a scientific approach to metallurgy, which considers in a systematic way the physical properties of metals and alloys
(Redirected from History of metallurgy)

Metallurgy is a domain of materials science and engineering that studies the physical and chemical behavior of metallic elements, their intermetallic compounds, and their mixtures, which are called alloys. Metallurgy encompasses both the science and the technology of metals; that is, the way in which science is applied to the production of metals, and the engineering of metal components used in products for both consumers and manufacturers. Metallurgy is distinct from the craft of metalworking. Metalworking relies on metallurgy in a similar manner to how medicine relies on medical science for technical advancement. A specialist practitioner of metallurgy is known as a metallurgist.

Copper assay from Fleta Minor, (1683) the English translation by John Pettus of Lazarus Ercker's Beschreibung allerfürnemisten mineralischen Ertzt und Berckwercksarten (1574)


Casting molten gold into an ingot.
  • The export of aluminium into Italy was strictly forbidden; but aluminium was almost the only metal that Italy produced in quantities beyond her own needs. The importation of scrap iron and iron ore into Italy was sternly vetoed in the name of public justice. But as the Italian metallurgical industry made but little use of them, and as steel billets and pig iron were not interfered with, Italy suffered no hindrance. Thus, the measures pressed with so great a parade were not real sanctions to paralyse the aggressor, but merely such half-hearted sanctions as the aggressor would tolerate, because in fact, though onerous, they stimulated Italian war spirit. The League of Nations, therefore, proceeded to the rescue of Abyssinia on the basis that nothing must be done to hamper the invading Italian armies. These facts were not known to the British public at the time of the election. They earnestly supported the policy of the sanctions, and believed that this was a sure way of bringing the Italian assault upon Abyssinia to an end.
  • Ramsey: At the Naval War College it was metallurgy and nuclear reactors, not 19th-century philosophy.
  • Between the years 1942 and 1954, the KGB obtained thousands of pages of technical information about the Manhattan Project. Sergei Leskov reports that this information included: calculations for the construction of the plutonium charge; calculations for the critical mass of fissile material; information on detonation devices; information on the gaseous diffusion factory that produced U-235; information about a plutonium production report; a report on the study of secondary neutrons; a report on the metallurgy of uranium and plutonium; and information on the kinetics of atomic reactions. Such information would have been unfathomably important to the development of a bomb. Thus, energy could be focused along the successful lines of the American project rather than approaching the situation blindly and attacking all possible avenues. Kurchatov admitted in a memo of March 4, 1943, that certain information "came as a surprise to our physicists and chemists," such as the centrifugal method of isotope separation. The Soviets also had reached an impasse on the "problem of nuclear explosion and combustion." Stolen documents revealed that this problem could be rectified by mixing uranium oxide and heavy water together—a method the Soviet scientists thought was impossible. Moreover, the Soviets were provided with information on the “physical process” of the inner workings of the uranium bomb, which Kurchatov said "revised views on many problems," and, most importantly, told the Russians that an atomic bomb was a realistic possibility.
  • For my financial interest in the greatest metallurgical concern in Germany, the United Steel Works, instead of being transferred to the Reich, has been seized by Prussia. Goering may have certain ideas in this connection. Indeed, a large share ownership in these steel works might save the Hermann Goering Works from bankruptcy.
  • There are only two ores of tin: the peroxide, tin-stone, or Cassiterite; and tin pyrites, sulphide of tin, or Stannine: the former of which alone has been found in sufficient abundance for metallurgical purposes.
    • Andrew Ure, A Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines, (1844, 1878) p. 999.

