New Cast-Iron and Steel Manufacturing Technologies


Descriptively, cast iron is iron that has been liquefied and discharged into a cast or mold to take a definite shape. Together with steel manufacturing technologies, iron has had several social consequences, upon the development of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Western cities, not to mention its influence on cookeries. The Chinese are among the key artists to create furnaces for molding cast iron, from as early as in 513 BC. These furnaces were too hot that iron could be melted and poured into molds to make several products, such as building materials and cast iron cookware (Bergdoll 232, 278).  Unlike in China, European advancement of the cast iron process was not realized until AD 1161.

Both geographic areas—in addition to the U.S and many others, preferred cast iron because of its characteristics—cast iron is founded responsively at very high temperatures; it cannot be shaped or rolled even when very hot; it is very strong under compression and weak under tension, hence suitable for building skyscrapers and bridges. This paper digs into the impact of new cast-iron and steel manufacturing technologies, and their social consequences, upon the development of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Western cities, but especially focuses on skyscrapers, various buildings, railways and train stations, and Bridges. However, it is equally important to look at the brief history of the use of cast iron and steel technologies in relation to Western cities (Bergdoll 232, 278).


The Social Impact of Cast Iron throughout History

For hundreds of years, cast iron has been in use and was infrequently used in the pre-modern period architecture. However, in 18th century Britain introduced novel production methods that pioneered the production of cast iron cheaply and in large enough amounts to enhance regular usage in big building projects that brought about significant impacts upon their completion. Among the first socially imperative projects was The Ironbridge in Shropshire, which was a model setting structure built almost exclusively of cast iron (Jones 151-152). Nevertheless, it was exceptionally over-designed, and its designers, including Abraham Darby, endured the consequent financial challenges. The quality of the iron used to build The Iron Bridge was not high, but later on, Thomas Telford in company of other designers and engineers bettered the design as well as the quality of the material used for building bridges, to incorporate cast iron and steel (Bogardus, Daniel and John 266).

Though iron had been used in architecture for several years, the impact of cast iron social was not experienced in the U.S until the 1840s. Cast iron contributed to a countrywide building boom and replaced masonry since cast iron was less costly and demanded less labor intensive to produce. From this point of view, cast iron socially contributed to better housing and less labor intensive jobs in the building sector. In other words, pre-fabricated pieces of iron made it possible for buildings to be put up more speedily with less manual labor and lower expenses, hence saving money for other social needs (Fairbairn 251).

Technological advances in the production of cast iron and steel brought about the replacement of heavy masonry piers with thin cast-iron columns, hence letting in natural light to shine on new buildings. Socially, cast-iron cosmetic components offered almost unlimited ornamental opportunities, and several buildings had ornate frontages that evidenced their owners’ material wealth. With the cheapness and obtainability of cast iron in the 1850s, the New York City’s James Bogardus advocated and designed buildings using cast iron components, hence creating an impact in society (Packard, Robert and Joseph 591-592). Wilkes. The building society realized that cast iron could be fashioned into a various shapes and designs, allowing luxuriant frontages that were far inexpensive compared to traditionalistic stone-carved ones (Bergdoll 232, 278). People also painted these facades with various colors.

Most of these buildings had detailed neo-classical or Romanesque blueprints, which were often used on industrial and commercial buildings, particularly in the New York’s SoHo and Tribeca areas and the western suburb area of Louisville (Middleton 134, 137; Reynolds 97). One can see some of the most intact ensembles in the American West in the Skidmore—Old Town Historic District, which is a National Historic Landmark in Portland, Oregon. On the other hand, in Europe, one can experience the best maintained examples of Victorian cast-iron warehouses in Glasgow, Scotland—a city that went through great expansion in the late 19th century (Herbert 2, 191). The following section is the analysis of specific architectural areas and their social consequences, upon the development of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Western cities.


One very prevalent feature in this day’s landscape in the urban areas is the skyscrapers, the first multistory building were constructed towards the end of 19th century. This was technological advancements that enabled the construction of such tall buildings possible and real.  Due to industrialization and immigration to the urban areas, the population density of these areas heightened and thus, the need for more buildings of that caliber. In addition, the creation of passenger elevator eased the efficiency of moving through the tall buildings (Olson and James 189). This was contributed to by the emergence of steel as a lightweight, strong and reasonably priced construction material. Even though the term “skyscraper” originally described buildings that were more than 10 stories high, today, buildings of about 40 to 50 stories are the ones referred to as skyscrapers (Rabun 27).

Increase in trade in the United States’ urban centers during the last half of the 19th century saw the need for more business space. In 1857, the setting up of the first passenger elevator in the Haughwout Department Store, in New York City made the putting up of tall buildings more practical (Olson, James 187). Even though the initial skyscrapers leant against very thick brickwork walls at the foundation level, designers later used wrought-iron and cast-iron framework to support the upper floors’ weight and allow even more floor-space on lower stories (Hillier and Julienne 51-72).

