From the 1940 book, Engines of Democracy.
WHETHER the Kelley-Bessemer process was first invented in America or in England is a question of little importance. It was not a process merely for making steel but for making cheap steel. It was designed for commerce and its perfection made steel the skeleton of many societies.
That it became the skeleton of America before it was the skeleton of England was due to many things: to the weakness of our still temporary structure and to our desire to make ourselves over; to the urgent demands of transport; to the need of conquering physical obstacles such as rivers, mountain crevasses, and other difficult gaps; to the demands of the interchangeable parts system and machine manufacture . . .
. . . but most of all to industrial rather than inventive genius. The kind of organization which formed the basis of cheap steel in America was a product of individual impulse collectively applied. Its result was collective.
The dates of Kelley and Bessemer in the inventive field prove nothing. The important point in history is the point at which the converters produced a serviceable metal in quantity. This point was about the same in time in America and in Europe, and many other persons had by then played a part in the perfection of the process.
William Kelley was born (significantly) in Pittsburgh in 1811. In that year a rolling mill was built there. The town was already important in the manufacture of iron.
As the boy grew up, this importance increased rapidly. By the time he was fifteen there were five rolling mills, some of them steam-operated, four slitting mills, and fifteen hundred persons, or better than 10 per cent of the population, were employed m the manufacture of iron.
We are told that in his youth Kelley had been an eager “student of metallurgy”—a high-sounding word for the science of the period—and certainly his environment favored such a study. It did not prevent him from going into the dry goods business, however, in which, presumably, his wealthy father set him up.
We find him, at thirty-five, still in it and belatedly making love to a beautiful girl of sixteen whom he met at Nashville, Tennessee, on a selling tour.
Miss Gracy married him and took him to Eddyville, Kentucky, where her father was prosperous in tobacco. There, stumbling over pieces of rich hematite which lay all over the surface of the ground, his metallurgical fever returned with a rush. So he sent for his brother John (also his dry goods partner) and they bought land and set up a furnace.
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Iron and steel at that period were still produced in the old way though with improved furnaces and bloomeries. The quantity of carbon contained in the various kinds was still regulated by rule-of-thumb methods, for chemistry, in America at least, was a largely unknown science.
Wrought iron was produced by a partial melting in the bloomery with stirring of the bloom to remove the carbon. It was also produced by re-melting pig iron while a blast of air oxydized it or combined with the carbon in a gas. This process was becoming more common, as it produced larger quantities but it consumed more fuel.
Cast iron and pig iron, which have a high carbon content, were still made in blast furnaces where the iron was melted to liquid and a lime flux combined with the impurities of the ore to form slag.
Steel was still made by heating wrought iron in the presence of pulverized charcoal to put carbon into it, either by the blister or the crucible method. The quantity of steel thus produced was very small.
It is superfluous to go into further detail about these processes. We need remember only that the nature of the product depended upon the amount of carbon it contained:
- Wrought iron, which was soft and malleable, was made by removing carbon.
- The hard and brittle cast iron and pig iron were made by mixing fuel and ore and heating the fuel so hot that the iron was reduced to liquid in which state it absorbed carbon from the fuel.
- Steel was made by the cumbersome process of first removing the carbon to make wrought iron and then putting it back during a reheating.
Now Kelley began with pig iron which he transformed into wrought iron by reheating it while a blast of air removed the carbon.
In this process, the iron first melted to liquid then, as the carbon left it, it partly solidified into a paste even in the presence of continuous and intense heat. In other words, iron seemed to be less hot once the carbon was removed no matter how much external heat you applied.
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Kelley’s mind was reflective and scientific to the point that he asked for reasons while other iron masters accepted facts. Suddenly there came an answer. Carbonized iron melts more easily than de-carbonized iron because the particles of carbon between the particles of iron are burning, thus the iron in a sense makes its own heat and a much hotter heat than can be given it by fuel from without.
Kelley’s reflective temper at that moment was augmented by the fact that his fuel supply was dwindling. Having exhausted the best ore at the place where he began, he had been forced to move over a better vein where, unhappily, there was no timber for his charcoal, and hauling timber was expensive.
He was therefore doubly glad when he suspected that pig iron contained its own fuel. Immediately he proved it.
Separating his melted pig from the charcoal as soon as it was liquid, he tried blowing a blast of cold air through it. As he had imagined, the liquid became hotter and the oxidized carbon blew off it in a shower of sparks. Thus he proved that, once the pig was melted, the de-carbonizing process could be continued with no additional fuel.
