Original Document
Original Document
Herbert N. Casson, "The Era of Machinery," 1907.

To describe all the processes in this amazing era of machinery would fill an encyclopaedia; but here, for instance, is the story of a steel rail, made at the Edgar Thomson Steel Works. Starting at the ore yards, we see a vast pile of ore containing, perhaps, half a million tons. Near by are the bins for the coke and limestone. Properly mixed, these three materials go in a continuous stream of cars to a row of eleven big furnaces. The furnaces are insatiable monsters. They must be fed with ten tons every minute.

Every little while the furnaces are "tapped," and the molten iron flows into a train of small cars, which hurries off to the great mixer. This is a steel box on rockers. The cars are emptied into the mixer which rocks up and down till the iron is all of one quality. Then a second train puffs up, receives a load of iron, about two hundred tons, from the mixer, and scurries away to four Bessemer converters. These blow iron into steel at the rate of four tons a minute.

The converters spout their steel into big ladles, which pour the spluttering fluid into moulds, pushed into position on a third train. When the moulds are filled, the train runs about fifty yards away and stops. As soon as the steel is cooled into red-hot ingots, they are taken out and put into gas ovens so that they will not become cold. From here, one at a time, they are jerked out and dropped upon a small electric car, which rushes them to the rollers to be squeezed into shape.

Back and forward they plunge through the rolls, which are operated very much as is the wringer of a laundry. Every time an ingot goes between the rolls it becomes longer and thinner. Soon it looks like a flaming red worm, twisting and squirming to escape. Sparks splash from it as it writhes and springs savagely at the rolls. You notice that it is now a rail.

In a second it is switched to another track, and springs away as if it had succeeded in escaping from its tormentors. If it thinks so, it is mistaken. Two whirling saws cut off its ends, with a sudden shriek and blaze of fireworks. Steel hands grip it again and fling it through a cold rolling-machine, so that its surface may be hardened. Nothing now remains except to straighten it and drill holes in the ends. Its agony is ended.

No human hand has touched it, from beginning to end. The only hand labour is the drilling of the holes. As you follow it in its course you see very few workmen. Here and there you notice small switch-towers, in which are quick-eyed men. There are no swarthy Samsons. Most of the men are alert, but not muscular. The day of brute force has set.

Credit: Herbert N. Casson, The Romance of Steel: The Story of a Thousand Millionaires (New York: A. S. Barnes & Company, 1907), 142-43.
Back to Top