The History of Metalworking

example of hammered metalworking

In 2020, Specialty Ring products is going to hit a pretty significant milestone: 130 years in business. That’s four generations of expertise in crafting seamless rolled rings and forged discs.

But the roots of our industry go much, much deeper. In this blog post, we’re going to take a look at the history of metalworking.

In the beginning…

Technically, the history of metalworking starts more than a million years ago, when early humans learned to control fire. After all, without fire, there’s no metalworking.

But if there was a Benjamin-Franklin-flying-his-kite moment about the discovery of forging, it doesn’t appear that anyone recorded it. Rather, the story of metalworking is a long, slow one that developed over several centuries:

  • 8700 BCE – People in what is now Iraq work with copper. This metal has been in use for more than 10,000 year, with ancient societies in places like Egypt, Greece, Rome, China and India using copper to fashion weapons.
  • 4500 BCE – Copper and tin are melded together to create bronze tools, art, weapons, building materials and money.
  • 4000 BCE – Copper mining begins in the Balkan region. Using tools made from bone, people living in what is now Serbia are able to extract large amounts of copper ore from the ground.
  • 2800 BCE – People in China begin smelting copper.
  • 2500 BCE – Brazing – a now commonplace metallurgy practice – begins in Sumer, ancient Greece and Egypt.
  • 1800 BCE – India begins ironworking. The Ancient Romans recognized India as a country of iron experts, far ahead of what was happening in Europe. Meanwhile, the region of Anatolia – modern day Turkey – begins to smelt iron to create steel.
  • 1400 BCE – Sub-Saharan Africans develop steel working, making steel in blast furnaces that could reach temperatures hotter than anything achieved in Europe during the Industrial Revolution. The only drawback: not enough wood to create charcoal to fuel the furnaces.
  • 600 BCE – Indigenous people in Central America begin smelting copper. They had actually been working with copper for thousands of years before they developed smelting.
  • 1200 CE – China develops something similar to what we know as the “Bessemer process” for making steel by using a cold blast over molten metal. In the 1850s, some Chinese steel experts visited America to demonstrate this method. Bessemer was Sir Henry Bessemer, who would patent his own version of this process in 1855.
  • 1700 CE – The first iron foundries are established in Cumbria, Great Britain.

Metalworking in the 19th Century

By the 1800s, smiths had become skilled at open die wrought iron forging, a process that required great heat, meaning smiths needed to also become proficient in hammer welding.

Then came perhaps the century’s most important technological innovation: the steam engine. Suddenly, the forging industry had a new power source, allowing workers to produce forged parts for a variety of new and old industries. The Bessemer process helped as well, making it easier to smelt iron ore into high-quality steel.

Forging has come a long way over the years. So have we. But one thing has remained constant at Specialty Ring Products: our commitment to delivering the best possible forged rings products as we’ve evolved and expanded into more demanding industries.

More than a century after our founding, we’re combining an old-fashioned adherence to quality with forward-looking approach to technology. Contact us today to request a forging quote.