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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 3 (July 1, 1927)

Tools of Steel

page 37

Tools of Steel.

“Man without tools, he is nothing; with tools he is everything.”-Thomas Carlyle.

In all that pertains to mechanical art, the British long maintained the leading place. They were the chief coal raisers of the world and developed an enormously productive iron and steel trade. They took the initiative in the adoption and construction of railways and supplied much of the capital for the laying down of tracks in the United States, in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. But for the exhaustion of the Civil War in the “sixties” the United States would have become a keen competitor of Great Britain at a much earlier period than she did. Similarly, with the closing of the Unification period the Germans were released for purposes other than the mere pursuit of war, and the new Empire was filled with an enthusiasm for the development and organisation of its industries. “This was truly the dawn of the competitive steel age.” Henceforth, the increasing importance of machinery in industry, its continuous tendency to specialisation and complexity, the necessity of combining strength and tensile qualities in the metals used, and the great extension of heavy transport requiring driving mechanism, steel tyres, strong axles, and durable rails, all gave a great impetus to the metal trades. The exigencies of commerce necessitated the greater use of steel and increasing experiments in its production. On the other hand, the tremendous growth in military and naval armaments all over the world made the bronze gun useless, and iron likewise lost its place. The manufacture of ordnance required an exceedingly tough steel to resist the high explosives produced by the world's best chemists. No less important was the metallurgy of shell manufacture.

North End of Otahuhu Yard during the recent change-over.

North End of Otahuhu Yard during the recent change-over.

Be it noted, the United States has contributed no mean part of the total contributions of modern science and workmanship to the tragic arts of war. The Civil War between North and South revolutionised military and naval ordnance. The iron-clad, the machine gun, the torpedo, the mine, and the monitor, first found practical expression and use during 1861–4. The iron-clad that rendered obsolete the wooden walls of Nelson's day, installed the era of armour plate and instituted the fierce rivalry of iron shot, iron plate; steel shot and steel plate, with its far reaching results on the chemical science of steel and explosives. It was undoubtedly the requirements of war that led to the intensive study and incessant experiments in steel which have resulted in the wondrous use and power of machine tools in every phase of modern industry.

Industry thus owes much to the by-products of armament manufacture just as war owes much to railway and motor transport. Steel warships were followed by steel merchant ships and this development resulted in the closer association between steel makers and steel users. The steel makers, in their turn, searched the geological formation of Sweden and Sardinia, of Algiers and Bosnia, of Bilboa and Morocco for the richest of ores; they went to Kirkintillock for the raw nickel, to Spain for manganese and to Chile and Peru for copper.

There was no country under the sun that was not explored by the manufacturers of steel. Tungsten, which is derived from an ore known as wolfram, is the most important alloy used in the manufacture of high speed steel. It is found in Burmah, Straits Settlement, Australia, China, Korea and various other parts of the world. Prior to the war, 1914, the bulk of this precious ore found its way to Germany and was extensively used by the large armament manufacturers.

Shortly after the outbreak of hostilities, the principal steel manufacturers of Great Britain broke the German monopoly and to-day all the tungsten required in the manufacture of British tool steel is mined and produced within the Empire.