Now we come to the last two Metals of Antiquity, and perhaps fitting, the two most important metals from the ancient age that had the greatest effect on mankind. While certain up for debate on which metal is the most important of the two, today we will discuss Iron.
Iron helped shaped mankind throughout history and much of what we see today in the modern world comes from this special metal, and certainly the alloy of Steel. While we will briefly discuss Steel, this article will go into greater detail about Iron itself and why you should give strong consideration to the metal when you design your world.
I apologize ahead of time, given the importance of Iron for human development, this article is quite long.
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Iron has the atomic structure of 26 with the symbol Fe. Fe is short for Ferrum, which means Iron. Derivatives for Ferrum can also mean sword, as swords were most often made of Iron.
By mass, it is the most common element found on Earth, making up most of the inner and outer core. It is also the 4th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, 4.1% of the Earth’s Crust’s mass. The only ones greater are Calcium, Silicon, and Oxygen. However, the majority of the Iron on Earth is actually at its core (constituting about 35% of the Earth’s mass), which resulted from the formation of our solar system and planet itself.
Interesting note, the surface of Mars contains 14% Iron, which produces Rust, giving the planet is red colour.
Iron is formed in extremely large stars in the silicon burning process. It is the heaviest stable element produced in this manner. Each step requires it to be combined with Helium to create the next element. Starting with Calcium, it then becomes Titanium, followed by Chromium to unstable iron. Given that it is unstable, it further combines with Helium to form Nickel. Nickel then decays to form unstable Cobalt, which decays to stable Iron. When a star goes Supernova, it releases these compounds.
As our solar system formed, and eventually our planet, there was a high amount of Iron present. The majority of Iron combined with Nickel to form our Nickel-Iron core. Ore deposits in the Earth’s crust came about in two ways. The first was the formation of ore deposits in rocks around 3.7 billion years ago (remember that the Earth is over 4.5 billion years old). During this time, Iron was found within the oceans. There was little to no oxygen in the environment, but life evolved and began the process of photosynthesis (organisms releasing oxygen) in the ocean, which combined with the iron and fell to the bottom of the ocean.
Around 2.4 billion to 1.9 billion was the formation of iron rich banded iron formation, which is often layers of silver(ish) or black iron oxides known as Magnetite or Hematite, with layers of iron-poor Shales or Cherts. You might wonder how did we get Iron on the surface if it was at the bottom of the ocean, you have to remember that at around 2.5 billion years, likely only about 2% of the Earth was dry land.
Iron being in our ocean during this time is likely the reason Iron evolved in lifeforms.
The second source of Iron comes from Meteorites. Iron is the 6th most abundant element in the universe. Often meteorites are common in Iron and Nickel, though Cobalt and Carbon may also be present, but only 5% of meteorites contain Iron.
Finding natural Pure Iron is rare in nature, as it only exist only in low oxygen environments. It is a very soft metal, even more so that Aluminum, which make it malleable. It also has a relatively low melting point, though once it meets moisture in an oxygen environment, it begins to turn into Hydrated Iron Oxide, also known as Rust. Rusting requires both moisture and oxygen, though it is a slow process. It can be accelerated by salt and acid.
Most Iron that is mined is Hydrated Iron Oxide, which is also likely to have impurities. These impurities cause Iron to have a higher melting point, the highest of the Metals of Antiquity, at 2800 F (or 1538 C). Iron being so common, it is likely that it was known since Ancient Times, but unable to get a fire that hot prevented many cultures from using it. Once civilizations evolved to the point of smelting Iron, it would replace the use of Copper and Bronze, and later Steel would replace Iron.
What makes Iron such a strong metal is how its atoms interact with other Iron atoms. It’s 26 electron structure is able to share electrons with other Iron atoms, which in turn causes a bond between atoms, which gives it its strength. This strength can be bypassed with the heat of 2800 F, which breaks the bonds.
