The Coal Question

William Stanley Jevons
Jevons, William Stanley
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London: Macmillan and Co.
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2nd edition.
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Chapter XV


SOLON said well to Crœsus, when in ostentation he showed him his gold, "Sir, if any other come that hath better iron than you, he will be master of all this gold."*42 And it will hardly be denied that the retention of our supremacy in the production and working of iron is a critical point of our future history. Most of those works and inventions in which we are pre-eminent, depend upon the use of iron in novel modes and magnitudes. Roads, bridges, engines, vessels, are more and more formed of this invaluable metal. And it was well remarked by Wilberforce in opposing an intended tax upon iron, that "the possession of iron was one of the great grounds of distinction between civilized and barbarous society; and in the same proportion that this country had improved in manufactures and civilization, the manufacture of iron had been extended and improved, and found its way by numerous meandering streams into every department of civil life."*43


As our iron-furnaces are a chief source of our power in the present, their voracious consumption of coal is most threatening as regards the future. Though iron is only one of the many products of coal, the making and working of iron demands at present between one-fourth and one-third of our whole yield of coal, and the iron trade certainly offers the widest field for a future increase of consumption. We have seen that for a century our produce of iron has grown at a constant rate,*44 and the pre-eminent usefulness of iron places it beside coal and corn as a material of which there cannot be too much—which itself excites and supports population, offering it the means of constant multiplication.


But it is essentially a suicidal trade in a national point of view. Once already, in an earlier period of iron metallurgy, the iron trade exhausted our resources, and quitted our shores. Its absence contributed to produce that dull and unprogressive period in the early part of last century which is so strongly marked upon our annals.


The former vicissitudes of the iron trade are of a very instructive character. There are two natural periods in the history of the iron manufacture—the charcoal period and the coal period. We require antiquarian writers like Mr. Nichols, Mr. Lower, or Mr. Smiles, to remind us of the very existence of a considerable manufacture of charcoal iron in England in former centuries. It is now so utterly a thing of the past, that only two or three furnaces are kept in work at any one time.*45


Until the middle of last century, however, iron was always made with charcoal, and a woody country was necessarily its seat. Coal or cole was then the common name for charcoal, pit-coal being distinguished as sea-coal. The collier or collyer was the labourer who cut the timber, stacked it in heaps, charked it, and conveyed the coal on pack-horses to the iron bloomary and forge, situated in some neighbouring valley, where a stream of water gave motion to the bellows and the tilt-hammer.


The ore or mine was also brought by pack-horse from some neighbouring mine or deposit—for there are few geological formations or districts of this country which do not yield iron ore. Often the mine used was derived from heaps of old slag or offal, the refuse of still earlier iron works. For in a previous age, even the use of water-power was unknown, and the furnace was blown by the foot-blast, double bellows alternately pressed by a man as he stepped from one to the other. The low heat thus obtained was not capable of half withdrawing the metal from its matrix. The thousands of tons of cinder and slag—"old man," as it is locally called—left by the Romans, for the most part, as the included coins and antiquities prove, on the Forest of Dean, the Weald of Sussex, or the Cleveland Hills, were long a source of wonder and profit to the manufacturers of a later period.


Here we see a curious instance of the reaction and mutual dependence of the arts. The use of water-power, by giving a blast and heat of greater intensity, raised the iron manufacture to a new efficiency, but it could not enable us to use coal in smelting iron. It was the advance of the art of iron-working and its special application in the steam-engine that gave us the blowing-engine, and coal-blast furnace, which contributed in a main degree to our commercial resuscitation and our present strong position.


It was in the 17th century that the charcoal iron manufacture most flourished in England, and its chief seat was Sussex. "I have heard," says Norden in his Surveyor's Dialogue, "that there are, or recently were in Sussex neere 140 hammers and furnaces for iron." And Camden says of Sussex,*46 "Full of iron-mines it is in sundry places, where, for the making and founding thereof, there be furnaces on every side, and a huge deal of wood is yearly burnt; to which purpose divers brooks in many places are brought to run into one channel, and sundry meadows turned into pools and waters, that they may be of power sufficient to drive hammer-mills, which beating upon the iron, resound all over the places adjoining."


The increase of the trade threatened to denude England of the forests which were considered an ornament to the country, as well as essential to its security, as providing the oak timber for our navy. Poets and statesmen agreed in condemning the encroachments of the ironmasters.

