Above all, it is the single largest railroad power in America today.

CHAPTER III. THE EPIC OF STEEL

It was the boast of a Roman Emperor that he had found the Eternal City brick and left it marble. Similarly the present generation of Americans inherited a country which was wood and have transformed it into steel. That which chiefly distinguishes the physical America of today from that of forty years ago is the extensive use of this metal. Our fathers used steel very little in railway transportation; rails and locomotives were usually made of iron, and wood was the prevailing material for railroad bridges. Steel cars, both for passengers and for freight, are now everywhere taking the place of the more flimsy substance. We travel today in steel subways, transact our business in steel buildings, and live in apartments and private houses which are made largely of steel. The steel automobile has long since supplanted the wooden carriage; the steel ship has displaced the iron and wooden vessel. The American farmer now encloses his lands with steel wire, the Southern planter binds his cotton with steel ties, and modern America could never gather her abundant harvests without her mighty agricultural implements, all of which are made of steel. Thus it is steel that shelters us, that transports us, that feeds us, and that even clothes us.

This substance is such a commonplace element in our lives that we take it for granted, like air and water and the soil itself; yet the generation that fought the Civil War knew practically nothing of steel. They were familiar with this metal only as a curiosity or as a material used for the finer kinds of cutlery. How many Americans realize that steel was used even less in 1865 than aluminum is used today? Nearly all the men who have made the American Steel Age--such as Carnegie, Phipps, Frick, and Schwab- -are still living and some of them are even now extremely active. Thirty-five years ago steel manufacture was regarded, even in this country, as an almost exclusively British industry. In 1870 the American steel maker was the parvenu of the trade. American railroads purchased their first steel rails in England, and the early American steel makers went to Sheffield for their expert workmen. Yet, in little more than ten years, American mills were selling agricultural machinery in that same English town, American rails were displacing the English product in all parts of the world, American locomotives were drawing English trains on English railways, and American steel bridges were spanning the Ganges and the Nile. Indeed, the United States soon surpassed England. In the year before the World War the United Kingdom produced 7,500,000 tons of steel a year, while the United States produced 32,000,000 tons. Since the outbreak of the Great War, the United States has probably made more steel than all the rest of the world put together. "The nation that makes the cheapest steel," says Mr. Carnegie, "has the other nations at its feet." When some future Buckle analyzes the fundamental facts in the World War, he may possibly find that steel precipitated it and that steel determined its outcome.

Three circumstances contributed to the rise of this greatest of American industries: a new process for cheaply converting molten pig iron into steel, the discovery of enormous deposits of ore in several sections of the United States, and the entrance into the business of a hardy and adventurous group of manufacturers and business men. Our steel industry is thus another triumph of American inventive skill, made possible by the richness of our mineral resources and the racial energy of our people. An elementary scientific discovery introduced the great steel age. Steel, of course, is merely iron which has been refined--freed from certain impurities, such as carbon, sulphur, and phosphorus. We refine our iron and turn it into steel precisely as we refine our sugar and petroleum. From the days of Tubal Cain the iron worker had known that heat would accomplish this purification; but heat, up to almost 1865, was an exceedingly expensive commodity.

The Age of Big Business Page 19

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