Iron


Iron is probably the most precious of all metals, since man would certainly miss this element more than any other, even the so-called precious ones. In the beginning of the 14th century, when iron was rare, some iron kitchen utensils of Edward III where classified as jewelry, and iron accessories were preferentially seek by robbers.

The name "iron" comes from the Scandinavian "iarn". Many fantastic stories have been told about the origin of iron. Some of them say that was iron a gift of the Gods while others try to describe it as coming from meteoric sources. However, we do not need this kind of explanation if we consider that iron can be reduced from several ores present in Nature. It is told that iron was produced for the first time when some pieces of ore, used in cook fires, reduced, when fires were kept long enough. After this, it was observed that higher temperatures (and wind) lead a better iron. This method was improved by several tricks until the creation of the furnace.

Iron has been known and used since prehistoric times. The writings of the most early civilizations refer to it, and there is evidence that it was known more than 7000 years ago; in China the usage of steel goes back to 2550 a.C.. Some vedic poets wrote that their prehistoric ancestors already knew iron and were able to transform it into utensils through a considerable range of technics.

Considering that iron utensils are less frequent than those of bronze, archaeologists consider the Bronze Age before the Iron Age. In fact bronze is easier to extract and work than iron. They believe that bronze was abandoned as utensil and weapon by 500 a.C.. The lack of copper and the abundance of iron lead the Hindus to develop new technics for iron working, later used in Europe by several civilizations such as the Etruscans in Northern Italy.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, iron production suffered a considerable development in particular in Spain, being famous the steel blades of Toledo and its craftsmen. These craftsmen went to France and Germany, where they introduced the bloomery which developed and originated the big furnaces.

The by-products of the bloomery were a kind of malleable iron or steel; the big furnaces produced a wide variety of iron that could not be hardened but was suitable for other kinds of casting and moulding.

The discovery, by Cort, of a transformation process of this kind from iron to forge-iron, with considerable lower production costs than the bloomery process, considerably increased the production in England.