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Metallic Products

( Originally Published 1918 )



Importance of the metals. The transformation of metals into metallic products is one of the greatest of human achievements. In the most primitive times it was regarded as at least a semi-magical process, and the smith was both respected and feared, as being a magician. There was that about the processes of fusing and alloying that caught the imagination, and all sorts of poetical terms and expressions, such as the " marriage " of the metallic elements, grew up around the medieval alchemy (which was an eager search for some chemical element the so-called " philosopher's stone " - which would transform baser metals into gold). There is no doubt at all that despite the error due to ignorance and all the, poetical nonsense connected with the development of metallic processes, the enthusiasm of people about the metals and their manipulation was prophetic of the immense importance which metallic products were destined to take in the development of civilization. " No single thing," asserts one writer, " better measures the industrial standard of a nation than its use of metals." But a high civilization always has to rest upon a strong industrial structure if it is to persist, and so we might even say that a people's use of metals is a pretty good index of its civilization.

Earlier localization of iron manufacture. Strictly speaking, the smelting of metals is a preparatory process to manufacture. We have had not a little to say about the simpler methods of iron-smelting as developed in this country, and have only a few facts to add in this place. It is clear enough that in the early periods of our history local smelting of iron was almost universal, but that there came about an elimination which left this process to those sections of the country which had especial advantages, such as proximity of mineral fuel and mineral. Pennsylvania was singled out for eminence in this industry, and Pittsburgh was its center of activity, for this city had also ready access to the developing Middle West.

Improved processes. And then came improvement of processes. The Cort processes for puddling and rolling were the first which made iron plentiful, and for the first three quarters of the last century it was from these that the world derived its supply of the metal in tough form suitable to resist heavy strains. But these processes called for a considerable plant, complex machinery, and strenuous exertion on the part of skilled and powerful laborers factors which were available in England, with the result that that country held the supremacy of the iron trade during the period. A second revolution in the industry occurred between 186o and 187o with the invention, by an Englishman named Sir Henry Bessemer, of the Bessemer process of steel-making. By this process much time was saved. The ore was converted without any break in the process and without any cooling, once heat had been applied, directly into the final steel product. This demanded still larger plants and more elaborate machinery, and by it the production of tough iron (also called " mild steel ") be-came possible on a vastly greater scale. Bessemer steel has displaced puddled iron in most of its uses, and the increasing cheapness and abundance of supply has not only met existing needs but also opened up new regions of demand. The first application of the Bessemer method was to the production of rails, but new and wider uses were all the time found for the cheap steel. It supplanted wood as never before, and from the greatest ships down to the smallest nails every iron instrument became cheaper and better.

Bringing coal and iron together. The Bessemer process required a special kind of ore and pig iron. Most of the Eastern ores were, for various reasons, unsuitable for the process, while the Lake Superior iron deposits could furnish an abundance of properly constituted ore. It was necessary only that the Western ore and the coal of Pennsylvania should be brought together, in order to make huge quantities of iron and steel ; and the development of Lake transportation, as we have seen, solved that necessity. Then, within the last few decades, resulted that unparalleled growth of our iron and steel industry which has set us in this respect in the lead among the nations, our annual output of iron and steel being nearly half of the world's output.

Foundries and rolling-mills. But the manufacture of iron and steel is but begun when the first processes formative of the raw product are done. The foundries and rolling-mills are next in order. Roughly speaking, the foundries make castings by pouring the liquefied metal into molds of various sorts. There were foundries in operation in this country before 1750 ; these early plants did a good deal of custom work and made numerous articles, such as cooking utensils, for domestic use. At the opening of the nineteenth century they could take care of the home demand for hollow ware. In the course of time there has been great specialization in this branch, so that instead of making a variety of articles, a foundry will devote its efforts to the manufacture of a single specialty, such as stove-plates, plow-iron, or heavy castings for engines. Then there is the rolling-mill for the hot rolling of iron and steel into bars and rods, plates and sheets (many of them for subsequent tinning, to form tin-plate), rails, bands, hooks, or structural shapes. Up to 1860 most of the rolled product used in this country was imported, but thereafter American rolling-plants were set up. The product of the rolling-mills has steadily and swiftly increased, until at the present day their output constitutes a large percentage of the total iron and steel industry.