Now the idea of blowing cold air on something to make it hotter was unexpected, to say the least, to men accustomed to Aristotelian thinking. Any one who thought such things was whatever the vocabulary of the day substituted for the later charming vernacular “nuts.” Mrs. Kelley, who had always blown upon her coffee to cool it, sent for the doctor.
The doctor she picked was an excellent choice from the point of view of the future of steel in America. He, too, had a reflective and scientific mind and took sides with Kelley, whom he pronounced not only sane but intelligent.
The year of Kelley’s first discovery was 1846. Hounded by skeptics and men who called him mad, and distrusted by his own family, he withdrew into the forest where, in secret, he worked at his process. His difficulties were great. Though he
produced some fine wrought iron, some of which was used for boiler plates, he seems to have produced no steel.
Yet there is no question that he did independently discover the process by which, with the addition of other inventions, steel was later manufactured in quantity.
We must cross the Atlantic at this point. England, at the time, led the world in the manufacture of iron.
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Henry Bessemer was a true inventor of the old school, versatile, immensely ingenious, with a strong mechanical flair. His inventions ranged from bronze powder used in the manufacture of gilt paint to a seasick-proof dining saloon for a ship. He was also a good business man, so he had the full equipment for success.
He entered the iron field through interest in the manufacture of guns. It was in the course of his experiments with improvements in the quality of metal that, “accidentally” as the storytellers will have it, he hit upon the process that Kelley had discovered some ten years before.
He found, in his puddling furnace, a pig of iron which, apparently, had not melted. Poking it, he discovered that only the shell of the pig was there; that the inside had fused and flowed away. From this he deduced that the outside had lost its carbon and hence gained a higher melting point through contact with the air.
It was a short step from there to the blowing of cold air through molten metal in a pot. Seeing that the carbon in the metal burned with a flame and that sparks shot off, Bessemer, aware of the proof of his deduction, was “almost prostrated with joy” and, recovering, designed his converter.
The converter was a great invention in itself. A swinging pot, punctured at the bottom and with air pipes entering the holes, it could be tilted to cut off the blast; the tilting also prevented the metal from flowing out the holes.
With such a tool it would seem possible to cut off the air at the precise point when steel was attained and before the metal was entirely de-carbonized into wrought iron. Here, however, came the greatest difficulty.
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|Bessemer pot with air pipes and ability to swing to pour into a ladle.|
In the interest of clarity we have, as usual, indulged in extreme simplification. The chemistry of iron appears more complex as we approach the varied composition of the ores. They contain—besides the carbon—manganese, silicon, sulphur, and phosphorus in varying quantities. Experiment with a fuller knowledge of chemistry than that known in 1850 has shown the parts these substances play in the qualities of different grades of steel.
Bessemer’s first experiment in producing steel succeeded because the pig he used was low in phosphorous and high in manganese.
English iron makers were more advanced than the Americans. Ten years had passed since Doctor Huggins of Eddyville had investigated Kelley’s sanity. During these years people in general had become more adaptable to the apparent paradoxes of science.
So Bessemer had an easier time with scoffers. When he read his famous paper, “The Manufacture of Iron Without Fuel,” therefore, before the British Association for the Advancement of Science, he aroused immediate support. James Nasmyth, an engineer of high standing, went so far as to pronounce the metal resulting from the experiment, “a true British nugget.”
With other iron, the process failed. Particularly it failed with iron high in phosphorus. Often it did not even make satisfactory wrought iron. So when Bessemer took out a patent, his licensees, trying to produce commercial steel or malleable iron, protested. Some of the difficulties were later overcome by a change known as the “basic Bessemer process” * which worked peculiarly well with high-phosphorous iron.
* Lining the converter with substances containing a high lime content—notably dolomite. This invention, however, was not Bessemer’s own. It was made by the English chemists, Thomas and Gilchrist.
But in 1856 many Englishmen believed the Bessemer process would never come to anything.
With different irons, Bessemer never knew when to cut off his blast. To stop it too soon left high-carbon iron in the converter . . . to leave it on too long often produced over-oxydized metal, brittle, called “burnt iron.”
It was at this point that Robert Mushet appeared on the scene.
This Scot found that by adding to the molten metal after the blast was turned off, a substance called “spiegeleisen,” wrought iron could be made into steel. Spiegeleisen contained carbon, manganese, silicon and iron.*
* Also lime, zinc and magnesia.
