Steel: The Backbone of Modernity, 1914 [Slide Show]
These images show how the world of a century ago depended on steel
BRIDGING CANYONS: The Crooked River Bridge in Oregon was built in 1914. Although it looks like only thin air is holding up the structure, the steel girders were supported by chains of steel I-beams, anchored in concrete, holding a load of 760,000 pounds...
Scientific American Supplement, February 7, 1914
THE IRON HORSE: By 1914, locomotives hauled freight and passengers along almost a quarter of a million miles of railroads that crisscrossed the U.S. This "Pacific type" locomotive weighed 257,000 pounds and was owned by the Chicago Great Western Railroad...
Scientific American Supplement, February 14, 1914
YELLOW RIVER RAILWAY BRIDGE: Built for the Chinese government by a German company from 1908 to 1912. Now known as the Luokou Yellow River Railway Bridge, it carried the railroad that connected Nanjing to Beijing to the Trans-Siberian Railway...
Scientific American Supplement, November 14, 1914
STEEL WARSHIPS: The U.S. entered the international naval arms race in 1890. By 1914, the U.S. Navy had 33 battleships but only about 10 of them could be considered up-to-date. Considering their cost, their usefulness in World War I was limited...
Scientific American, April 18, 1914 Advertisement
ARMAMENT PRODUCTION: An arms race preceded the outbreak of World War I in Europe in 1914 as nations worked to develop more and better weapons. This 11-inch mobile siege howitzer, made from steel by the Krupp company in Essen, Germany, could be easily transported in two sections by motor truck or even horses...
Scientific American, October 3, 1914
ELECTRICITY AND STEEL: Big steel required big tools. Our photograph from 1914 shows an electric-powered saw designed and built in Reutlingen, Germany, for cutting through steel castings, at any angle.
Scientific American Supplement, June 13, 1914
STEEL FOR LIFE: This 1,000-ton press from 1914 was designed to stamp out coffins—and their lids—from sheets of steel. The machine could also be adapted to producing "bathtubs, automobile bodies, metallic boats [and] horse troughs."; I'm sure the horses appreciated the thought, amid the race to mechanization...
Scientific American, May 2, 1914
STEEL FOR CARS: A major consumer of steel, in 1914 as now, was car manufacturing. This advertisement for the latest Chalmers runabout illustrates the intersection of lifestyle with metallurgy: heat-treated steel, aluminum castings, drop forgings, tungsten steel valves...
Scientific American, March 18, 1914 Advertisement
STEEL SHIPS: The Anglo-American ocean liner
Aquitania gets a side-light cut into its hull with a pneumatic-powered machine. A similar image was used on our April 26, 1913 cover. Scientific American, May 30, 1914
OXYACETYLENE TORCH: A new tool for welding and cutting through steel was developed in 1903 in France, and is still in use worldwide today
Scientific American, June 6, 1914
WATER FOR A CITY: The pipeline from the Catskill Mountains to Staten Island ran under the main shipping channel for New York Harbor. The 36-inch-wide cast iron pipe had flexible, watertight steel joints so that it could be laid in an excavated trench from a barge...
Scientific American, October 10, 1914
STEEL FOR STUNTS: Iron and steel pipes brought water to cities and farms across the U.S. The newly opened siphon bringing water to Los Angeles was one of the largest, and the setting for a daredevil driving stunt in 1914 by an "automobile enthusiast" who had "a steady hand and a cool head." He apparently succeeded unscathed...
Scientific American, August 15, 1914 Advertisement
ADVERTISING MODERNITY: This 1914 ad is for a cigarette brand no longer made or sold in the U.S. The ad sought, as they still do, to associate its brand with the most modern themes—here, a bridge being built, of steel...
Scientific American, October 24, 1914 Advertisement
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.
This article was originally published with the title "Steel: The Backbone of Modernity, 1914 [Slide Show]" in Scientific American 310, 2, (February 2014)
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