History & Prehistory

  • While Paracelsus was pressing his doctrines on all sides, and endeavouring to lead chemistry into a new channel, another, Agricola, was quietly at work among the mines of Saxony, utterly indifferent to all but the advance of his science. It is to Agricola's systematic observations that we trace the beginnings of the science of mineralogy. In metallurgy, also, he was a pioneer, the first to give a clear and succinct account of the preparation of many metals. He taught the condensation and purification of sulphur given off during the roasting of many ores, the separation of silver from gold by means of nitric and sulphuric acid, the preparation of such bodies as salt, alum, and saltpetre on a large scale. The apparatus described by Agricola and employed by him for the smelting and testing of ores were still in use at the end of the eighteenth century. Agricola stands out solitary among the men of his time as one pursuing chemistry from pure love of the science; his work had no other aim than the increase of knowledge.
    • Francis Paul Armitage, A History of Chemistry (1906) pp. 12-13.
  • Chemistry is not a primitive science, like geometry or astronomy; it is constructed from the debris of a previous scientific formation; a formation half chimerical and half positive, itself founded on the treasure slowly amassed by the practical discoveries of metallurgy, medicine, industry, and domestic economy. It has to do with alchemy, which pretended to enrich its adepts by teaching them to manufacture gold and silver, to shield them from diseases by the preparation of the panacea, and finally to obtain for them perfect felicity by identifying them with the soul of the world and the universal spirit.
  • In the new College he occupied the Chair of Chemistry, and found a fresh field of work in organising the duties of the Chair, and planning and equipping the classrooms and laboratories which were essential for their performance. The Chemical Laboratories were built in 1884 and extended two years later, while in 1896-7 the Wilham Gossage Laboratory was opened and rooms were added for Metallurgy, Electro-Chemistry, and Gas Analysis. The whole forms one of the most perfect installations for the teaching of chemistry, which is to be found in this country.
  • The Egyptians built an empire and ran it with a handful of technology... the wheel, irrigation canals, the loom, the calendar, pen & ink, some cutting tools, some simple metallurgy, and the plough, the invention that triggered it all off. And yet look how complex and sophisticated their civilisation was. And how soon it happened, after that first man-made harvest. The Egyptian plough and those of the few other civilisations sprang up around the world at the same time... Gave us control over nature... And at the same time, tied us for good, to the things that we invent so that tomorrow will be better than today. The Egyptians knew that. That's why they had gods. To make sure that their systems didn't fail.
    • James Burke Connections (1979) 1 - "The Trigger Effect."
  • The only processes which can be called chemical, known to the civilized nations of antiquity, belonged to certain arts, such as metallurgy, dyeing, and the manufacture of glass or porcelain; but these processes appear to have been independent of each other, pursued in the workshop alone, and unconnected with general knowledge.
  • Beccher, ...after having studied with minute attention, the operations of metallurgy, and the phænomena of the mineral kingdom, formed the bold idea of explaining the whole system of the earth by the mutual agency and changes of a few elements. And by supposing the existence of a vitrifiable, a metallic, and an inflammable earth, he attempted to account for the various productions of rocks, crystalline bodies, and metallic veins, assuming a continued interchange of principles between the atmosphere, the ocean, and the solid surface of the globe, and considering the operations of nature as all capable of being imitated by art.
  • Medieval Islam was technologically advanced and open to innovation. It achieved far higher literacy rates than in contemporary Europe; it assimilated the legacy of classical Greek civilization to such a degree that many classical books are now known to us only through Arabic copies. It invented windmills, trigonometry, lateen sails and made major advances in metallurgy, mechanical and chemical engineering and irrigation methods. In the middle-ages, the flow of technology was overwhelmingly from Islam to Europe rather from Europe to Islam. Only after the 1500s did the net direction of flow begin to reverse."
  • The art of tempering and casting iron developed in India long before its known appearance in Europe; Vikramaditya, for example, erected at Delhi (ca. 380 A.D.) an iron pillar that stands untarnished today after fifteen centuries; and the quality of metal, or manner of treatment, which has preserved it from rust or decay is still a mystery to modern metallurgical science. Before the European invasion the smelting of iron in small charcoal furnaces was one of the major industries of India. The Industrial Revolution taught Europe how to carry out these processes more cheaply on a larger scale, and the Indian industry died under the competition. Only in our own time are the rich mineral resources of India being again exploited and explored.
    • Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage (1935) Part 1. Our Oriental Heritage p. 478 (1942 edition).