The manganese removed the surplus oxygen and also toughened the metal, and the carbon completed the old process. So, in the end, the Bessemer process as it was used had to resort to the cumbersome trick of adding carbon to de-carbonized iron.
With the spiegeleisen, however, this became more exact and scientific, as it was easy to formulate the precise percentage needed for various pigs and various steels. Without Mushet, therefore, it is doubtful if Bessemer would have made cheap steel in quantity. Neither would Kelley.
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|The Bessemer Converter:
A. Axis upon which the converter turns when it is tilted to pour out the molten metal.
B. Spout. It is from this spout that we see issuing the burst of flame and the outpouring of sparks when the converter is in operation.
C. Outer steel casing.
D. Lining of siliceous rock or other material.
E. Air entering through the holes of the false bottom.
F. Molten iron.
Kelley, in ten years, had made little progress. When, however, in 1856, when Bessemer applied for a patent in the United States, Kelley objected. Though he had got no patent of his own, he filed a claim for priority and proved it in court. This prevented Bessemer from getting an American patent and gave a patent for the “pneumatic process” to Kelley.
Kelley’s patent threw a wrench into the progress of steel manufacture in the United States. Behind it was a little-perfected means of making “refined” or wrought iron. Behind this process stood a man without organizing ability, without industrial talent, with no real concept of quantity production of steel, working in a still largely unorganized country.
The transcontinental, the greatest instrument of the country’s organization, was not even on paper in the form it should take and sectional antagonism which had brought the forces of industry and slave-plantation to the threshold of war was about to shatter, for a time, all appearance of consolidation in defiance of the factual pattern laid down by applied science.
On the other hand, across the Atlantic, in a nation tightly consolidated by industrial revolution, a center of scientific thought and industrial planning, was the complete equipment for the quantity production of steel. We should not call it complete by present standards but it was ready to produce more metal—of a sort—than the country could, at the moment, use, and it was certainly complete enough to answer America’s most exigent demand.
Indeed, it was peculiarly adapted to that demand—for rails. A rail,* rolled from Bessemer steel in 1857, was laid on the Midland Railway and immediately proved the future of Bessemer steel for the arteries of transport.
An analysis of this rail shows a low carbon content, .08% and a higher phosphorus content, .428% than was permissible in later British rails, yet it lasted sixteen years and a million and a quarter trains passed over it.
By the time the Civil War began in America and before the act authorizing the incorporation of the Union Pacific, well organized companies in England, Sweden, Belgium were using the beautiful Bessemer machinery for quantity production.
During the war, certain Americans inspected this equipment, notably Abram Hewitt and Alexander Holley. Hewitt was always skeptical of Bessemer processes,’ but Holley was won over by his inspection and by his friendship with Bessemer, who generously handed him the “exclusive right” to manufacture by his process in the United States.
How he was expected to do this, under the circumstances, is not clear, but it became evident to Holley on his return that he could not legally use these rights in defiance of the Kelley patent.
A curious situation then arose. Though Bessemer could not patent his process in the United States, he did take out a patent on his converter. Meanwhile, two industrialists in America, Ward and Durfee, had bought the right to manufacture under the Kelley patent and had also bought the American rights to Mushet’s re-carburization trick.
Thus Holley was unable to manufacture Bessemer steel without infringing the Kelley patent and the Kelley manufacturers presently found that they could not work effectively without the Bessemer converter.
This paradox appeared in 1865. The war was over, the North was in its fantastic industrial boom, the transcontinental was well under way. The more profound students of the subject were well aware that, as the technology of the railroad advanced, bringing heavier locomotives and cars, and that as industry would demand more and more trains, soft-iron rails, no matter how expertly rolled in England, would not endure.
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News had reached the railroad men of the new cheap English rail steel. The name of Bessemer was already familiar. But on top of all this, the late magnification of an old economic device had made the situation intolerable.
This was the tariff. It had jumped prodigiously during the war and was still climbing. It was already obvious that if, under it, we must continue to buy steel from England our roads would never have steel rails.
In this conflict, then, a compromise was inevitable. This kind of compromise was to become characteristic of our collective phase.
In the case of the sewing machine we have already seen an example of the pooling of patents in the “Combination,” a forerunner of the various industrial associations of today.
