Steel, Master of Them All

Gold is for the mistress

Silver for the maid

Copper for the craftsman, cunning at his trade,

“Good!” said the Baron, sitting in his hall,

“But Iron- Cold Iron – is Master of them all.”

-Rudyard Kipling

Full poem here

In 1910 when Rudyard Kipling wrote this verse,  the USA produced about 24 million tons of steel. That amounted to roughly 482 pounds for each of the 92.2 million americans counted in the census that year.

In 2010, the US produced 88.5 million tons- down 13% from 2008 and down 18% from 2006 and 2007. That 88.5 million tons- amounted to about 575 pounds for each of the 308 million Americans alive that year.

That’s an increase of about 20%  per person over a period of a hundred years?

Only 20%?

What amazes me is that all of our devices using steel have diminished the mass of the steel needed to do the same job.

This 1910 Case tractor probably weighed in around 3000 pounds and delivered no more than 20 horsepower.

This 2010  production single cylinder Kohler (iron cylinder) engine equipped Cub Cadet also rated at 20 horsepower:

I don't think this one weighs 3000 pounds...

Steel truly  is the master- in this case the master of doing more with less.

Buckminster Fuller describes this decreasing of mass but increasing of capability as “ephemeralization.”

Its something my kids have seen growing up as they observed our communications technology:

This is what a cell phone was when my kids were born in the 1980's.

Cell phone today:

Oh the one in the 1980's didn't bring me my newspaper or have a virual assitant or play movies either. It was ...just...a ...phone!

Steel may be the Master of Them All, but  it is Engineers, and Machinists and other manufacturing craftsmen who are the real masters – we make the stuff that makes our modern world- Modern.

Case tractor photocredit: Thanks Big Red!

Cub Cadet photocredit:

Motorola Brick

Apple iphone 4s

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