Iron is one of 3 Magnetic metals. The other two being Cobalt and Nickel. It is also conducts heat and electricity very well, and is both ductile and malleable. As we know, ductile means that it basically can be made into wires, where as malleability is the ability to hammer into thin sheets. Iron has a very high tensile strength, or the ability to be stretched without breaking, as well as very workable to get it to its desired shape. Because of these qualities, Iron was ideal for weapons and tools, as they were able to keep their shape, comparable to Bronze.
As we discuss with Copper, some metals will form a protective layer in the presence of oxygen/moisture to keep the metal from being damaged. In the case of Copper, it develops something called Patina, which changes the surface from brown to green. Iron does something similar, that we call Iron Oxide, or Rust.
Rust is similar to Patina, that once it mixes with oxygen and moisture, it is created. Unlike Patina, it’s function is not meant to protect Iron, as it will flake off and allow more of the Iron to be infected by the environment. In fact, Rust is a corrosion of Iron, which causes Iron to lose it’s volume and density as the Rust ‘flakes off’.
Rust is primarily red, but can be other colours as well, depending on the circumstances of the corrosion, such as Iron and Chloride will produce a green rust.
For rusting to occur, there must be both oxygen and moisture. Lacking one of those two things, will prevent rusting. You can also coat Iron in either an oil, wax, or paint to prevent rusting. Salt and Acid can actually increase the process of rusting. If given enough time, Iron will dissolve into rust.
Iron can be alloyed with other metals, such as Chromium and Carbon, which makes Stainless Steel. Under most conditions, Stainless Steel does not rust.
As we discussed with Lead, Iron can be dipped in Zinc to create a Galvanization, which protects the surface of Iron from corrosion in most environments. If in salt water, Cadmium is preferred for Galvanization. An Aluminium-Zinc alloy can also be used to apply to any scratches on the surface of Zinc coating to help Iron last longer.
Another prevention method for Rust is Cathodic Protection. Basically, an anode is attached to a structured that is buried or submerged, where an electrical field is applied, stopping corrosion completely. This anode must be made of something to give a negative charge, often made from Zinc, Aluminum, or Magnesium.
For small Iron and Steel items, there is a process called Bluing. It is primarily used with firearms, which basically coats the surface of Iron in a special chemical to prevent rusting, gaining its name from the blue-ish shine that remains.
To remove Rust off of Iron, there are a number of home remedies, that include use Coca-Cola (thought not advisable) or commerical products known as Rust Converter.
The presence of Rust can be costly from an economical standpoint, as it may require maintenance of an item to complete replacement. As mentioned, Iron loses its mass as it rusts, and anywhere that Iron is used in load bearing could result in a disaster. Famous example is the Mianus river bridge collapse, due to rust.
While Iron is very abundant on Earth, mining consists of finding minerals that contain large concentrations of Iron. The first being meteorites consisting of Iron-Nickel ores. Only about 5% of all meteorites that fall on Earth contain Iron, so it wasn’t long for all meteoric ores to be depleted. It’s not known when mankind began to use Ores for Iron, but by 2000 – 1000 BC saw many civilizations began producing Iron.
While it is possible to find pure iron, it is extremely rare. Often, Iron is found as Iron Oxide, or with a high Carbon ratio. A high Carbon amount in iron causes it to be very brittle. Early smelting of Iron required the use of Coke to remove impurities, creating pure iron, also known as Wrought Iron.
The modern production of Iron is often done from an open pit. In the world today, over 1 billion tons of Iron is extracted every year. 18 million of those tons is done by the Minorca Mine in Minnesota, though the US ranks 7 in Iron processing, with China being the leader (producing 10 times that of the US).
Ore is dug up after blasting, and hauled away for processing. Processing consists of breaking the ore into smaller pieces, which then is made into a slurry with the introduction of liquid. The slurry then passed by a magnetic drum that will pick up the Iron from the slurry. The Iron is then mixed with clay and baked at 2400 F degrees in order to form small pellets, which make it easier for transport.