  • All through our history, we have been changing the world with our technology. Our technology has been of two kinds, green and grey. Green technology is seeds and plants, gardens and vineyards and orchards, domesticated horses and cows and pigs, milk and cheese, leather and wool. Grey technology is bronze and steel, spears and guns, coal and oil and ectricity, automobiles and airplanes and rockets, telephones and computers. Civilization began with green technology, with agriculture and animal-breeding, ten thousand years ago. Then, beginning about three thousand years ago, grey technology became dominant, with mining and metallurgy and machinery. For the last five hundred years, grey technology has been racing ahead and has given birth to the modern world of cities and factories and supermarkets.
    The dominance of grey technology is now coming to an end.
  • There is a beautiful tale among the Australian aborigines which says that the bow and arrow were not man's invention, but an ancestor God turned himself into a bow and his wife became the bowstring, for she constantly has her hands around his neck, as the bowstring embraces the bow. So the couple came down to earth and appeared to a man, revealing themselves as bow and bowstring, and from that the man understood how to construct a bow. The bow ancestor and his wife then disappeared again into a hole in the earth. So man, like an ape, only copied, but did not invent, the bow and arrow. And so the smiths originally, or so it seems from Eliade's rather plausible argument, did not feel that they had invented metallurgy; rather, they learned how to transform metals on the basis of understanding how God made the world.
  • At the present time administration is more an art than a science; in fact there are those who assert dogmatically that it can never be anything else. They draw no hope from the fact that metallurgy, for example, was completely an art several centuries before it became primarily a science and commenced its great forward strides after generations of intermittent advance and decline.
    • Luther H. Gulick, "Science, values and public administration." Papers on the Science of Administration (1937) Institute of Public Administration, p. 191.
  • Tradition has it that Menes not only concerned himself with the unification of Egypt but also with the control of the river: to him is attributed the first damming of the Nile, the digging of dikes for agricultural purposes and indeed the first attempt to control and apportion the waters of the river. The wealth of Egypt was thus, with Mesopotamia, based upon its agricultural output. However, unlike Mesopotamia, the Egyptians had on their doorstep a number of mineral resources that they were able to exploit with little effort, including copper ores, gold and a wide range of rocks suitable for building and the making of a wide variety of ornaments.
    [S]hortly before the year 3000 metallurgists made a discovery that was to transform the entire "industry." mixing a small quantity of tin ore with the copper ores when... smelted... they discovered the alloy bronze. The occurrence of tinstone... does not occur in the same type of deposit as do the ores of copper, but rather, [near] veins of gold. ...Thus tinstone ...may well have been noticed during washing for gold... finding that the little black lumps of ore were relatively heavy, presumably made various attempts at smelting them until they arrived empirically at a suitable alloy... [T]he effect is to reduce the melting point... they had a far more fluid metal that was much easier to cast. ...the quality of casting improved dramatically.
    • Henry W. M. Hodges, Technology in the Ancient World (1970) Ch. 4 Of Monuments, Ships, Metallurgy and Military Technology (3000-2000 B.C.)
  • Why would the oldest tree on earth be less than 4,400 years old (and still growing)? Why would the oldest coral reef on earth (Great Barrier Reef in Australia) be less than 4,400 years old? Why would the largest cave formations be dated at less than 4,400 years old? Why would the oldest records of capital punishment, farming, writing, husbandry, and metallurgy be less than 4,400 years old? Why would the oldest known civilizations be advanced and appear to have sprung up out of nowhere? It’s almost as if very intelligent people coming from a stock of people getting off Noah’s ark who already had knowledge of scores of things just moved into an area and developed a civilization in a short time. There is no evidence of "upward advancement from apelike creatures to hunter-gatherers," as books often teach. After the Flood it was sort of like a Gilligan’s Island situation. The people were very smart, but it would take a while to rebuild civilization after a global flood. The first settlers coming off the ark would be in an automatic "Stone Age" because it’s faster to make stone tools than steel ones.
    • Kent Hovind, What On Earth Is About To Happen… For Heaven’s Sake? (2013) p. 40.
  • Indians living near the old Santa Clara Mission, about fifty miles from the present city of San Francisco... used to apply red and yellow pigments from the "Cave of the Red Earth" near there for personal adornment. In 1845 Captain Andres Castillero of the [[[:wikipedia:Mexican Army|Mexican Army]], who had studied chemistry and metallurgy at the College of Mines in Mexico City, discovered near the Santa Clara Mission an ore in which he easily detected metallic mercury. When Don Manuel Herrera of that College of Mines analyzed specimens of this ore he found an average mercury content of 35.5 per cent and reported that some pieces were practically pure cinnabar.