However, the improvement of the Bessemer process in 1860s in the United States provided for major advancements in the construction of skyscrapers. Since steel is much lighter and stronger as compared to iron, using steel frames eased construction of the very tall buildings (Bijker, Wiebe and John 116-122). William Le Baron Jenney’s 10-story Home Insurance Company Building (1884–85) in Chicago, U.S was first in using steel-girder construction. The Jenney’s skyscrapers implemented the use of curtain-wall—a masonry covering that bears only its own weight and is appended to steel skeleton and is supported by the steel skeleton. Fundamentally, skyscrapers comprised of a fundament of landings under the ground, a framework of girders and columns above the ground, and curtain-wall hanging on girders (Markus 271).

After the Woolworth Building and the Campanile of St. Mark’s in Venice, Napoleon Le Brun modeled the Metropolitan Life Insurance Building in New York City was sculpted. The Art Deco sculptures on towers like the Empire State Building (1931), the Chrysler Building (1930), and even the RCA Building (1931) in New York City that were regarded as modern technology, are today considered more related to the old elaborate decorations and not truly modern lines.

The totally simple International Style appeared ideally for skyscraper design during the decades after World War II. This style dominated the construction field, and was used in buildings such as the Lake Shore Drive Apartments (1951) in Chicago and the Seagram Building (1958) in New York City. The plain erectness and glass curtain-walls of this style were a trademark of futuristic urban life in many nations.

The “First Chicago School were a group of architects that were produced in Chicago during the 1880s. The works of these architects has a profound effect even on today’s architecture. During the decades after the 1871 fire, Chicago became a town that was enjoying sudden prosperity. By 1890 Chicago population was over a million in number, having exceeded that of Philadelphia to be the second-largest urban center in the United States of America. This increase in population caused many changes, including the soaring value of land in the Loop. Due to the escalation in population, the low, non- storey buildings that had been constructed just after the 1871 fire were now regarded as inefficient since they did not offer enough and valuable space for use (Hillier and Julienne 51-72).

The initial constructions of the First Chicago School, like the Auditorium and the Montauk, used traditional supporting walls that were made of bricks and stones. However, the introduction of metal skeleton frames enabled the construction architects of the First Chicago School to hone their signature building, which was “the skyscraper” (Markus 271). Sir William Le Baron Jenney modeled the first entirely iron-and-steel-framed structure in the world in 1880s. Thereafter, in 1884, the Home Insurance Company requested William Le Baron Jenney to create their office tower. Jenny formulated an iron skeleton to be the support of the structure’s weight (Markus 271). After beginning work on the Home Insurance Company’s project, the Carnegie-Phipps Steel Company, realized the possibility of a new vast market and they told Jenney that they would supply his construction project with steel rather than using iron beams. This made the Home Insurance Building, located at the northeast corner of LaSalle and Adams Streets to clearly become a really groundbreaking structure.

The First Chicago School architects derived their second source of style from the exact nature of material that they had so enthusiastically adopted—steel. After the Chicago architects began using metal—steel and iron in their construction works, they wholeheartedly expressed their love for the qualities of the steel and iron materials. This was due to two distinctive qualities of these materials. One was that the authenticities of using this material was that it imparted itself into the winding curve, which made the Chicago architects to do as they had done in their European contemporaries including the Hector Guimard, into an art nouveau.

The other appealing significance that was brought about by the use of iron and steel was their right angle, as audaciously explicated in the Holabird and Roche’s Tacoma Building of 1889 which is located at the corner of LaSalle and Madison Streets. This 13-storey office tower was the first building to be constructed by the use of rivets that revealed in its sharp angles, the steel structures set-up beneath the building’s curtain walls. This right-angled aesthetic feature of steel and iron was also the commanding factor in the upper floors of the Adler & Sullivan’s Stock Exchange building. In this building, the Romanesque archways of the building’s base were eschewed on the top to create a soaring, streamlined elevation whose only element of decoration was the planes which interplayed the flat wall surface against the rhythmic bays. The celebration of this firm nature of the iron and steel metals is possibly exemplified most dazzlingly by the Burnham & Root’s Reliance Building (1895), which is located on State Street, and which was completed by Charles B.

Skyscrapers no longer depend upon a fresh or modern architecture or aesthetical principle of construction or idea; instead, they rely on the owners’ desire for profit. This has clearly been expressed by the amount of speed in construction and the usage of space in these skyscrapers. The significance of skyscrapers for towns and cities in the world is not just to make urbanity a much positive congestion, but also to make an appearance of urbanity. Housing skyscrapers are not designed for the purpose of drawing numbers of people, but specific groups within the crowds. This is achieved by creating urban soil through artificial scarcity. In places such as Rotterdam, residential skyscrapers are not primarily as a result of an existing sophistication or lack of a historical reference frame, they are mainly constructed due to the lacking middle- and higher incomes and due to out-of-date industrial city image. These skyscrapers did not grow as an accident, but they were designed. The growth of skyscrapers gave birth to a new urban image and at the same time gave cities an urban look. Although skyscrapers in cities may not be necessarily a necessity, through proper guidance and construction works, skyscrapers can create market for modern city live, shape and develop cityscape ambition.