"These iron times breed none that mind posterity"—

says Drayton. And George Withers in 1634*47 speaks of—

                          "The havoc and the spoyle,
Which, even within the measure of my days,
Is made through every quarter of this Isle—
In woods and grooves which were this Kingdom's praise."


Stowe at the same period clearly describes the growing scarcity of wood-fuel, the falsification of previous anticipations, and the necessity felt for resorting more and more to coal.

"Such hath bene the plenty of wood in England for all uses that within man's memory it was held impossible to have any want of wood in England, but contrary to former imaginations such hath bene the great expense of timber for navigation; with infinite increase of building of houses, with the great expense of wood to make household furniture, casks, and other vessels not to be numbered, and of carts, waggons, and coaches; besides the extreme waste of wood in making iron, burning of bricks and tiles," &c.

"At this present, through the great consuming of wood as aforesaid, there is so great a scarcity of wood throughout the whole kingdom, that not only the city of London, all haven towns, and in very many parts within the land, the inhabitants in general are constrained to make their fires of sea-coal, or pit-coal, even in the chambers of honourable personages; and through necessity, which is the mother of all arts, they have of very late years devised the making of iron, the making of all sorts of glass, burning of bricks, with sea-coal or pit-coal. Within thirty years last, the nice dames of London would not come into any house, or room, where sea-coals were burned, nor willingly eat of the meat that was either sod or roasted with sea-coal fire."*48


Norden says, "He that well observes it and hath knowne the welds of Sussex, Surrey, and Kent, the grand nursery of those kind of trees, especially oke and beech, shall find an alteration within lesse than thirty years, as may well strike a feare, lest few yeares more, as pestilent as the former, will leave few goode trees standing in these welds. Such a heat issueth out of the many forges, and furnaces, for the making of yron, and out of the glasse kilnes, as hath devoured many famous woods within the welds."*49


Evelyn in his Diary, deploring the fall of a fine oak, expresses "a deep execration of iron mills, and I had almost sayd ironmasters too."


It was against those "voracious iron-works" that statutes of the 1st and 27th years of Elizabeth were directed, to prevent the destruction of timber trees which were necessary to maintain the wooden walls and maritime power of England. But in spite of statutes the waste went on. Postlethwayt writing in 1766, says,*50 "The waste and destruction that has been of the woods in Warwick, Stafford, Worcester, Hereford, Monmouth, Gloucester, Glamorgan, Pembroke, Shropshire, and Sussex, by the iron-works, is not to be imagined. The scarcity of wood is thereby already grown so great, that where cord wood has been sold at five or six shillings per cord, within these few years it is now risen to upwards of twelve or fourteen shillings, and in some places is all consumed. And if some care is not taken to preserve our timber from these consuming furnaces, we shall certainly soon stand in need of oak to supply the royal navy, and also shipping for the use of the merchants, to the great discouragement of shipbuilding and navigation, upon which the safety and figure of these kingdoms, as a maritime power, depend."


Now, I particularly beg attention to the curious fact that about the end of the 17th century, the iron manufacture to some extent migrated to Ireland. The woods of that country were full of timber when those of England were nearly exhausted. The trade at once followed the fuel in spite of a want of ore in Ireland. As appears in tables of Irish exports, and in Sir F. Brewster's New Essays on Trade,*51 of the year 1702, Ireland became an iron exporting country. Sir William Temple says,*52 "Iron seems to me the manufacture that of all others ought the least to be encouraged in Ireland; or if it be, which requires the most restriction to certain places and rules. For I do not remember to have heard that there is any ore in Ireland, at least I am sure that the greatest part is fetched from England; so that all this country affords of its own growth towards this manufacture, is but the wood, which has met but with too great consumptions already in most parts of this kingdom, and needs not this to destroy what is left. So that Iron-works ought to be confined to certain places, where either the woods continue vast, and make the country savage; or where they are not at all fit for timber, or likely to grow to it; or where there is no conveyance for timber to places of vent, so as to quit the cost of the carriage."


Postlethwayt alludes to the migration of the manufacture and the necessary result. "It is generally allowed that within about these seventy years, Ireland was better stored with oak-timber than England; but several gentlemen from hence, as well as those residing there, set up iron-works, which in a few years swept away the wood to that degree, that they have had even a scarcity of small stuff to produce bark for their tanning, nor scarce timber for their common and necessary uses."