The Kelley-Bessemer paradox was resolved by a consolidation of the two companies. The Holley interests came out far ahead in the deal, controlling seven-tenths of the property. This amalgamation with its smoothing out of the legal difficulties made possible the steel industry in America.
It is astonishing, even considering the factors which abetted it: the post-war boom, the protective tariff and the demands of transport, how rapidly it grew. A glance at the figures shows this. In the twenty-five years from 1867 there was an increase of production of Bessemer steel alone from about 3 thousand to 4.6 million tons.
In the statistics, the early importance of transport demands is plainly visible. Of the total of 157 thousand tons in 1873, 129 thousand went into rails. Bessemer steel was, of course, better adapted to rails than to anything else, and it remained the best process for this purpose.
The extraordinary development of Bessemer steel in the United States, which brought us ahead of England in 1880, was aided by the fact that the ores in the largest American deposits were peculiarly adaptable to the process. Notwithstanding Mushet’s invention, iron high in phosphorus and sulphur was never satisfactory for the early Bessemer steel. For this reason, many of the eastern ores were found to be of little value in making iron for use in the Bessemer converters.
But the discovery of the immense Mesaba deposits near Lake Superior was contemporary with the introduction of the Bessemer process, so it became profitable to transport these beautifully adapted ores to the East where the iron works already were and where the coal was.
Thus the steel industry, as it grew, was widely separated from its source of supply, and this aided the development of rail transport. Continuously, in the nineteenth century, these two activities played into each other’s hands.
Bessemer steel, then, was largely rail steel, and as the rails increased they helped the process. But the United States today has a steel skeleton besides the steel viscera of the railroads. What are the other kinds of steel that form these bones and what are the processes by which they are made?
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Americans developed most of the steel-making processes and reached in this development a high efficiency; few of them, however, were first invented in the United States. Thus Peter Cooper and Abram Hewitt, when they introduced open-hearth manufacture into this country, were obliged to borrow from England, Germany and France.
William Siemens, a native of Germany, most of whose work was done in England, was a great inventor. Disturbed by the waste gases which he saw pouring out of factory chimneys brightly and hotly aflame, he concentrated on conserving and using this material for heat.
Thus he evolved the regenerative furnace which forced these gases to combine with the right amount of air in a flame of great heat.
The mere burning of fuel even with a strong blast could never produce anything like the intensity of heat derived from the gases. He then made his furnace “reverberatory” by passing the gas from the flame through a chamber which it heated: then by passing new gases through this hot chamber he achieved an even hotter flame when the preheated gas was ignited.
With his brother Frederick, he applied this furnace to the making of steel. This was the open-hearth process. By playing this hot flame over the surface of molten iron in an open basin, they could burn out the carbon without unduly oxidizing the metal. The process was not complete, however, until the invention of the Martin brothers of Sireuil, France, was added to it.
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|The open-hearth process:
- A. Charge of pig and scrap iron and a flux of limestone.
- B. Saucer.shaped lining of magnesite.
- C and D. Regenerators, consisting of checkerwork constructions of firebrick, for gas and air heating.
- D and D’ Reversing valves. The gas and air unite in a flame over the charge of iron and pass off and then through the firebrick construction which it heats. Changing the direction of the gas and air with the reversing valves, is the special feature of this process.
- E. Chimney or outlet
A consciousness of steel as a giant was coming rapidly into the visionary minds of the world. It had long been known as a magical dwarf. The instruments of surgeons, the tools of the cabinet-makers, the animate swords of gods and men had long been forged by demi-sorcerers. Even when the magic disappeared, steel-making was an art rather than a science and its quality depended upon the skill of the artist.
The makers of cutlery and precision instruments were geniuses, gifted from birth; they worked, apparently, not by a formula but by intuition in a manner which the lay mind admired but could not comprehend. Now Bessemer had revealed the giant, a child of science, of chemistry (no longer alchemy), of physics and mechanics and Titan-scaled industrial plans.
In the early consciousness of this new Steel, we find a confusion which often obscures our study. Men were not yet sure that the great ingot or the long rail was the same material as the needle or the awl.
Thus we find them—Bessemer himself indeed—speaking of “malleable iron” when they mean steel, and we confuse it with wrought iron hammered from the carbonless bloom, soft and un-resilient, excellent for the horseshoe and useless for the saw, perfect for the nail but feeble for the structural beam.
And when Kelley speaks of “refined iron” we are never sure whether or not he means the steel that is such a common thing to us.
