Who Made Steel First?
Sir Henry Bessemer (1813-1898) of England invented the first process for mass-producing steel inexpensively. An American, William Kelly, had held a patent for ‘a system of air blowing the carbon out of pig iron’, a method of steel production known as the pneumatic process of steel making.
Air is blown through molten pig iron to oxidize and remove unwanted impurities. Bankruptcy forced Kelly to sell his patent to Bessemer, who had been working on a similar process for making steel.
Bessemer patented ‘a decarbonization process, utilizing a blast of air’, in 1855. Modern steel is made using technology based on Bessemer’s process. Bessemer was knighted in 1879 for his contribution to science. The ‘Bessemer Process’, for mass producing steel, was named after Bessemer. Robert Mushet invented Tungsten steel in 1868. Henry Brearly invented Stainless steel in 1916.
Steel was produced in bloomery furnaces for thousands of years, but its extensive use began after more efficient production methods were devised in the 17th century, with the production of blister steel and then crucible steel. With the invention of the Bessemer process in the mid-19th century, a new era of mass-produced steel began.
This was followed by Siemens-Martin process and then Gilchrist-Thomas process that refined the quality of steel. With their introductions, mild steel replaced wrought iron.
Further refinements in the process, such as basic oxygen steelmaking (BOS), largely replaced earlier methods by further lowering the cost of production and increasing the quality of the product. Today, steel is one of the most common materials in the world, with more than 1.3 billion tons produced annually.
It is a major component in buildings, infrastructure, tools, ships, automobiles, machines, appliances, and weapons. Modern steel is generally identified by various grades defined by assorted standards organizations.
Steel was known in antiquity, and possibly was produced in bloomeries and crucibles. The earliest known production of steel are pieces of ironware excavated from an archaeological site in Anatolia (Kaman-Kalehoyuk) and are nearly 4,000 years old, dating from 1800 BC. Horace identifies steel weapons like the falcata in the Iberian Peninsula, while Noric steel was used by the Roman military.
The reputation of Seric iron of South India (wootz steel) amongst the rest of the world grew considerably. South Indian and Mediterranean sources including Alexander the Great (3rd c. BC) recount the presentation and export to the Greeks of 100 talents worth of such steel.
Metal production sites in Sri Lanka employed wind furnaces driven by the monsoon winds, capable of producing high-carbon steel. Large-scale Wootz steel production in Tamilakam using crucibles and carbon sources such as the plant Avāram occurred by the sixth century BC, the pioneering precursor to modern steel production and metallurgy.
The Chinese of the Warring States period (403–221 BC) had quench-hardened steel, while Chinese of the Han dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) created steel by melting together wrought iron with cast iron, gaining an ultimate product of carbon-intermediate steel by the 1st century AD.
The Haya people of East Africa invented a type of furnace they used to make carbon steel at 1,802 °C (3,276 °F) nearly 2,000 years ago. East African steel has been suggested by Richard Hooker to date back to 1400 BC.