When Ireland was in a condition to compete with England in a given manufacture, no artificial encouragement was needed. Frequent attempts on the other hand were made to gain a supply of iron from our American plantations. "Certainly," as Evelyn remarked, "the goodly rivers and forests of the other world would much better become our iron and saw-mills, than these exhausted countries, and we prove gainers by the timely removal." But perhaps from the want of labour American iron could not compete with continental iron.


England had for a length of time made and used much iron. "The Forest of Deane," says Yarranton, "is, as to the iron, to be compared to the sheep's back as to the woolen; nothing being of more advantage to England than these two are." And the Commanders of the Spanish Armada are said to have had especial orders to destroy the Forest of Dean, as being a main source of England's strength. And though coal could not yet be used in the smelting-furnace, it had long been chiefly used in the finery, the chafery, and the blacksmith's hearth. A great portion of the coal and culm that had for centuries been exported to France, and the coasts of the Northern Sea, was used in the smithy. And it was undoubtedly the abundance of coal that reared from early times the iron-working arts at Sheffield, Dudley, and Birmingham.


When our home production of iron was rapidly failing, there was a considerable demand for foreign iron in England. Hewitt, in his Statistics of the Iron Trade,*53 after expressing his surprise that in 1740 the total produce of England was only 17,350 tons, made in 59 furnaces, adds his conviction that the total production of Europe at the time did not exceed 100,000 tons, of which 60,000 were made in the forest countries of Sweden, Norway, and Russia. One half of this was imported into England. The consumption of iron in England, he thinks, was 15 lbs. per head of the population; while in Europe, on the average, it did not exceed 2 lbs. Of the iron we used, four-fifths were considered to be imported from one country or another. Joshua Gee speaks of our market as "the most considerable in Europe for the vast consumption of iron," and represents the Swedes, Danes, and Russians as striving to gain our market.*54 Our production of iron by the middle of the century was believed to have declined to one-tenth part of its former amount, and the high cost of foreign iron formed the main check upon the progress of those arts which were to be so great. By this time the substitution of coal for charcoal had become a necessity. Postlethwayt, in a pamphlet possessed by the Statistical Society,*55 describes the condition of the iron-trade in 1747, remarking that "England not being so woody a country as either Sweden or Russia, we do not abound, nor ever shall, with a sufficiency of wood-coal;" and that as cordwood was doubled, or trebled in price, six or eight times dearer than pit-coal, and very dear compared with its price in foreign iron-making countries, it was no wonder home-made iron decreased. This scarcity of wood was really due of course to the superior profits to be derived from using the land as pasture. Norden allowed this a century before: "The cleansing of many of these welde grounds hath redounded rather to the benefite than to the hurte of the countrey: for where woods did growe in superfluous abundance there was lacke of pasture for kine, and of arable land for corne."


And Houghton had acutely anticipated the subsequent course of things by suggesting that it would be profitable to cut down all wood near navigable waters where coal could be had, of which he remarked we had enough.*56


To make iron with pit-coal was the great problem, the practical solution of which was all-important to the nation.


It was no new notion. From the early part of the seventeenth century it had been the object of eager experiments, and the cause of ruin to many of the experimenters. The history of the establishment of our great iron trade has been described in the works of Mr. Smiles, Dr. Percy, and others, but it possesses points of interest which we cannot pass over.


Simon Sturtevant, a German metallurgist, about 1612, was the first to take out a patent for making iron with pit-coal. His specification of the invention, entitled "A Treatise of Metallica," is an eccentric but clever production. In the practical part of his work he seems to have had less success than in the literary; and others who followed up his notions—mostly Dutchmen and Germans, such as Rovenson, Jorden, Franche, and Sir Phillibert Vernalt—had no more success.


The following verses of the year 1633 quaintly allude to such attempts:—

"The yron mills are excellent for that;
I have a patent draune to that effect;
If they goe up, downe goe the goodly trees.
I'll make them search the earth to find new fire."*57


It was Dud Dudley, a natural son of Lord Dudley, of Dudley Castle, manager of his father's iron forges in the neighbourhood, who, in 1621, first succeeded in smelting iron with coal. According to his own account in his "Metallum Martis," he made considerable quantities of pit-coal iron at Cradley, Pensnet, Himley, and Sedgley. But various disasters and troubles, the jealousy of other iron-masters, and the civil strife of the time, frustrated all his undertakings, and left him a ruined man. His history may be read in his own work, or in Mr. Smiles' "Industrial Biography."


