Steel: The Backbone of Modernity, 1914 [Slide Show]

These images show how the world of a century ago depended on steel

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Engineering with Steel
Metallurgists have known for centuries that iron is soft, weak and brittle compared with steel. Add the right amount of carbon to iron under the right conditions and you get a material that is harder and stronger and much more useful. With steel you can make girders and cables that hold more weight as well as steel containers and plates that can withstand higher pressures and greater force. It’s expensive, though. A big breakthrough came in 1855 when Henry Bessemer devised a process for making steel on an industrial scale much more cheaply.
By 1914, that process and newer, better ones had made steel the foundation material for industrial manufacturing, transportation and building, supplying much of the infrastructure that supported urban and rural living. Of great importance in 1914, the year World War I started in Europe, was the use of steel in armaments. Scientific American, at the forefront of what was new in science and technology, covered the appearance of steel in all of its many guises. A small sampling of our coverage appears in the pages that follow here; you can find many more articles in an extensive archive of Scientific American articles, back to 1845.

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