Roughly 98% of Iron manufactured today will be used to make Steel.
While there is a lot of Iron on Earth, there is a lot of iron on Mars. Earth’s crust contains about 5% Iron, where Mars’s crust contains 14%. More than that, probes sent to Mars have discovered similar pellets (produced on Earth) that contained a large about of Iron, on the Martian surface.
However, Mars and Earth aren’t the only places where we can find Iron… they are also contained in Asteroids. Scientists believe that there are asteroids in our solar system that contains 98% Iron. To put that in perspective, there is so much Iron in just one of these Asteroids, it contains more than Humans have mined in its entire history.
In order to make Steel or other alloys, Iron must be pure, which means stripping away any impurities, which include other metals, oxygen, and carbon. Once Iron is pure, then other elements such as Carbon or other metals can be added in.
This is accomplished in a blast furnace, which uses oxygen to blasted in to increase the temperature, to allow melting of Iron. Then coke, or purified coal, is used. Coke is basically Carbon, and the amount of Carbon will determine what kind of alloy it will be.
Pure Iron is soft, so Carbon is required to add to its strength. Too much Carbon will make the metal brittle, so a range of 0.1% – 2.1% of carbon is added to produce Steel. The purest Iron produced is known as Wrought Iron, contains 0.08% Carbon and 2% of slag. Slag generally includes Silicon Oxide, which ends up giving a ‘wood grain’ appearance when bent to the point of failure.
While Wrought Iron is important for the production of Steel, prior to use of Steel, it was used for a wide variety of things including: weapons, rivets, nails, wire, chains, water and steam pipes, nuts, bolts, horseshoes, handrails, wagon tires, straps for timber roof trusses, and ornamental ironwork.
Wrought Iron is no longer produced in large quantities, and was replaced by Mild Steel, which is Iron with 0.05 – 0.25% Carbon.
How Elements Interact with Iron
Carbon – Adds strength to Iron. Too much can cause it to become brittle.
Silicon – Can push out excess amounts of Carbon. More Silicon, less carbon in final product (graphite). Manganese, Chromium, Molybdenum, Titanium and Vanadium can counteract Silicon, and allow more absorption of Carbon.
Nickel – Increases strength, machineability, improves toughness, increased resistance to heat and acid.
Copper – Increases strength, machineability, easier to cool, refine graphite, and increase fluidity.
Sulfur – Prevents formation of graphite, increases hardness. Can cause defects, manganese can be added to counteract defects.
Chromium – Added in small amounts. Reduces free graphite, easier to cool down, reduces corrosion.
Molybdenum – easier to cool, resistant to heat, often added with nickel, copper, and chromium to form high strength irons.
Titanium – A degasser and deoxidizer, increases fluidity.
Vanadium – Stabilizes Cementite, increase hardness, increase resistance to wear and heat (which can help with springiness).
Zirconium – helps form Graphite, deoxidize, increase fluidity
Tungsten – retains hardness at higher temperatures
Pig Iron is an intermediary between Iron Ore and Wrought Iron. It contains a high amount of Carbon, about 3.5% – 4.5%, along with Silica. It was poured into sand to form ingots, which produced a shape similar to piglets being suckled by a sow.
Pig Iron was produced only for later usage. It is technically an alloy, but it was used to make Wrought Iron, by taking out it’s Carbon.
Perhaps one of my favorite alloys, as I fancy myself a cook and my favorite tool is the Cast Iron Skillet.
Cast Iron is Iron that contains between 1.8 – 4% Carbon. It also contains about 1 – 3% Silicon. Cast Iron tends to have a lower melting point, at around 2100 – 2190 F (1150 – 1200 C), which is about 540 F (300 C) lower than Wrought Iron.
Cast Iron is brittle, but has great fluidity (how easy it spreads as a liquid), castibility (how well it forms to a cast), machinability (how easily it can be cut, Cast Iron is easy to cut with little energy required), and resistance to wear and deformation. It is still susceptible to Rust.
