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A Nation of Steel: The Making of Modern America, 1865-1925 (Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology) Paperback – September 8, 1998

4.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

In what will surely become a standard history of steelmaking, Misa integrates that industry's development with the industrial growth of America in the half-century following the Civil War. Involved in the interplay between steel production and the production of America were such developments as the railroads' demand for steel rails following the Civil War, the role of urbanization and especially tall-building construction, the armor plate requirements of the Navy, and the emergence and growth of the automotive industry.

(Science, Technology and Society)

This truly outstanding book will become required reading in the history of technology. The story of steel is important in its own right, and Thomas Misa writes with remarkable clarity and succinctness... The emphasis upon user-producer interactions allows Misa to focus on the social significance of technologies and to bring out nuances and contingencies in the development of critical technologies and industries.

(Edwin T. Layton Technology and Culture)

Each of Misa's six case studies is fruitful, and together they capture the enormously diverse and complex influences on technological change. Taken as a whole, this study constitutes a massive and successful assault on the neo-classical paradigm... This book will profoundly shape the way scholars understand how technologies 'are not only socially constructed but society-shaping.

(David Bensman American Historical Review)

A brief review can not do justice to the subtlety with which Misa links steelmaking to a larger socioeconomic environment... Based on new information from archival and other primary sources, this well-written, richly textured work greatly expands our knowledge of American industrialization.

(W. David Lewis Journal of American History)

A splendid overview of an industry whose fortunes were inextricably intertwined with the railroads... The protions that treat the dynamic interrelations of the steel industry and the railroads clearly stand as the most sophisticated treatment of this complex topic that has yet appeared in print... An immensely rewarding book.

(Robert C. Post Railroad History)

About the Author

Thomas J. Misa is at the University of Minnesota, where he directs the Charles Babbage Institute Center for the History of Information Technology, teaches in the graduate program for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, and is a faculty member in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

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Product Details

  • Series: Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology (Book 7)
  • Paperback: 367 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; New Ed edition (1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801860520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801860522
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,268,881 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Thomas J Misa, A Nation of Steel, the Making of Modern America, 1865-1925 (1995)

Thesis: "The relationships between producers and consumers are the single most important determinant of the dynamics of technology and social change." (xix) "The view of technology as applied science has served as a powerful myth for legitimating science policy..., but this view is worse than useless for comprehending the dynamics of technical and social change." (xv)

Chapter 1. "The Dominance of rails 1865-1885"
Three RR building campaigns, 1872, 1882, 1887
Henry Bessemer process: air could decarburize pig iron, blew it in from the bottom of a tilting converter.
Alexander L. Holley: designed Bessemer steel rail mills
From 1877-1915 (except depression decade of 1890s) price of steel rails determined by Bessemer Association & successors
Users and producers of rails could be owned by same corporation, ie Pennsylvania RR p 21
Continuous Bessemer process p26
How to determine quality? Chemistry. Distinguish iron from steel? p30
Carbon content: Steel .2-1% p33 Fusion p32, p38
Steel making in US created for a single product: making steel rails. p 42-43.
RR officials promoted funded and founded early Bessemer steel works
Train steel executives in modern management
Influenced scientific knowledge
Shaped pattern and pace of national development p43.

Chapter 2. "The Structure of Cities, 1880-1900"
New steel for urban structures broke the tyranny of the Bessemer steel rail and was a mammoth technical and scientific effort involving new linkages between producers and consumers of steel. p 50
Bessemer mills could not make structural steel for four reasons; p 76.
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This book should be of interest to those interested in US history, the history of innovation and to metallurgists interested in finding out the history of metallurgy in the 19th century and early 20th centuries. I fall into all three categories, so I liked this book a lot. However, a prospective reader should find much of interest in this book even if they are not interested in all three topics.

What is in the book – The book is divided into seven chapters, which cover the following:
1. The Dominance of Rails – This chapter details the importance on the railroads on the development of US iron and steel production. It discusses the production of wrought iron rails and then the switch to Bessemer Steel rails. There is a little metallurgy in this chapter, but the coverage is general and should not be difficult for the non-metallurgist to follow.
2. The Structure of Cities – This chapter discusses how the construction of metal-framed skyscrapers influenced the US steel business. It explains why Bessemer steel structural members were not of sufficient quality for skyscrapers, and the resulting switch to Open Hearth steel making for this type of application.
3. The Politics of Armor – This chapter deals with the development of steel armor used in warships and on the many innovations required to make steel that could withstand the shells that were fired at warships. There is a discussion of carbonizing to develop the required surface hardness to break up these naval shells. There is also a discussion of the beginnings of the metallurgical methods of analysis and resulting understanding of ferrous metallurgy that made this possible.
4. The Merger of Steel – This chapter details the interaction of the railroads and steel industry and the creation of US steel.
5.
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Readable narrative of how the changes in steelmaking from 1860 to 1940 or so influenced the growth of the major steel using industries in America, and vice versa. More an economists' viewpoint than an engineer's however, with a hefty admixture of politics.

One major failing in my view is that he gives all the credit (for pages and pages and pages) for the invention of the Bessemer process to Bessemer, when it should go to Kelly, whose pneumatic refining process preceded Bessemer by several years, and may even have been stolen by Bessemer. (The US Patent Office agreed with Kelly.)
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