Dudley's invention, it would seem probable, depended upon charking or coking the coal, in a manner analogous to the making of wood charcoal. The coke thus prepared was comparatively free from sulphur, and more readily gave a strong heat. Dudley was thus able, according to his own account, to make five or seven tons of iron a week; selling his pig-iron at 4l. per ton, and his bar-iron at 12l., while charcoal iron cost in pigs 6l. or 7l., and in bars 15l. or 18l. He relied for commercial success upon the cheapness of his iron compared with its fair quality, and he expresses clearly the true inducing cause and purpose of his invention, "knowing that if there could be any use made of the small-coales that are of little use, then would they be drawn out of the Pits, which coles produceth oftentimes great prejudice unto the owners of the works and the work itself, and also unto the colliers."*58


The almost gratuitous use of fuel thus alluded to obviously led to Dudley's remarkable efforts towards our great manufacture. After Dudley's misfortunes his invention was not followed up. The want of wood was not yet severely felt, and the owners of woodland country and iron forges, of course, considered their interest in the charcoal iron manufacture as one to be protected. When Dr. Plot wrote his curious "Natural History of Staffordshire," the making of pit-coal iron was a matter of unfortunate history, and he speaks of a certain German, Dr. Blewstone, as making "the last effort in that country to smelt iron ore with pit-coal."*59


Thus the matter rested for half a century. The iron trade, which Andrew Yarranton, about this time, truly designated the keystone of England's industrial prosperity, was checked by the high and rising price of the metal; and the efforts made to get iron from Ireland, or the Transatlantic Plantations, had but a slight or temporary success.


It was Abraham Darby who revived the forgotten method of smelting with pit-coal. The earliest adventurers in the process, we have seen, were Germans, and it is curious that the success of the Darby family was founded upon foreign experience. The eldest Abraham Darby went over to Holland in 1706, and learnt the method of casting hollow iron pots, or Hilton ware, as it was then called. Bringing over skilled Dutch workmen, he took out a patent to protect his newly-acquired process, and then, in 1709, started the celebrated Coalbrookdale Works in Shropshire. At first the oak and hazel woods furnished fuel, but the supply presently proving insufficient for the growing trade, it became customary to mix coke and brays, or small coke with the charge of fuel. Eventually, when an increased blast was obtained, coke took the place of charcoal entirely.


There is much uncertainty and discrepancy concerning the history of the Coalbrookdale Works. Scrivenor, in his "History of the Iron Trade," represents pit-coal as used in 1713. Dr. Percy, on the other hand, describes the younger Abraham Darby as first employing raw coal in the smelting furnace between the years 1730 and 1735.


In his first successful experiment he is said to have watched the filling of his furnace for six days and nights uninterruptedly, falling into a deep sleep when he saw the molten iron running forth. The success of the work was probably secured by the erection of a water-wheel of twenty-four feet diameter, capable of giving a powerful blast. But water was scarce, and a fire-engine, or old atmospheric steam-engine, was set up to pump back the water from the lower to the upper mill-pond. Here is one of those significant instances which teach us the power of coal and the interdependence of the arts. Employed in this engine as a source of motive power, it enabled coal to be also used in the smelting-furnace. And this is typical of the iron trade, as it is of other trades to the present day; for our iron industry in all its developments is as dependent on coal for motive power as for fuel in the furnace.


In December, 1756, we find the works "at the top pinnacle of prosperity, twenty or twenty-two tons per week, and sold off as fast as made, at profit enough." And from this time and from this success arose England's material power. To this invention, says M'Culloch, "this country owes more perhaps than to any one else."*60


The subsequent history of the iron trade is best to be read in the growth of its produce. Already in 1788 the produce had risen to 68,300 tons, and the increase has since proceeded, as we have seen, in a nearly, constant rate of multiplication.*61


The chief difficulty experienced in the extension of the trade was the want of motive power. Thus Mr. J. Cookson introduced the coal iron manufacture into the Newcastle district, the blast being worked by a water-wheel on Chester Burn. But "frequent interruption for want of water to drive their wheel, led at length to the furnace being 'gobbed,' and ultimately abandoned, about the close of the last century."*62


Roebuck originated the great iron trade of Scotland, and his success was due to the command of a good blast.