Beyond the cooking element, Cast Iron is used for Pipes, Automotive parts, cylinder heads, cylinder blocks, and gearbox cases. Cast-iron was also used in columns, which had the advantage of being slender, compared with stone columns capable of supporting similar weight. That saved space in factories and other kinds of buildings, and enabled architects of theaters, churches and synagogues to improve sight lines when supporting balconies.
There are a few different types of Cast Iron
Grey Cast Iron (or Grey Iron) – It has 2.5% – 4.0% carbon with 1% – 3% Silicon. The carbon added to this, mixed with Silicon, becomes Graphite. Graphite is a stable crystalline structure of Carbon.
It is a common alloy for engineering, with low cost, good machinability, with good wear resistance. It is also really good at damping, meaning it can turn energy into heat.
Used: internal combustion engine cylinder blocks, pump housings, valve bodies, electrical boxes, brake disc (rotor), and decorative castings. It is also used for Cast Iron Skillet.
White Cast Iron – Comparable to Grey, this processes requires more Cabon (6.67%) and reduced Silicon (up to 1%), this creates Cementite. This increases the hardness of the metal, at the expense of toughness. Due to this, it is not ideal for structural components, but it does have great abrasion resistance and low cost.
It does have issues of cooling, which if done improperly, loses its cementite composition. A technique of chilling it can help properly cool thick metal formations, but you can also add Chromium to the mix, which reduces the cooling rate, and adds to the abrasion resistance.
Uses: slurry pumps, shell liners, lifter bars (in mills), balls and ring in coal pulverizes, and teeth of a backhoe’s digging bucket.
Malleable Cast Iron – This actually starts as White Iron, which is then heat treated for up to two days at 1740 F (950 C), then cooled for about the same time. This causes the carbon and iron to transform into Austenite. This allows the cast iron to be less brittle and more malleable. It is also ideal in lower temperature environments compared to other iron forms. However, it can only be used in small applications, but has great tensile strength and flexibility without breaking.
Uses: electrical fittings, hand tools, pipe fittings, washers, brackets, fence fittings, power line hardware, farm equipment, mining hardware, and machine parts.
Ductile Iron – Similar to Grey Iron, it has a composition of several different metals:
Carbon: 3.2% – 3.6%
Silicon: 2.2% – 2.8%
Mangenese: 0.1% – 0.2%
Magnesium: 0.03% – 0.04%
Phosphours: 0.0005% – 0.04%
Sulfur: 0.005% – 0.02%
The remainder is Iron. Ductile Iron is more resistant to impact and has increased fatigue resistance. However, adding tin can increase the tensile and yield strength, but reduces ductility. You can also achieve corrosion resistance with replacing 30% of the iron with varying amounts with nickel, copper, and chromium.
Bismuth can be added at 0.002% – 0.01% to increase how much silicon can be added.
Boron can also be added with White Iron to form Malleable Iron, and can reduce the coarsening effect of bismuth.
Uses: Primarily for pipes used for water and sewers. While cermanic pipes such as PVC are used for this purpose, Ductile Iron has better protection against physical damage. Also used in automotive parts, where a strength greater than Aluminum is needed, but not use Steel. Other uses include, off-highway diesel trucks, Class 8 trucks, agricultural tractors, and oil well pumps.
Other Iron Alloys
Elinvar – 59% Iron, 36% Nickel, and 5% Chromium. Used primarily for balance springs for Mechanical Watches and Chronometers. Steel would lose its elasticity with variations of temperature, which over time would cause the balance wheel to move slower, thus making clocks inaccurate. Elinvar is not affected by temperature.
Ferrocerium – 19% Iron, 38% Cerium, 22% Lanthanum, 4% Neodymium, 4% Praseodymium, 4% Magnesium. Can create hot sparks when scraped against a hot surface at 5430 F (3000 C). Can be used with gas welding and cutting torches, and fire-starters in survival kits and cigarette lighters.