Elaborated iron products. The products of the further working up of iron and steel are so multiform-that it is out of the question to survey them otherwise than in a sort of special encyclopedia, but we shall illustrate this further stage of manufacture by several selected cases.

Stoves and furnaces. One of the important developments of the foundry industry is the manufacture of stoves. The growth of the market for stoves, especially coal stoves, went along with better facilities for distribution and with the increase of population ; and the demand rose with the housing of population in buildings put up after the economy and convenience of stove heating, and at length furnace heating, became recognized. Evidently the large modern hotels and apartment houses could never have been rendered habitable in the winter on the old plan of fireplaces or by the first simple stoves. By the middle of the last century our .annual output of stoves and ranges was worth upwards of $6,000,000. The industry centered in those cities which had the advantage of cheap transportation to the largest body of consumers ; this was the factor that favored the migration of. stove manufacture to the West. The centers of this business have been New York, Providence, Philadelphia, Albany, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. Stoves are, of course, only one product of the foundry ; cast-iron railings and fences, fountains and animals, and especially wheels, are scattered examples of foundry work. Wheel-casting, like stove-making, has come to be a specialized industry.

Tools and hardware. Tools and other hardware represent an important branch of the same industry. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, or later, the local blacksmith or cutler made the American mechanic's tools, and there was no great uniformity about them in the matter of size, shape, and general character. Among the first tools made in this country for general use was the ax ; by the close of the eighteenth century most axes used in this country were of domestic manufacture, and one of the most noted ax factories in the world was established, in 1828, at Collinsville, Connecticut. Handsaws and mill saws are said to have been manufactured in Philadelphia in 1790 ; and about the middle of the last century the Disston saw factory was one of the largest in the world. Other tools for the carpenter were manufactured here previous to the War of 1812, but the tool industry did not get firmly on its feet till about 1830 ; by that time there were cutlery and tool works at Worcester, Paterson, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chambersburg, the last of these towns making chiefly carpenters' tools. Knives of all sorts and table cutlery were manufactured at Worcester, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Auburn. Soon after 1830 such industries reached Cincinnati, but in 186o New England still produced about half the edge tools and three quarters of the cutlery made in this country.

Prominence of New England. There is no object in trying to trace in detail the history of hardware manufacture ; it is, in fact, so varied in character that it is impracticable to render a brief account of it. The localization of this form of metal manufacture in New England and its expansion and successive stages of organization show the same determining factors which we have already seen in connection with other such enterprises. Here, too, it was the Yankee inventions which helped to hold in these vicinities the manufacture of clocks, house hardware, and the many mechanical devices connected with what might be called " Yankee notions."

Ironworking machinery. Tools were thus, at first, largely made by hand ; but a significant development emerged presently, stimulated probably by the high cost of labor here, in the form of ironworking machinery. American ingenuity has devised all sorts of machines for fashioning iron and steel, thus dispensing with handwork ; this is, indeed, so characteristic of America that we are usually too impatient, as well as too ill-trained for the purpose, to undertake industries where the labor has to be prevailingly handwork. The result is that our factories are filled with much and efficient "machinery run by a relatively small number of operatives ; a very large proportion of the operations which require the expenditure of tremendous effort or of slight effort are now executed by machinery, and are performed better and faster than they could be by human labor. This general application of machinery to the working of metal has resulted in the establishment of important factories for the manufacture of iron and steel tools and machinery. There are borers, drills, turning-lathes, planes, hammers, dies, shears, rolls, punches, screw and bolt cutters, riveting and welding machines, cranes, milling machines, polishers, and numberless other devices, with many forms of each. There seems to be no limit to the number of machines which can be invented for working iron, some noted for their labor-saving services and others for their apparently superhuman accuracy.

