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Learn How Steel Construction Changed History

Historically, man has been constructing wonders since the dawn of the stone age using nothing but the elements of nature; from wood to stone to bricks to iron and most recently, Steel. The usage of steel in the construction of buildings and mega-structures has become an everyday occurrence now. However, only in the past century did people really understand the value of steel in building our homes.

Steel buildings became popular post World War 2, and even more so later as steel became easier to procure. But we must go even further back. Steel was first used in bridges and when that proved cost effective, came the first steel-framed buildings and skyscrapers in the 1800s. Completed in 1885, the Home Insurance Building was the first to use skeleton frame construction with steel embedded in the walls. However, the first all steel framed skyscraper was the Rand McNally building in Chicago, finished in 1890.


These innovations did not come of simple human ingenuity but rather of trial and error. The growth of mold in buildings heavily reduced the living conditions of people inside such buildings. Iron, both cast and wrought were susceptible to rust and would flake off entirely if left alone long enough in moisture.

Though these seem bad as is, there was a much worse issue with construction predating steel fabrication – Fire.


In a small barn belonging to the O’leary family in west Chicago, started a fire. A fire that would then spread across an area of more than 2000 acres, destroying roads, sidewalks, lamp posts and not to mention 17,500 buildings. In 1871, the Chicago fire was a catastrophic event in history that rendered 90,000 people homeless and of the predicted 300 deaths only 120 bodies were found. The costs were 222 million dollars in property damage which was approximately a third of the valuation of the whole city. Even with the hefty donations from other cities and nations, irreparable damage was done.

After the fire burning down so many timber buildings, materials that were used in construction changed drastically. The usage of non-combustible construction materials such as stone, brick, marble, and limestone came into use. But that was a temporary step backwards. The real innovation came with Steel.

Steel has a low cost and ready availability due to its abundance; it rarely even fluctuates in price. It is structurally sound, and doesn’t warp, buckle or twist. The quality of construction is heightened while also requiring less maintenance. Structural steel has shapes like the I-beams, which are less susceptible to sagging and are very strong in respect to their cross-sectional area. It allows for fast and efficient building and has a high strength-to-weight ratio.

Steel Bridges are an essential part of modern infrastructure; they act as the thread sewing our world together, and each one is a societal and constructive marvel.

Steel detailing and modeling have eased construction in the world. Today the Chrysler building is the world’s tallest steel supported brick building; and we believe more such wonders are to come with the advent of Steel.

~ Brhma Trivedi