But by 1864, the vague sense had crystallized into formulated understanding. In this more articulate phase, it is not surprising to find independent concentrated experiment in various parts of the world. So, in France, we find Pierre and Emil Martin puzzling over the still unsolved problem of determining beforehand the precise chemical constituency of a particular steel and producing it by formula.
Their device was “dilution”: dissolving in the molten pig, portions of scrap steel, ore and “sponge” iron. It was the combination of this invention with the reverberatory-regenerative furnace of the brothers Siemens that produced the open-hearth process.
The Siemens-Martin furnace was a much slower process than the Bessemer. It thus had the advantages that samples could be taken from time to time and the flame shut off when the right carbon content was present in the liquid.
None of the split-second guess was necessary as with the Bessemer converter, re-carburization with spiegeleisen or other ferro-manganese substance was unnecessary (though this was sometimes practised) and over-oxidization did not occur.
When the “basic” method of lime-lining the hearth was introduced even the high-phosphorous ores were reducible.
The United States at this time was far behind Europe in both science and industry. Certain sporadic excellences had been attained in the older industrial regions: high points in the manufacture of shoes, textiles, rifles, agricultural machinery, in milling, cotton ginning, and in that strange loose-jointed, basket-framed contraption which rattled up and down incredible grades and round switchback curves, the American locomotive.
But, on the whole, our nation was still sprawling, disorderly, unkempt, still largely in the process of settlement, still partly savage, partly empty, partly incommunicable, a jumble of corn and tomahawks, frame shacks, fabulous gold mines, frontier saloons, racing steamboats; with lone oases like Boston building walls round their culture and the memory of pigs in New York streets.
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Yet here and there in the chaos stood great men, geniuses, their minds constructing the new order, their hands itching to mould the raw, strong, rich material at their feet…
…The gaunt, patient rail-splitter, whose stature none could compass, stood with malice toward none, contemplating the wounded southland with the vision of healing in his quiet eyes, unmindful of the mean death that awaited his first step...
…Withdrawn deep in his laboratory stood the great thinker, Henry, surrounded by his beloved magnets which had made the world conscious of itself and would one day remove the barrier of distance to the human voice…
…In a noisy way station the strange raw boy, Tom Edison, sat thinking far beyond the routine messages clicking from the instrument on the table before him—tense, almost bodiless, forgetful of food and sleep…
…In the busier factory centers, restless among the hammers and the heat, the industrial dreamers: the compact little eccentric master of men, Andrew Carnegie, watching the furnaces across the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad…
…The aging but still adventurous Peter Cooper and his brilliant son-in-law and partner Abram Hewitt, all with the full-colored picture in their minds of the America we know today.
Some of these men were impatient with the slowness of their country in industry. Carnegie had not yet seen a Bessemer converter in action—when he did see one in 1872 it nearly prostrated him as it had its inventor—but Hewitt had seen one and was in communication with the Bessemer people in England and so had Peter Cooper in his wartime visits.
When Hewitt went again to England in 1867 while Louis Napoleon’s magnificent world’s fair was exhibiting the marvels of all nations he was startled and humiliated by the advances in Europe.
“They beat us to death in France,” he wrote to Edward, Peter Cooper’s son. “They roll one-inch round iron in lengths of 100 feet. . . . But I cannot begin to make you see the progress. You must come for yourself.”
He saw here the great Le Creusot works and the operation of the Martin process. He saw the great Krupp plant in Essen where there was “a cast-steel rail fifty feet long which had been bent double, cold, in the middle without a fracture.” Also, he “found Bessemer steel being made in all the principal nations. . . . He also saw the facilities for its production expanding with enormous rapidity.
Already Europe had more converters than it needed.
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|Vulcan Iron Works, Worcester England.|
Hewitt was not, however, like Bessemer and Carnegie, prostrated by this machine. Almost at once he saw its limitations: its requirements in composition of pig, “the uncertain quality of each flow or “cast.”
So he focussed his study on the open-hearth. To him, it answered all the questions which the more spectacular Bessemer device evaded. So he arranged to take out a patent for it in America at his own expense and returned to install it in the Cooper and Hewitt works in Trenton. His biographer adds at this point that “the whole tour abroad must have been somewhat painful; for the European industry was ten years in advance of America.”
It was Carnegie, however, and not Hewitt, who enabled America to catch up and reach so far beyond that by the end of the century, the United States was producing nearly a third of the world’s supply of steel.