"Dr. Roebuck was one of the first to employ coal in iron-smelting on a large scale, and for that purpose he required the aid of the most powerful blowing apparatus that could be procured. Mr. Smeaton succeeded in contriving and fixing for him, about the years 1768, a highly effective machine of this kind, driven by a water-wheel."*63 This contrivance is said to have been the blowing cylinder now used.*64


Wilkinson was another great promoter of the iron manufacture, and his success arose from applying the steam-engine directly to work the blast-engine of his furnace near Bilston in Staffordshire.*65


Cort's improvements in the puddling, faggoting, and rolling of iron blooms followed. The extensive use of such improvements depends upon the use of coal as the only fuel sufficiently abundant for the puddling, or reheating furnaces, and to supply the enormous power required in rolling iron bars of large size.


The discovery of the hot-blast process by Mr. Neilson is the next great step, and one of the most surprising instances of economy in the history of the Arts. Ironmasters had previously adhered to the mistaken notion that a very cool blast was essential to making good iron, and some even tried the use of ice in cooling the air of the blast. But when a blast of air, hot enough to melt lead, was used instead, the consumption of coal per ton of cast iron made, was reduced from seven tons to two, or two and a half tons. But was this enormous saving equivalent to a decrease of consumption? The produce of pig iron in Scotland has increased as follows:—

1820... 20,000
1830... 37,500
1839... 200,000
1851... 775,000
1863... 1,160,000

Now, if we compare the consumption of coal in 1830 and 1863, we find—

37,500 × 7 tons = 262,500 tons of coal.
1,160,000 × 2 tons = 2,320,000 tons of coal.

Or the consumption of coal was increased tenfold, not to speak of the consumption of coal in puddling or working the iron, or in the machine industry which cheap iron promotes.


A subsequent step of economy has been the utilization of the waste gases of the blast-furnace in heating the blast, or the boilers of the steam engines which drive the blast-engine. This improvement, however, was adopted extensively on the Continent, and in the United States, before it was introduced here in 1845. Now it is applied in South Wales, Scotland, and Derbyshire with perfect success.*66


The most recent, and one of the most ingenious improvements of the iron manufacture, that of Mr. Bessemer, needs only a brief notice. At present, indeed, the process is but half completed because the stream of air forced through the molten cast-iron is found to remove only the carbon and the silicon, leaving the injurious elements, sulphur and phosphorus, nearly untouched.*67 It is, therefore, necessary to use, in the making of Bessemer steel, ores which are free from impurities, and the price of the steel must remain high. But if Mr. Bessemer could remove the phosphorous also, and make all our poor iron into good steel, the invention would be one of those modes of economy which, in reducing the cost of a most valuable material, lead to an indefinite demand. It would, indeed, be one of the greatest advances in the arts ever achieved. Such are the wonderful qualities of steel, that if it were cheap enough, its uses would be infinite. Our engines, machines, vessels, rail roads, conveyances, furniture would all be made of it, with an immense improvement in strength, durability, and lightness. Our whole industry would be thrown into a new state of progress. It would be like a repetition of that substitution of iron for wood, in mill work, which Brindley, and Smeaton, and Rennie brought about. And by still further multiplying the value of our coal and iron resources, it would accelerate alike our present growth and the future exhaustion of our resources.


When we reflect upon the conditions of our great production of iron, we shall see them to consist, apart from the ingenuity and perseverance which gave us the inventions, in the following:—

1. Cheapness and excellence of fuel.
2. Proximity of fuel, ores, and fluxes.


Of the first little need here be said. It will be remembered that the first success of Dudley was obtained in the neighbourhood of the "Thick coal," where up to the end of last century coal was a "drug;" and almost the same may be said of Coalbrookdale, where the final success was attained. And now, whether in South Wales, Scotland, Yorkshire, Staffordshire, or Northumberland, the iron manufacture most flourishes where suitable coal is to be had at the lowest rate.


