Steel wasn’t new — people had been making it for thousands of years. But steel was difficult and expensive to produce until an English engineer named Henry Bessemer changed that in 1856. He created a process for the cheap mass production of steel.
Steel is made of mostly iron with some carbon. Bessemer’s process involved removing impurities from the iron by blowing air through the molten metal. This and later improvements allowed large quantities of steel to be made more quickly.
RIPPLES: Steel made machinery stronger and more durable. Using steel farm equipment, farmers could produce more food. Cheap steel also made it possible to lay railway tracks across huge countries such as Canada and the United States, which helped unite the people in those countries.
Thanks to Bessemer’s process, skyscrapers reach for the sky and bridges span wide rivers. Cars and major appliances are built from steel. So are bolts, nails and screws. Steel is used everywhere from offices and aerospace to ships and mines.
Today, steel is one of the most common materials in the world. More than 1.3 billion t (tons) are produced yearly.