The Crystal Palace building was a glass and cast-iron structure that had been originally put up in Hyde Park, London, England, to hold the 1851 Great Exhibition (McKean, Joseph and Charles 25-58). Over 14,000 global exhibitors assembled in the Palace’s 990,000 square feet exhibition space and displayed examples of the newest construction technologies that were developed during the Industrial Revolution (McKean, Joseph and Charles 7-59). The Paxton’s Great Stove, that is located at Chatsworth was completed in 1840, and became the then largest greenhouse in the entire world. This impacted on people’s lives greatly since it brought fresh gardening to the cities. The creation of Paxton’s Great Stove more design and construction of great glass buildings such as the Victorian age’s Crystal Palace in 1851 (Herbert 2, 191; McKean, Joseph and Charles 7-59). Such buildings enhanced tourism attractions activities and increased social cohesion.

Train Stations

Hot rolled steel in a lopsided I-beam is used as surface on which wheels of railway run. Unlike other iron and steel uses, railway rails construction are subjected to extremely high stress, thus they have to be constructed with steel alloy of a very high quality. Many decades went by before the quality of materials was improved such as the change of iron to steel. This was necessary because, heavier rails and track work allowed for faster and heavier trains to be carried by the track (Bogardus, Daniel and John 266). The Old Station was designed and constructed by Brunel for The Great Western Railway. The later addition was constructed between 1871 and 1878 and was directed by Matthew Digby Wyatt—Brunel’s former associate. This train shed is 500 foot in length and consists of a wrought iron roof edifice.

Bristol Temple Meads Station’s massive timber roof is supported by many slender girders which sit in rows of cast iron columns, and are linked by many Tudor arches. This station is the major railway station in Bristol and connects the south via Taunton and Exeter to Plymouth and Penzance. The station also connects west of Bristol into Wales, the east to Bath, Reading and London Paddington and the north via Birmingham to Scotland. The station is renowned for its various facilities including seat reservations, bike storage, taxis, and open bus tours. Other railway stations constructed with cast iron and steel are the Glasgow Central Station and the Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The evolution and growth of the railway transport network that has been facilitated by the iron and steel has impacted greatly on the social lives of people worldwide. For instance, this has seen the ease in travel, thus more tourists have been able to travel; the ease in carrying heavy goods has eased migration of people, to and from cities and rural areas; trade has also grown immensely with this improvement; and many people’s living standards have gone up due to the employment opportunities that have followed the construction of railways. The emergency of good and reliable railway network changed the settlement pattern of people in many parts as many began relocating near the railway for easy access and to create trade centers near the railway stations.


The first cast iron bridge to be built in the entire world was the Coalbrookdale Bridge in Telford. This bridge was constructed in 1779 and the bridge continues to be in use today. The bridge is currently used for carrying occasional light transport goods and it is also used by pedestrians (Brown 175, 297). During the early years of 1800s, cast iron started to be replaced with the wrought iron and many railway bridges were constructed with riveted wrought iron. During the late 1800s, steel began replacing wrought iron, and by the beginning of 1900s, this wrought iron was not available any more since most steel makers in the world moved to produce carbon steel, which was a comparatively more reliable material. The firmer railway bridges that were constructed made heavy cargo trains to be constructed and bettered business since more goods could be transited across regions.

The Brunel, Clifton Suspension Bridge became free for travellers and was able to link the Clifton’s hamlets with the Leigh Woods private estates. This made the bridge able to serve little economic purpose. The Saltash’s Royal Albert Bridge which was constructed in 1859 along the west bank of the stunning river, Tamar, Saltash is regarded as the gateway between Devon and Cornwall. This area of Saltash offers a very attractive setting, and can boasts of a wide range of splendid facilities from housing and schools, to transportation links and industrial estates, to leisure amenities and stunning river-sidewalks. With the assistance of the firm bridges built from iron and steel, the Saltash area can enhance its transport of tourists to view the striking features of the area and in return better the livelihoods of the residents through the income earned from the tourists (Brown 170-171).


Iron is tough to win from natural ore; it’s tough to shape and work with, and tough to apply as primary structural metal in technology.  Even though iron metal is difficult to work on and make, iron ore is comparatively easy to find. The nature of iron and its role in technology and the economy of the world explain the changes that have happened throughout the iron and steel industry in the past several decades. In spite of its ample investment in environmental infrastructure, the iron and steel industry continues to be biggest energy consumers, and largest emitters of air pollutants and greenhouse gases compared to other sectors.  The impact of Iron and steel sector remains considerable and improvements in environmental construction and restructuring remains unbeatable.

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