Standardization of parts. A most significant development of the American machine and machine-tools industry is the standardization of parts. This is carried to a high degree of success wherever a large product is put forth by the use of machine methods, as in the watch industry, where a timepiece can be put together by selecting one each from piles of wheels, main-springs, and other parts. This idea of interchangeable parts seems to be a matter hardly worth mentioning, because so obvious it is taken for granted ; but there was a time, not so many decades ago, when it was very difficult to have a broken or outworn part of a machine or tool replaced without having it specially made. The first foreign observers of this American method were astonished beyond measure ; but now, having been popularized in world's fairs and otherwise, it has been adopted, as possessing self-evident advantages, throughout the civilized world.

Engines. We might go on indefinitely with metallic products, confining ourselves to iron and steel alone ; but we have selected only one further example of this order engines, chiefly for loco-motion. The first steam engines for railroads which were used in the United States were imported from England ; this was at the very outset of the railway era, about the beginning of the second quarter of the last century. The practice did not last long, for a number of concerns undertook to build engines here, with the result that within a few years American locomotive shops. were able to meet the demand of the railroads of the country ; then, after some experimentation in the East, shops were opened in other parts of the country. From their early and humble beginnings our locomotives have increased in size and power until nowadays they are a marvel of efficiency, commanding the home-market and being found on railroads in practically every country in the world.

Early engine manufacture. There were engines built and in operation in this country before the railway locomotives. Soon after the Revolution they were used to propel ferryboats and for other purposes. Before 1810 engine shops were constructed in the vicinity of New York City and at Pittsburgh, and by 1820 engine-builders plied their trade in various parts of the country. Plants were likely to be located where there was river, lake, or ocean navigation ; marine engines were coming into demand. After 1830 there was a demand not only for this sort of engine but also for engines to be used in Eastern factories, in steam-blowing and pumping (in particular in the anthracite mines of Pennsylvania), and for many other lesser purposes. This led to the enlargement of the engine-making plants on the seaboard and to the improvement of their equipment and methods.

Locomotive engines. But the building of locomotives, because of patents connected therewith, soon became a distinct branch of manufacturing, in which Philadelphia, with its famous Baldwin Locomotive Works, founded in 1832, took the lead. Many engines were built solely for foreign buyers ; and as the railroad development went on, extensive engine shops and repair works came to be located in districts widely separated from one another.

Jewelry and silverware. As an example of a metal industry quite different from those based upon iron and steel or copper, we have selected the jewelry and silverware production for brief description. It is known that there were several shops devoted to this industry in colonial times ; and about 'S00 silver plate and gold-filled jewelry were being manufactured in Providence, Rhode Island. By 1830 various towns in Massachusetts were making the same articles. Precious stones had their principal market in New York City, which therefore became an important center for jewelry. Very little silverware was used by the early colonists, for they were, for the most part, too poor. It was not until close upon the middle of the nineteenth century that the manufacture of this ware began to develop. At this time there came into being the art of electroplating, which cheapened the cost of table silver and stimulated its output. The earlier artisans who had worked here in silver made their articles, such as dinner and tea sets, by hammering out the pieces from flat sheets of solid metal. Silver-manufacturing is an important contemporary industry in this country, and a great variety of ornamental and useful articles are on the market.

Progress of the metal industries. The following statements will give some further idea of the present-day importance of the metal manufacture of the United States and of its development in recent years. According to a recent Census of Manufactures the capital involved in the manufacture of iron and steel products alone, to say nothing of the numerous other metal manufactures, was nearly double that invested in any other large group of industries, such as the textile and food-producing groups. The wages paid in the iron-and-steel branch of the industry by itself exceeded those paid in any other group of industries. The value of the products of the iron-and-steel branch was surpassed only by that of food and kindred products and of the combined textile industries. The value added by manufacture in the iron-and-steel branch alone was greater than that added by any other of the great groups of industries.

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