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!

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

Pure iron is barely harder  and stronger than copper. Impurities are to iron, what paint is to an artist’s canvas.

Red Ochre is Iron

The problem with iron at this level of purity is that it is too soft and too ductile for most commercial uses.

This means that the iron products that we know and recognize are relatively and deliberately impure.
Iron also has three allotropes or crystal forms,  delta iron (body centered cubic) gamma (face centered cubic) and alpha, body centered cubic. I was originally taught* that delta and alpha iron were the same allottrope, a distinction that now appears to be a chrming sign of old age… and the addition of impurities (alloying elements) have different solubilities based on these forms.
It is the addition of carbon and other elemental impurities which alter these allotropic forms that gives commercial iron and steel products their diverse properties.
When we look on the material certs that accompany our steel products , the first element that is reported is carbon. Carbon is ubiquitous, and has the dominant effect on the behavior of the iron based product to which it is part, even in the presence of large amounts of alloying elements.
What is implied by the certs is that after adding up all of the elements reported, the balance of the material is “iron.”
In 2009 world Iron and steel production was estimated to be 1,219.7 million metric tonnes.

Physics trivia: Iron is the heaviest atom that can be made by the fusion of stars. Iron is is the ‘ash’ of stellar nuclear fusion. Iron is abundant- the fifth most abundant element on earth, and sixth most abundant in the universe. Our blood is red because of iron, and since iron is an essential part of our bodies, we can truly  claim that we are “Stardust.”  

"We are Stardust, We are golden, We are billion year old carbon, and we got to get ourselves, back to the garden."

Iron is essential  to almost all living things indeed it is key to the working of hemoglobin and oxygen transfer in humans, as well as in enzymes that are involved in the creation of DNA.
Our bodies store surplus iron in the liver, to cover for those days when we do not get our required 7 to 11 milligrams of daily iron.

When properly contaminated with carbon, manganese, a sprinkle of sulfur or phosphorous, iron makes some damn fine precision machined parts too!

Mostly iron, but the cert doesn't say so

  *I was originally taught= Alloying Elements in Steel by Edgar C Bain and Harold W Paxton, 2nd edition:
“The metal iron, as shown in figure 1., exists in two isometric allotropic crystal forms: (1) alpha  and delta iron, whose solid solutions are called ferrite (or delta ferrite) and (2) gamma iron whose solid solution is is austenite.”

Cave painting
Lyrics by Jodi Mitchell, performed by Crosby, Stills, and Nash.