Andrew Carnegie was one of the strangest characters who ever entered the story of American industry. He must have been a thorn in the flesh and conscience of many an orthodox fortune-seeker of his amoral epoch. Constantly asserting throughout his life that he cared nothing for money, he spent his later years proving this incredible attitude to the great benefit of the English-speaking world.
Yet he became the richest man in America in a period of fabulous personal wealth; he established America’s greatest industry and led it to its apex of power. From our present moral attitude we may contrive to look down our noses at certain ruthless episodes in his career and in our sullen moods we may point to him as a creator of certain abuses, but in his day he was surely a paragon.
He shows none of the fixed and continuous concentration of his fellows upon business. He was forever making sallies into the heterodox realms of literature and the arts. He would saunter away from his offices and be gone for months: he would be discovered in Scotland showering gifts on his adored birthplace, or in England dining with Gladstone, discussing history and political science with John Morley and James Bryce, reading poetry with Edwin and Matthew Arnold, rescuing Lord Acton from foreclosure or writing startling articles for the London reviews.
Great Britain, to be sure, regarded him somewhat as an escaped “enfant terrible,” for he was insistent in his attacks upon her crown, her royal family and what he considered the nonsensical pageantry which surrounded them, but he was beloved by British individuals and even officials, and British institutions have never manifested reluctance when he chose to benefit them.
No “definitive” biography of him has yet been written, partly because he himself so bewildered posterity by his Autobiography, though Mr. Hendrick has given us as good an approach to one as we may need. His immortality is unquestionable in his works: the Institution, the libraries, the medals, the still struggling peace foundation and many others. Perhaps this, along with the steel skeleton of our nation, is all that we require.
His childhood was regular enough in the American formula: it showed the familiar bag of tricks—poverty, hard work, hunger, foreclosure of mortgages, a loving mother, early migration to the land of promise. It is after he “got there,” after opportunity’s door opened so wide for his entrance that we are surprised.
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|Andrew Carnegie and his younger brother Thomas Carnegie.|
Here, suddenly, the income becomes automatic; he seems hardly even thrifty, and we look in vain for a continuity of ten-hour days. We find him winning by the oddest means, spending fortunes on enlargement in the depths of depressions, his little Scotch face wrinkling into smiles when other great men are dour, fervid with a blind faith in something when menaces surround him, yet a confirmed agnostic throughout.
The answer probably is in a judgment and mastery of men. As he said himself, he had a flair for finding men “cleverer” than he and making them work for him. One of them was William Richard Jones.
In most of the effective and powerful organizations of the world, there is probably a Bill Jones. Sometimes he is the chief’s “alter ego,” a moon to his sun, who fills in the empty spaces and keeps the continuity of the chief’s work.
Carnegie’s “Captain Bill” was more than that. He was dynamic in himself, a separate ego. There was no “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” about Bill Jones. He was a mechanic and an inventor of sharp, intuitive technical judgment. His economic judgment was just as keen.
He could see a whole balance sheet at a glance of his mind’s eye and interpret it in mechanical terms. Thus he horrified many of his colleagues by scrapping an entire set of machinery, a whole department, a building, a plant, knowing beyond their comprehension that it was cheaper so.
With him began the rapid “obsolescence” of machinery which has become a bugbear of industrialists today. Jones was the first “efficiency” engineer, the first “industrial engineer,” the first Stakhanovist, one of the first Americans to combine a complete technical knowledge with a fine business acumen.
His heritage was that of Arkwright and Slater but it had come to him across a wide gulf in which the shop and the business office were distinct. Jones did much to break down the distinction, and since his time more and more engineers have needed and had an understanding of business.
Most of all, however, Jones was a captain. He was a veteran of the Civil War in which he had organized units and brilliantly commanded them. He had the army vision of blocs of men moving in unison but he had, too, an eye to the individuals. He managed them ruthlessly enough, yet he inspired them and he was beloved by them.
Thus he built up the power of the Carnegie Company and developed its automaticity so that, apparently, it ran itself while the boss took his holidays.
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|Carnegie Steel, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.|
More than in any other specific place, the collective forces are visible in the growing power of this company and in the inevitable combination which it engendered.
This is interesting because, from the start, the steel business was peculiarly subject to uncertainty, to market manipulation, to uneven cadences. Construction is a jumpy activity, fearfully at the whim of financial booms and depressions. In it was always a conflict of long-term fact and short-term thinking.