Invar – 36% Nickel and 64% Iron. It has a low amount of thermal expanse. Used in precision purposes for: clocks, seismic creep gauges, television shadow-mask frames, valves in motors, land surveying, and antimagnetic watches.
Kovar – 29% Nickel, 17% Cobalt, 0.01% Carbon, 0.2% Silicon, 0.3% Manganese, and the remainder is Iron. Used to fuse metal to glass, as it has a similar thermal expanse to glass, unlike other metals. Used for: light bulbs, vacuum tubes, cathode ray tubes, and in vacuum systems.
So far with Iron, we’ve discussed how it can be used to shape society, but Iron also shapes mankind itself. I, of course, am speaking of Iron found in our blood. In fact, that is what gives it the red colour we see when we bleed. More than human bodies, Iron-proteins are found in many living organisms, and is a key component of life itself.
Starting with humans, Iron is found in a blood cells. It’s role allows cells to carry Oxygen from the Heart (which obviously comes from the Lungs) and carries it to the rest of the body. Now I’m sure you’re wondering how we have Iron in a blood and it carries Oxygen, and not Rust.
As we know, Rust forms when Iron is in both an Oxygen environment and water/vapour. Our cells actually have a transport system setup to prevent rusting. Basically, our cells create carry system to strap the Iron in it, called Heme, which allows Oxygen to connect to the Iron, without either interfering with the other.
Heme is part of Hemoglobin, which is what is responsible for the transport of Oxygen, and what gives our blood its colour. Lacking Hemoglobin, which is a lack of Iron in our blood, is called Anemia.
Now our body doesn’t produce Iron. We have to get it from somewhere. Fortunately, most organisms in the food chain contain Iron. The best place to find Iron is: red meat, lentils, beans, poultry, fish, leaf vegetables, watercress, tofu, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, blackstrap molasses, fortified bread, and fortified breakfast cereals. In the case of the last one, Corn Flakes actually adds Iron to the flakes on purpose, to facilitate healthy eating.
When it comes to absorbing Iron from food, our bodies absorb it easier from meat than vegetables. In vegetables, we absorb Iron from nonhemes. As the name suggests, we don’t absorb it from the hemes. Meats are considered heme proteins. The absorption of Iron from heme proteins constitutes between 7% – 35%, where as the absorption of non-hemes Iron is between 2% – 20%.
Do remember though, too much of any food can be bad for us, and one should always strive for a balanced diet. Some choose not to eat meat, and may need to eat more iron rich vegetables to make up for the lack of Iron in their diet.
Beyond Hemoglobin (which accounts for 2.5g of Iron), Iron is stored in the liver, spleen, and bone marrow (about 2g of Iron total). This acts as a reservoir of nonheme Iron, to be used with a loss of blood, such as menstruation.
Humans lose very little iron from urine, feces, and skin. Women who menstruate will require a higher amount due to the loss of blood, and pregnant women as well will need higher amounts due to nutrients her body gives to the baby. Lactation will also cause a drain for women, as it contains a high amount of Iron.
When someone is deficient in Iron, they first lose Iron from their stores, before it affects their cells. While anemia will cause deficiency in Iron, as your cells cannot produce the transport for Iron, it is possible to not have enough Iron in your diet and to feel the effects of it. However, you are likely to feel the effects of a lack of iron for your muscles and organs long before a blood test show a loss of blood cells.
Decency of Iron may result in general fatigue, weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, dizziness, Pica disorder (desire to eat things not food, such as dirt, ice, clay), tingling or crawling feeling in the legs, tongue swelling/soreness, cold hands/feet, irregular heartbeat, brittle nails, and headaches.
Some feel compelled to take Iron supplements, which at first seem like a good idea, but is a bad idea as too much Iron in our system can hurt us. Symptoms of Iron Overload include: chronic fatigue, join pain, abdominal pain, cirrhosis, diabetes, irregular heart rhythm, heart failure, skin colour changes (turn to bronze), loss libido, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, hair loss, enlarged liver/spleen, infertility, depression, adrenal function problems, and elevated blood sugar.
