, and included 213 manufacturing mills, one thousand miles of railroad, and 41 mines. In 1901, it accounted for 66% of America's steel output, and almost 30% of the world's. During World War I, its annual production exceeded the combined output of all German and Austro-Hungarian firms.

After 1970 the company could no longer compete effectively with low-wage producers elsewhere. Imports and mini-mills undercut its sales. It went into oil then was spun off in 2001. Finally US Steel reemerged in 2002 with plants in three American locations (plus one in Slovakia) that employed fewer than one-tenth the 168,000 workers of 1902.


  1. ^ The German Steel Federation. WV Stahl. Retrieved on 2007-04-26.


  • Bernal, John Desmond, Science and Industry in the Nineteenth Century, Indiana University Press, 1970.
  • Burn, Duncan. The Steel Industry, 1939-1959: A Study in Competition and Planning (1961)
  • Duncan Burn; The Economic History of Steelmaking, 1867-1939: A Study in Competition. Cambridge University Press, 1961 online version
  • J. C. Carr and W. Taplin; History of the British Steel Industry Harvard University Press, 1962 online version
  • Anthony P.D’Costa; The Global Restructuring of the Steel Industry: Innovations, Institutions, and Industrial Change London: Routledge, 1999 online version
  • Harukiyu Hasegawa; The Steel Industry in Japan: A Comparison with Britain 1996 online version
  • Krass, Peter. Carnegie (2002). ISBN 0-471-38630-8.
  • Livesay, Harold C. Andrew Carnegie and the Rise of Big Business, 2nd Edition (1999). ISBN 0-321-43287-8.
  • Landes, David S., The Unbound Prometheus: Technical Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 2003
  • Misa, Thomas J. A Nation of Steel: The Making of Modern America, 1865-1925 (1998)
  • Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie (The Penguin Press, 2006).
  • Norman J. G. Pounds and William N. Parker; Coal and Steel in Western Europe; the Influence of Resources and Techniques on Production (Indiana University Press, 1957) online version
  • H. Lee Scamehorn; Mill & Mine: The Cf&I in the Twentieth Century University of Nebraska Press, 1992 online version
  • Scheuerman, William. The Steel Crisis: The Economics and Politics of a Declining Industry (1986)
  • Geoffrey Tweedale; Steel City: Entrepreneurship, Strategy, and Technology in Sheffield, 1743-1993. Oxford University, 1995 online version
  • Wall, Joseph Frazier. Andrew Carnegie (1989). ISBN 0-8229-5904-6.
  • Warren, Kenneth, Big Steel: The First Century of the United States Steel Corporation, 1901-2001. (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001) online review
  • Whaples, Robert. "Andrew Carnegie", EH.Net Encyclopedia of Economic and Business History.
  • U.S. Steel's History of U.S. Steel
  • Urofsky, Melvin I. Big Steel and the Wilson Administration: A Study in Business-Government Relations (1969)

Bibliography: Labor in Steel industry

  • Brody, David. Labor in Crisis: The Steel Strike of 1919 (1965)
  • Mary Margaret Fonow; Union Women: Forging Feminism in the United Steelworkers of America University of Minnesota Press, 2003 online version
  • Warne, Colston E. ed. The Steel Strike of 1919 (1963) primary and secondary documents

See also


  1. ^ The German Steel Federation. WV Stahl. Retrieved on 2007-04-26.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "History_of_the_modern_steel_industry". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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