National Geographic : 1947 Apr
VOL. XCI, No. 4WASHINGTON THE NAT IOAL MAAZEETI COPYRIGHT, 1947, BYNATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY, WASHINGTON, D.C.INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT, SECURED APRIL, 1947 Steel: Master ofThem AllBYALBERT W.ATWOOD With Illustrations byStaff Photographer Willard R.Culver IN. PEACE and war alike, modern civiliza tion rests upon iron and steel. Itisthe master substanceby which man conquers both Nature and hisfellows. AsKipling's verse has it: "Gold is' for the mistress-silver forthemaid Copper for the craftsman cunning athistrade." "Good !" cried the Baron, sitting inhishall, "But Iron-Cold Iron-is master ofthem all." Today man has learned once again, inthe awful tragedy of a global war, that military mastery and world supremacy rest upon steel, the modern form of iron.* Any beach on earthcan betaken, ataprice, provided trained men areprepared tospend enough steel. Nearly two thousand years agoPliny de scribed it as "the most useful and most fatal instrument in the hand ofman." While World WarIIwas still under way, Maj. Gen. G. M. Barnes, then chief ofRe search and Development Service, Ordnance Department, of theU.S.Army, said, "In the final analysis, firepower issteel and still more steel." But, almost beyond measure, steel makes the products of peaceaswell astheweapons of war. Every Toola"New Hand" Everything man creates ismade byhishand, directed by his brain, orbyatool which is merely an attachableand detachable hand. Each time a man laysdown one tool and picks up another he gets anew hand. As Thomas Carlyle said, "Man isatool using animal .. . Without tools heisnothing, with tools he is all."Machines inturn arenothing but complex tools, and man's progress canbemeasured largely byhisability tobuild such tools. Once histools were made ofbone orwood orstone. Today tools and machines alike aremade overwhelmingly ofsteel, and with their coming civilization swept forward like amighty flood. Steel, ofcourse, isnottheonly metal ofpreeminent value toman. But other metals and materials cannot beused unless steel comes into play atoneormore stages intheir mining, transportation, refining, and machining. But steel isnotonly thetool ofmodern civilization; itisalso largely thematerial which hasbuilt ourway oflife. Itprovides thestructural basis, thebackbone, and, toavast extent, theactual sinews aswell. When thedefense program was getting underway late in1941, William S.Knudsen said that steel was the"material tostart prac tically everything going." Itissocommon, useful, and essential that wetake itforgranted. Itissointimately apart ofourdaily lives that wepass itbyunnoticed. But there ishardly ahuman need, even forwater, food, and clothing, inthesupplying ofwhich steel does notplay avital part. Ifalltheiron and steel inuseinthis country were divided upequally among theinhabitants, each man, woman, and child would have more than 17,000 pounds. Each American soldier, sailor, and Marine fought with theaidofabout 1,500 more *See"Metal Sinews ofStrength," byFrederick G.Vosburgh, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, April, 1942.