Steel was enduring, but was the use that it was put to enduring? Was the profit enduring? Was it not too easy to over-construct in a period of shifting needs?
Carnegie’s force lay in his concentration on the fact of steel rather than the fiction of profit. He repeatedly said that he cared nothing for stocks and bonds.
So, while his rivals played the old games of manipulation, short-selling, inflation on paper and overcapitalization, Carnegie built from year to year on surplus earnings.
All this time he kept the vision in which America and steel were essential parts of the same composition. To him neither could exist without the other; both were fundamental realities. To this religious agnostic they were gods.
So, in the depressions, the shattering panics which marked the terrific growing pains of the quick-maturing nation, Carnegie Steel went right on building. The intervals when others “held off,” watchfully waited, cut down, pinched and pared were the periods of Carnegie’s greatest expansion.
It was then that he bought up plants, built new works, bought ore-fields, railroads, fuel, employed the surplus men. Thus he kept the continuity and it was this which, in fact, built the steel skeleton. So, in effect, he brought his gods to their godhead. To do it he broke the mould of business tradition.
His final power lay, specifically, in the control of all the adjuncts of his trade. He placed no reliance on contracts with other companies to supply his ores, his coal, his transport. Instead, he bought and owned his companies. This kind of control which became characteristic of industrial America in its collective phase knocked down the rivals like ten-pins and caused those which survived to organize in trusts against him.
In time his power became so great that the trusts could no longer endure against him.
But Carnegie had other interests. His love of life, of society, of the humanities, half-baked as it was, and his desire to improve mankind exerted a stronger pull on him than the steel magnet.
He capitulated and sold out at a price. It was the greatest price that had ever been paid a single man in the recorded history of the world. It required the full exertion and boldness of a Morgan to raise it, for the barefoot bobbin boy of Dumferline had acquired a large comprehension of wealth.
He took it smilingly: “Well, Pierpont,” he remarked, “I am handing the burden over to you.”
He then spent the remainder of his life unloading the reciprocal burden of the money to the improvement, as he saw it, of humanity. This was, on the whole, rather a spirited swan-song to the individualist age.
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If we have passed by Bethlehem or Birmingham or other great centers of independent manufacture for the iron-hearted Pittsburgh, it is because our business is to show trends, not to detail history. The trend here is consolidation and Pittsburgh marks the high point. But the steel itself, whoever produced it, was the greatest consolidating factor of all.
The rails of the nation did not turn from iron to steel overnight. The change at first was surprisingly slow and we find iron rails persisting in places late into the century.
Structural steel replaced wood and iron in a scattered and intermittent manner. Nevertheless, from the seventies the pattern was there. No new wooden or iron bridges would be built.
But with steel, it was evident that rivers and canyons would be spanned and on the plans of new systems of communication, short cuts straightened the lines. With steel construction, a certain homogeneity, certain likenesses were certain to come.
As a building material, steel set standards: standards of method, dimension, appearance. Cities would presently look alike. So would bridges, signal towers, factories, fences, ships, guns, machines.
With steel as a material, interchangeable parts would be more identical, precise, standardized. Machinery would grow toward automaticity and its products, too, would look alike. It would set a rigid pattern in every phase of life to which all softer materials including flesh and blood must conform.
So, indeed, must much thinking. As railroads stretched and straightened, as cities squared, as identical forms repeated themselves, it was easier for thought to move geometrically than to jump the lines.
Steel is a definite factor in American conservatism: unity and standardization of thought, the fear of derailment. To use another figure, the mind follows the jig rather than its wayward impulse, for its objective is so frequently a standard form. The steel jig holds the tool more rigidly than ever upon the hard material.
As we continue in our search for technically initiated or guided trends, we shall touch, again, upon the technology of steel. As chemistry was aided by the microscope a whole new science developed and metallurgy will be the subject of our chapter.
Along with it, curiously, came the beginning of an opposite trend. With this science, such a variety of forms and uses developed that the pattern again lost its rigidity. A symbol of this is the motor vehicle which followed no rails. With it thought, also, jumped the lines.
Meanwhile we shall move at once to the most immediate effect of the new skeleton material. Consolidation took one predominant form. This form bunched people into fasces from which for many years there was no escape. The railroad centralized. The factory centralized. Steel as a convenient bone structure of this centralization increased the rapidity of consolidation.
The social symbol of the collective impulse is the city.
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