As regards the second condition, it has been the constant reflection of English writers that the co-existence of the materials of the iron-manufacture was not undesigned. "The occurrence of this most useful of metals, in immediate connexion with the fuel requisite for its reduction, and the limestone which facilitates that reduction, is an instance of arrangement so happily suited to the purposes of human industry, that it can hardly be considered as recurring unnecessarily to final causes, if we conceive that this distribution of the rude materials of the earth was determined with a view to the convenience of its inhabitants." In South Wales, Staffordshire, and elsewhere, there are often found in conjunction the coal, ironstone, limestone flux, as well as the refractory clay and gritstone necessary for the construction of the furnaces. The fact, however, is, that this is rapidly becoming an imaginary condition of our trade. The exhaustion of the ironstone seams in some places, the cost of working them in others, the increased facilities of transport by rail, new discoveries of superior ore, are rendering our iron-works more and more dependent on distant supplies of ore. Scrivenor says, "The great superiority of our iron manufacture has generally been considered (independently of the excellent quality of the coal) to consist in having all the materials necessary to the manufacture found on, or immediately in the neighbourhood of the very spot where the furnaces are erected. South Staffordshire, as it was, will serve to illustrate this point—abundance of good coal—amongst other seams that of the tenyard—excellent ironstone and limestone; this last from Dudley; celebrated for its beautiful fossil slabs; but now limestone is brought from the vale of Llangollen, and the ironmasters are looking to Northamptonshire and other places to assist them with the required supply of ironstone. Is not this, as regards South Staffordshire, the beginning of an end?

"This scarcity of materials is certainly most beneficial to districts where, from the want of coal, it was never contemplated having any share in the manufacture of iron; but it alters the general character of the circumstances under which we have been accustomed to view our superiority, and casts the first shadow upon the iron trade."*68


Blackwell, in his lecture on the Iron Resources of Britain, although asserting that "in no other countries does this proximity of ore and fuel exist to the same extent as in England,"*69 describes how the facilities of transport are developing a new system. The iron trade, he says, fosters itself by its own creation, the railroad. It is by this that the new-discovered or rather the re-discovered ores in the oolitic formation, stretching obliquely across England, are made available, saving the North of England and the South Staffordshire iron-works from stoppage under the competition of the Scotch black-band works. Of South Staffordshire he says: "Hitherto the second most important iron district in the kingdom, it could no longer have maintained its ground against other localities had it not been for this discovery. South Wales had its cheap and good coals, its blackbands, and its supplies of sea-borne hæmatites, as well as its own argillaceous ironstones; Scotland its beds of blackbands; and the North of England its oolitic ores; but up to the present time South Staffordshire had only its argillaceous ironstones, always the most expensive to raise, with such admixture of hæmatite and North Staffordshire stone as the great cost of carriage would permit."*70


It is even possible that recourse will some day be had to the Wealden ores, used in the old charcoal iron-works of Sussex, and which are both rich and plentiful, though too distant from coal for present use.


It is an all-important fact of this subject, that the ore is carried to the fuel, not the fuel to the ore. This was the case when the pack-horse conveyed ore to the forges situated among the wood lands which supplied the charcoal. When timber-fuel was abundant in Ireland, ore was sent thither from England. In the still earlier times of the foot-blast the smelting hearth was shifted about the hills to the parts most abounding in timber, as may be inferred from heaps of scoria scattered here and there up to the very summit of the hills. And it is the case now with all our superior means of transport and diminished consumption of fuel. The same fact is found elsewhere.

"Prussia is rich in iron ores, but they seldom occur along with the coal. In former times, the blast-furnaces were built where wood abounded and water power was available; but in later times, as the use of coal and coke became more and more general, it was found that the coal-basins were the fittest localities for the erection of works, as it was more easy and economical to take the ore to the fuel than the fuel to the ore"*71


Let us now consider the present position and prospects of the English iron manufacture comparatively to those of other countries. The following are the amounts of pig iron produced by the three chief iron making nations in 1862:—

Great Britain... 3,943,469
France... 1,053,000
United States... 884,474

If the produce of all other countries were added, it would still be found, no doubt, that our produce exceeds that of the rest of the world, in spite of the recent rapid progress of the manufacture in France and America. Not long ago our exports of iron were scarcely inferior to the gross produce of the rest of the world.*72 This is not due to the quality of our iron. On the contrary, our cheap iron is some of the worst made anywhere. If we compare European iron-producing countries as to the quality and quantity of produce, the following are the orders, the higher place denoting the higher quality or quantity:—*73

Quality of Iron.Quantity of Iron.
Sweden. England.
Belgium. France.
Prussia. Austria.
Austria. Prussia.
France. Sweden.
England. Belgium.


