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The History and Importance of Modern Steel in the US

Steel is an alloy made up of iron and a small percentage of carbon. The modern American steel industry began in the 1850’s and has since become an important part of the world’s industrial economy. At its inception it was expensive to produce, so it was generally made in small quantities for use as tools, weapons and cutlery.

That changed with the introduction of new technology imported from Europe, in particular the “open-hearth” process which used pig iron, ore and scrap. At the turn of the twentieth century, American steel production grew to as much as 60 million tons annually, making the U.S. the largest as well as the lowest cost producer in the world. One reason for this growth was the great availability of iron, ore and coal.

After World War II, the steel industry flourished as a major part of the American economy. There was enormous global demand for steel as cities in Europe and Asia needed to rebuild. In the U.S., cities were growing rapidly, the demand for new cars was great, and a network of interstate highways was under construction. Steel was used to make railroads, bridges, factories and buildings as well as household appliances and automobiles. As a result, American mills made more than half the world’s steel. But over the last sixty years, the industry has begun to decline, as large steelmakers could not compete with imports and local mini-mills.

Today, things are looking up. Steel is produced by mini-mills and specialty mills, using recycled iron and steel scrap. As the world’s most recycled material, each year more than 60 million tons of steel are salvaged domestically or exported for reprocessing. Because the U.S. is the world’s largest steel importer, labor productivity has increased five-fold. Our country is committed to the highest safety and health standards. The twenty-first century American steel industry now produces advanced high - strength steels, mostly for the automotive industry, thereby reducing greenhouse gases without compromising safety, performance or affordability.

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