If Iron continues to build, it can further result in: coma, metabolic acidosis, shock, liver failure, coagulopathy, adult respiratory distress syndrome, long-term organ damage, and even death.
This is the basics of Iron that I recommend knowing about when doing worldbuilding for the human body. There are a lot more about the interaction with Iron with other minerals and vitamins, and conditions that can affect iron in your system. It’s worth looking into if you’re wanting a character who has these things, such as celiac, anemia, cancer, or someone who donates a lot of blood.
Iron being a very common metal and accounting for 95% of all metal production in the world, it has a lot of uses. We are likely not to run out of our supply of it any time soon, and even if we do, there are other places in our solar system to get it. It is also a highly recycled material, meaning it is very cost effective to recycle Steel and Iron than to process new Iron.
Because of its availability and ease to process, it makes Iron very cheap. So it only makes sense that we would want to use it in everything we can that doesn’t require specialized metals. Most of Iron mined today is used to make Steel. However, there are many uses of Iron that is not related to Steel.
- Iron Chloride – It can be used for treating sewage systems, dyes for cloth, colouring agent for paints, additive in animal feeds, and can be used in manufacturing of printed circuit boards.
- Iron Sulfate – can treat anemia, and sewage particles in water tanks
- Iron Hydroxide – used for water purification systems in sinks.
- Iron Arsenate – used in insecticides.
Big List of Uses for Iron
(including what’s already been mentioned in Alloys)
antimagnetic watches, arbors, armour, Automotive parts, balls and ring in coal pulverisers, bolts, brackets, brake disc (rotor), cathode ray tubes, chains, Chronometers, clocks, cutting torches, cylider blocks, cylinder heads, decorative castings, decorative furniture, dyes, electrical boxes, electrical fittings, electromagnet power plants, farm equipment, fence fittings, fire-starters, gas welding, gearbox cases, hand tools, handrails, horseshoes, ink, internal combustion engine cylinder blocks, iron fences, kitchen cutlery, land surveying, large ship hulls, lifter bars (in mills), light bulbs, lighters, machine parts, Mechanical Watches, mining hardware, nails, nuts, ornamental ironwork, ovens, pans, pipe fittings, Pipes, pots, power line hardware, pump housings, rails, railway couplings, rivets, seismic creep gauges, shell liners, skillets, slurry pumps, straps for timber roof trusses, television shadow-mask frames, trellis, vacuum tubes, valve bodies, valves in motors, wagon tires, washers, water and steam pipes, weapons, wire…
Put simply, Iron is everywhere.
The use of Iron changed the world drastically, and not always for the better. This will cover Iron only, except in the discovery of Steel.
Prehistory (2.5 million years ago to 3600BC)
Iron was likely known about closer to the end of his time of history, but due to its high melting point, it proved unusable. Very few cultures had access to iron, and those that did, likely recovered it from meteorites, which contained Iron-Nickel alloys.
4000 BC – 3000 BC – Artifacts discovered belonging to the Nakh contained Iron, dating back to this time.
Ancient Age (3600BC to 800BC)
3200 BC – Iron beads found in burials in Gerzeh, northern Egypt. Believed to be Meteoric Iron.
3000 BC – Likely Mesopotamian, Akkad, and Assyria began use of Iron.
2500 BC – Iron blade found in Hattic tomb in Anatolia, dating to this time.
2200 – 2000 BC – Iron fragments discovered dating to this time, may suggest early Steel making in Anatolia.
1800 BC – India began use of Iron processing.
1500 BC – 1200 BC – Believed to be the discovery of Iron Smelting in Anatolia.
Hittites first employed Iron in their army. Believed to be the first army to use Iron weapons.
Knowledge of Smelting spread after the fall in 1100 BC.
