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Image courtesy of Pixabay

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know oneself.” — Benjamin Franklin

Wise beyond his time, Ben Franklin was born in the 1700s — the same century that steel was undergoing a transformation in history.  

As early as the late 1700s, steel came onto the construction and building scene in Great Britain when the British figured out how to reinforce and fireproof their mill structures. The buildings weren’t made solely of steel at the time; the outside of the structures were made with other materials.

It wasn’t until 1886 that a building made entirely of steel was constructed in the U.S. It was the Rand-McNally building in Chicago and was the world’s first steel-framed skyscraper.

Good-ol’ sturdy steel — an alloy mainly made of iron and carbon — dates back many centuries, and its uses are interwoven throughout history.

Steel had its beginnings in the Iron Age when iron became better than bronze for the use of tools and building.  

“Soon it was realized that the iron’s integrity could be improved by reheating it in a furnace containing charcoal (carbon),” according to Steel Fabrication Services. “Some of this carbon transferred to the iron and made it much stronger, especially if quenched in water. The resulting product was the first incarnation of modern steel. Since then it has been ubiquitous in mankind.”

Steel’s uses in medicine, buildings, weaponry, automobiles, tools and even bicycles have left an indelible mark.

 

Living Quarters: Then & Now

Decades before the world’s first steel scraper was erected, people in the Gold Rush era were living, working and going to church in portable iron houses. It was convenient and cheap for a more mobile lifestyle.

Today’s uses of metal have even evolved into living quarters made entirely of steel.

Steel may be one of the most durable building materials available, but is it livable?” According to Peak Steel Buildings, the answer is a resounding yes! “Most people are used to cozy wood and brick homes and the thought of residing in a metal building might seem odd at first. But prefabricated metal buildings are often used to provide a comfortable place to stay, whether for a few days or for many years.”

Camping barracks, guest houses, and hunting cabins are just a few of the modern steel living structures out there today. It doesn’t sound much different than the Gold Rush days, yet today’s metal structures are a lot more durable, permanent, and nicer to look at.

 

Bicycles

It appears that the first bicycle didn’t come around until the early 1800s (you just missed it, 1700s!). It wasn’t even called a “bicycle.” The rudimentary bike made of iron rims and wooden wheels was actually called a “velocipede,” and it’s still unclear who the actual inventor was. The term “bicycle” came into the picture in 1869.  

Before the modern days of carbon fiber and aluminum road bikes, there were steel bikes. The classic steel cruiser was built in 1957. It weighed nearly 50 pounds! In the 2000s, people started trading in their old-school steel bikes for lighter-weight materials.

The irony is that the steel bike has seen a resurgence over the past several years because riders love how steel handles and holds up over time. What goes around always seems to come back around.

“Riding a good steel bike, I tell you, is the closest thing to flying without leaving the planet,” says bike builder Bradley Woehl. “Go out there and ride that thing, and see what I mean.”

 

Jewelry

During the Georgian Period (1714-1837), rings were very ornate, lavish and regal in nature. Rubies, diamonds, and amethyst embedded into 18k gold were just as popular then as they are today. Steel wasn’t a part of the ring culture during those days.

By 1857, tungsten steel was developed and became more affordable over time. Plus, tungsten’s characteristics as an alloy gained popularity because of its durability. But people weren’t wearing tungsten rings back then. In the last decade or so, tungsten steel has entered the wedding ring market. Many grooms today opt for tungsten carbide because it’s extremely scratch resistant, doesn’t bend like 18k gold can and keeps its finish forever.

Steel has infiltrated itself into every aspect of life from the 1700s on. The above is just a glimpse into what steel has done over time.

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Rings, bikes and home styles and materials come and go … but one thing is certain: steel never goes out of style.