    • Henry M. Leicester, "The history of the New Almaden Mine in California" Journal of Chemical Education & M. Henry Leicester, "The New Almaden Mine. The first chemical industry in California" (May, 1943) Chemistry Education, 20, 235-8, p. 51.
  • Mercury was known to the ancient Chinese and Hindus, and has been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 1500 or 1600 B.C. Dioscorides mentioned its preparation from cinnabar, while Pliny gave a method of purifying it by squeezing it through leather, and stated that it is poisonous. Earle R. Caley has shown by quotations from Aristotle, Theophrastus, Dioscorides, Pliny the Elder, Vitruvius, and the Leyden Papyrus of the third century A.D. that mercury has been known much longer than most persons realize. He states that cinnabar was probably the only mercury compound known to the ancients and that they used it both as a pigment and as a source of the metal. In his "Metallurgic Chemistry," C. E. Gellert (1713-1795) stated that “The only ore of mercury hitherto known is native cinnabar". The most ancient specimen of quicksilver known is probably that which H. Schliemann found in a little cocoanut-shaped amulet in an Egyptian tomb at Kurna dating from the fifteenth or sixteenth century B.C.
  • In the history of war and society we single out three main innovations to describe significant changes before 1800: the introduction of metal, when humans abandoned stone weapons for ones made from bronze and iron; the domestication of the horse, which gave warriors greater mobility and speed; and the introduction of gunpowder, which transformed war on land and at sea. (Since other parts of the world, such as the Americas, did not have horses until the Europeans brought them in the sixteenth century and some parts of the world, such as Australia, never developed metal weapons, not all human societies have experienced change at the same time.) In each case, of course, many other things were happening both to technology and to society. Metal weapons were only a part of the story: societies had to develop the soldiers and the infrastructures to make use of them. Horses were more formidable when the wheel enabled them to pull chariots or later on when they could carry armed warriors. The introduction of gunpowder too was accompanied by other important developments: in metallurgy, for example, so that guns did not explode when they were fired, or in the design and navigation of ships, so that they could make use of the new cannon.
  • Before the Industrial Revolution all techniques in use were supported by very narrow epistemic bases. That is to say, the people who invented them did not have much of a clue as to why and how they worked. The pre-1750 world produced, and produced well. It made many path-breaking inventions. But it was a world of engineering without mechanics, iron-making without metallurgy, farming without soil science, mining without geology, water-power without hydraulics, dye-making without organic chemistry, and medical practice without microbiology and immunology. The main point to keep in mind here is that such a lack of an epistemic base does not necessarily preclude the development of new techniques through trial and error and simple serendipity. But it makes the subsequent wave of micro-inventions that adapt and improve the technique and create the sustained productivity growth much slower and more costly. If one knows why some device works, it becomes easier to manipulate and debug it, to adapt to new uses and changing circumstances. Above all, one knows what will not work and thus reduce the costs of research and experimentation.
  • In Alexandria two streams of knowledge met and fused together... The ancient Egyptian industrial arts of metallurgy, dyeing and glass-making... and... the philosophical speculations of ancient Greece, now tinged with ancient mysticism, and partly transformed into that curious fruit of the tree of knowledge which we call Gnosticism. ...the result was the "divine" or "sacred" art (...also means sulphur) of making gold of silver. ...during the first four centuries a considerable body of knowledge came into existence. The treatises written in Greek... in Alexandria, are the earliest known books on chemistry. ...The treatises also contain much of an allegorical nature... sometimes described as "obscure mysticism." ...the Neoplatonism which was especially studied in Alexandria... is not so negligible as has sometimes been supposed. ...The study of astrology was connected with that of chemistry in the form of an association of the metals with the planets on a supposed basis of "sympathy". This goes back to early Chaldean sources but was developed by the Neoplatonists.
  • It was comparatively late in the metallurgical history of copper that bronze was produced by knowingly adding tin to the metal.
  • The swords made in India were prized all over the world. The sword of Tipu Sultan is almost a legend. These facts have rarely been mentioned or brought to the notice in the publications on history of metallurgy...
    • Vibha Tripathi, "Iron and Steel Technology in India" Indian Journal of History of Science (2007) 42.3, pp. 403-425.
  • [T]he ancients... had a sort of practical or technical chemistry. In certain branches of metallurgy, in glass-making, dyeing, and tanning, they attained decided proficiency.
    • Francis Preston Venable, A Short History of Chemistry (1894) "Alchemists in the Early Part of the Christian Era" p. 15.

See also

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