1323 – Tutankhamen died. In his tomb was discovered an Iron dagger with a golden hilt.
1200 BC – Start of the Iron Age. It is believed that the Iron Age was also the era of War.
1000 BC – Greece introduce to Iron production.
900 BC – Iron production began in China.
Age of Antiquity (800BC to 500AD)
800 BC – Iron Age began in Central Europe and Africa.
At the height or the Roman Empire, it was estimated they processed nearly 85,000t, compared to China of 5,000t.
800 BC – Assyrians had a standing army of 150 – 200 thousand soldiers, all equipped with Iron weapons.
500 BC – Cast Iron artifacts found dated to this time period in China.
206 BC – 220 AD – Cast Iron pans found dating to this time period in China, used for salt evaporation.
400 AD – Iron Pillar of Delhi built. Was later moved in 1200’s, but still stands to this day. Made of Wrought Iron.
Middle Ages (500AD – 1500AD)
With the fall of the Roman Empire, most mining/production of metals diminished… except for Iron. While there was a reduction of it, it was still heavily minded.
12th Century – Iron deposits on the surface were depleted, civilizations began to dig tunnels.
15th Century – Henry VIII made use of Cast Iron for cannon’s.
1449 – Philip the Good ordered the construction of a cannon and sent it to James II as a gift. It is known as the Mons Megs.
Renaissance (1400 – 1700)
The Renaissance saw society try to push to the point of mastering above the Ancient age. Use of Iron continued, and as thing were invented, so too was the use of Iron needed. I couldn’t find a lot of specific information about Iron itself, just about technologies developed for processing, or things related to Steel.
Cannons had a major impact on warfare, being a weapon of choice for ground wars and ships. However, it took a lot of energy to move these cast iron cannons, and cast iron cannon balls, and these technologies fell out of favor, requiring them to be smaller and lighter.
Industrial Revolution (1700 – 1900)
1707 – Abraham Darby patented a method of making pots thinner.
1712 – Thomas Newcomen developed the steam engine, using cast iron cylinders instead of brass, as it was cheaper.
1720s – Coalbrookdale Company used new iron casting techniques to improve upon the design, increasing cylinders diameter.
1740 – Pig Iron production (Europe): 17,350t
1740 – Steel was rediscovered by Benjamin Huntsman.
1770s – Abraham Darby III built the Iron Bridge, which was the first bridge that used cast-iron.
1770s – Wood was replaced for manufacturing industrial machines with Iron (later Steel).
1783 – Henry Cort patent the puddling process, which improved techniques of refining iron from pig iron to wrought iron (bar iron).
1786 – Gaspard Monge, C.A. Vandermonde, and Claude Louis Berthollet discovered that a small amount of carbon mixed with iron was what made Steel so strong.
1788 – Pig Iron production (Europe): 68,300t
1796 – Pig Iron production (Europe): 125,079t
1797 – Charles Newbold invented the first cast-iron plow. Believed at first to poison the land, the world soon saw how more productive it made plowing.
1800 – Charles Stanhope build the first printing press entirely out of Iron. This improved the printing press, by allowing a wider printing area, and printed 250 double sided sheets per hour (where would could only do 200 one sided per hour).
1806 – Pig Iron production (Europe): 272,000t
1820s – Edward Holl built the Commissioner’s House in Bermuda, being the first to use cast iron structure framework for a residence home.
1830 – The Water Street teminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was first used, based on a design using cast iron by William Fairbairn. It was later demolished in 1900 for safety issues.
1831 – Wilhelm Albert invented wire rope. This used a series of wires wrapped together as rope, for use for heavy hauling.
1846 – Dee River bridge was opened, built by Robert Stephenson, who used wrought iron to strengthen the structure. This led to a disaster in 1847, when the bridge collapsed and five people were killed.
1851 – Crystal Palace built. Designed by Joseph Paxton as a greenhouse using glass and cast iron structure. This structure would be imitated around the world.
