The History of European Industrial Steel Manufacturing

The Roots of Steel Production

The history of steel production in Europe is much longer and more complex than most people think. It’s a story that evolved over several hundred years, but it all started with the first industrial steel mills appearing in England in the 1840s. The rest of the continent followed suit, opening up its factories that were often highly automated and used large-scale production methods to meet increasing consumer demand across Europe.


An overview of the History of Steel Production in Europe

The history of European steel production began in the 1800s when it became necessary to replace the timber used to make ships and other structures.

The industry has grown considerably since then, as technological advances have allowed for larger production plants and higher-quality products. Today, more than 100 million tons of steel are produced annually by European companies alone—and that figure will expectedly increase by 20% over the next couple of decades!


The 1850s

In the 1850s, steel production thrived in Europe. Germany was a significant steel producer at this time and built many factories. As a result, the industry became an essential part of German society: people worked in factories and lived near them.

Steel was used for everything from construction materials to household appliances such as irons and waffle irons. It also made inventions like cars and aeroplanes possible because they needed more robust materials than wood.


The Discovery of Stainless Steel

Stainless steel was first discovered in 1864 by Harry Brearley, a chemist and engineer. He worked on making a material suitable for cutlery but only achieved this goal after an accident.

Brearley had been attempting to find a more suitable material for making the handles of knives when he noticed some new samples of chromium-containing ore from England’s South Wales region that contained small amounts of nickel. As it happened, these metals were highly resistant to corrosion and rusting—they would therefore make excellent materials for making kitchen utensils or surgical instruments such as sutures or needles.

The process involved adding chromium at high temperatures (around 2200°C) into silica sand which imparts its characteristic grey colouring; this creates stainless steel whose main component is chromium itself! The resulting product has been used extensively throughout history because it resists corrosion & rusting better than other metals like iron, thus enabling us today to enjoy our favourite foods without worrying about their longevity!


The Krupp Family – the German Steel Dynasty

In 1868, the first steel mill in Europe was built by Friedrich Krupp. Born in Essen, Germany, in 1809 and known as “the father of German industry,” he founded his company after being dismissed by Napoleon I as a colonel in the French army. The family would later expand to Sweden and Britain before moving to Italy during World War II. Today’s KHD Group has grown from one factory into an €11 billion multinational conglomerate with operations across multiple continents and industries—including energy production through hydrocarbon extraction, oil & gas exploration, and chemicals transportation logistics.

Today KHD has around 100,000 employees worldwide and is headquartered in Essen, Germany. The company quickly became one of Europe’s largest industrial corporations by the 20th Century.


Growing Tendencies in the late 19th Century

The iron and steel industry was a significant factor in the economic growth of Europe during the 19th Century. Moreover, as an engine for industrialisation and urbanisation, this manufacturing branch snowballed during this period. By 1870, European ironworks counted over half a million employees.

However, the tendencies varied in different countries: Britain had an advantage because it had access to abundant coal deposits and nearby iron ore deposits in Wales. Germany also benefited from these resources when they began producing pig iron (a basic form of metal) from their coal deposits at Königsberg (now Kaliningrad). However, it wasn’t until later that resources became more available throughout the continent. 


The 20th Century Steel production in Europe

The first half of the 20th Century saw a dramatic increase in European steel production, with output doubling between 1850 and 1864. But this growth was short-lived; between 1900 and 1913, the industry experienced rapid growth again before declining during World War I and II. From then until the 1960s (and even beyond), there was no clear trend towards greater or lesser levels of industrialisation. But by this point, it had become clear that European economies were undergoing significant transformations at several different levels.

As one might expect, given its history as an industrial powerhouse for centuries before modern times, Germany remained extremely important: it accounted for about 75% per cent of total world output during its peak year (1953). Large companies like Thyssen AG or BASF AG generated the outcome. 

The 1950s were a time of significant change in the steel industry. As you may know, it was around this time that there were two significant developments:

  • Increased reliance on imported materials for parts for consumer goods (such as cars);
  • The rise of mass production manufacturing techniques like automation, robotics and computer-aided design.

As a result, the steel industry had to adapt quickly. It developed new materials and processes to keep up with the steel demand.


Steel Production in Europe today

Steelmakers have long experimented with their products’ carbon content and melting temperatures to discover new variants. Even today, these innovations are tested by using modern industrial equipment as part of production processes for construction materials like rebar.

So, what are the advantages of European steel manufacturing? The European steel industry has a long history of innovation and technological advancement. Steel production has been a cornerstone of the European economy since the Industrial Revolution, which continues today. With many countries investing in new technologies and processes, the industry is continually adapting to meet the demand for high-quality products. European steel manufacturers are also leaders in environmental sustainability. European steel companies have been investing in carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) technologies for years, and they continue to do so today. These innovations reduce emissions and increase the use of recycled materials in production processes.


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