1862 – The first iron clad ship was built, USS Monitor.
1878 – Tay Bridge opened. Made use of wrought iron.
1879 – The bridge collapse due to high winds. A train was lost and 75 people were killed. The use of cast-iron was discontinued after this for bridges.
1889 – Eiffel Tower is built, using 7,300 tons of wrought iron.
Post-Industrial (1900 – 1945)
By this point in time, Iron was very commonplace. It is easy to find it anywhere. However, I lack specific dates on how Iron was used, only that I know it was used during this time, especially during WWI and WWII, which was necessary for weapons.
1908 – Royal Laboratories designed Hand Grenade No I Mark I, which used an iron fragmentation band.
1914 – First battle of Ypres.
This is notable, as many battles in WWI had German and British firing ordnance at each other, but not all of them properly went off, effectively being duds. For the example of Ypres, it is believed 300 million projectiles were fired that were duds. Most of which has not been recovered.
Since 1945, over 600 people have died as a result of handling dangerous ordnance from Ypres. Often it is found when farmers plow their land, or construction workers begin digging. This is also known as “Iron Harvest”.
In 2013, 160 tonnes of munitions were unearthed from the areas around Ypres.
Atomic/Information Age (1945 – Present)
Iron is still everywhere, and 90% of mining today is Iron. However, most processing of Iron is used for Steel. Not too much information about the advancement of Iron that is not related to Steel.
Except is the case of Steel, Iron will likely be relatively unchanged in the future. Because of its availability on our planet and in the Universe, it will remain a primary building material. Since Steel is so highly desired, Iron itself will likely be used to find better ways of making Steel.
It look as though Iron may play a role in Hydrogenation. This is a little bit beyond me, but I know that it can be used to take Unsaturated Fats and turn them into Saturated Fats. It primarily uses a more rare element such as Palladium. The use of nanoparticle Iron could solve the problem of cost and availability. The video will explain Hydrogenation for oils, but I believe it can be used in other ways. When he speaks about the carbon, know that this new technique would use Iron with carbon.
There is also an idea to use Iron Powder as a replacement for fossile fuels. This would solve a few problems that biofuels, solar power, and electricity have for use with automobiles. The exhaust would also be recyclable.
Iron is quite literally a building block of mankind. It is in our bodies, our foods, and the Earth itself. We use it to just to be healthy, but to build or world, to reach to the skies and even the stars. While Iron itself is being phased out in favor of Steel, it is still important for the development of Steel.
When building your world, access to Iron will be important for your consideration. Does your world have access to Iron, and can they process it? If no to either one, why not? Do they not have access to a mine, or do they lack the technological know-how on how to melt Iron?
Most fantasy stories will take place during a time period where Iron is used, and becomes an important question of how do they get Iron Ores. Meteoric Ore was some of the first Iron used, but that is a limited supply. Likely, your civilization will need to mine it from somewhere. Then you need to process it. Future article will discuss how blacksmithing and forging were done, to help you understand that.
For most fiction writers set in a modern era, you won’t have to worry too much about Iron, but any Fantasy story set in a medieval-esqu setting, you will have to think about Iron. Any setting after that, including steam-punk and sci-fi futuristic will also need to consider it. Steampunk especially, as the use of Iron, and by extension Steel, will help shape your world. Sci-fi Futuristic will have it a bit easier, as the universe is abundant with it. But you should still consider where it does come from.
Bronze and Iron are relatively the same, but Iron is more economical, and doesn’t require the rather uncommon Tin. Mastering this, enables your society to move forward, whether in building weapons or tools, to skyscrapers and aircraft carriers, and may even to galactic ships and space stations.
Even if new elements are created/discovered, they will likely be used in conjunction of Iron. It will be quite difficult to have a thriving society without the use of Iron. It is that important. I know I go on and on about that, but it really is that important. Strongly consider how Iron is used in your story. A sword doesn’t just come into being… it had to be made somewhere… and the material for that had to come from somewhere.
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