The inferiority of our iron is due to the sulphur, phosphorous, or other impurities of our fuel and ore. It is on this account that steel, even in Mr. Bessemer's process, has to be made from Swedish iron or other choice metal. And the exceptionally fine and high-priced English iron made by the Low Moor and Bowling Companies is chiefly due to the quality of the coal used.


The vast extension of our manufacture is due to cheapness, and this is the point of all importance in the great mass of cases,—in bridges, rails, ships, heavy framework, pipes, fences, &c. The use of iron is altogether boundless, provided it can be had cheap enough. As Dr. Percy remarks, in spite of the marvellous advancement of the iron trade, "yet it may be safely affirmed that the uses of iron will be vastly more extended than at present, and that there is no just ground for apprehension lest there should be over-produce of this precious metal. Even the railway system is in a state of rapid growth, and the time will come, when every habitable part of the earth's surface will be reticulated with iron or steel roads."


Of the greatly increased supplies of iron required in the future general progress of nations, we shall continue for many years to supply a large part, and to enjoy the wealth and influence which it gives us. But this cheapness depends upon raising coal from our mines and running it into our furnaces at a very low price. Now low prices cannot hold very long with a consumption of coal growing as it has been shown to grow. Were there no other demands upon the South Wales and Scotch coal-fields than that of the iron trade, yet this is of so unlimited an extent that sooner or later the voracious iron furnaces will exhaust our seams as they exhausted our woods. And the result must be a new migration of our great trade.


It is impossible there should be two opinions as to the future seat of the iron trade. The abundance and purity of both fuel and ore in the United States, with the commercial enterprise of American manufacturers, put the question beyond doubt.


"In the North," says Dr. Percy, "the indefinite expansion of the anthracite iron manufacture is equally certain, whatever may be the policy of the government, or the result of the present civil war. The wonderful iron-ore wealth of New Jersey has hardly yet been explored; and another anthracite iron region about Morristown would already have been added to the rest, had there been any direct facilities for bringing the coal to the ore. Now that the Carbondale or Wyoming coal basin, and the Mohanoy or middle coal basin, have both been opened up to the Hudson river market, the vast magnetic ore beds of Lake Champlain will have many more high stacks erected near them than those which already stand upon the shore. Some of these are noble works, mounted on iron pillars. But the principal manufacture must always cling to the Lehigh and Schuykill and Lower Susquehanna valleys in Pennsylvania, where the ore is abundant, the coal near at hand, and the flux on the spot; where the whole land is a garden, and therefore food cheap and labour plentiful, and the great seaports not far off."*74


The American iron manufacture has been retarded by two chief causes:—

1. The fact that the coal, ore, and flux are not in such close conjunction as in England.
2. The high rate of wages in the United States.


The first obstacle will disappear. The Americans, of all people in the world, are the most forward in driving canals, river navigations, and railways where profit can be made. And while the materials of the iron manufacture are being wedded together in the States, our iron-masters, as we have seen, are seeking their materials at greater distances. The very railway system, which is said to have saved the North of England and the South Staffordshire iron works from a scarcity of materials, will enable the Americans to overcome their great obstacle, and thus one advantage of the English manufacturer becomes illusory.


The high rate of wages in a new country like the States is a true and natural obstacle to the progress of a manufacture, but as we shall see in the next chapter it is one which time will overcome.


If the Americans have obstacles to overcome, they have advantages in cheap and good mineral fuel, which cannot be over-estimated. The anthracite of Mauch Chunk, or the bituminous coal of Ohio, is got almost for the mere price of quarrying, as coal used to be got in Staffordshire, and it is laying the foundation there, as it did here, of a great iron-working industry. Pittsburg is the American Sheffield and Wolverhampton. The steel as well as the iron manufacture has made a secure lodgment there,*75 and its development is a question only of time.

Notes for this chapter

Hansard's Debates, vol. vii. p. 79
See pp. 217-8.
Newland and Backbarrow in Lancashire, Duddon in Cumberland, and Loon in Scotland, are the only charcoal furnaces in the United Kingdom. Mineral Statistics, 1863, p. 70.
Quoted by M. A. Lower. Contributions to Literature, 1854, p. 120.
Quoted by Smiles. Lives of the Engineers, vol. i. p. 292.
Stowe's Annals, 1632, p. 1025.
Surveyor's Dialogue, p. 175.
Commercial Dictionary, Art. coal.
Pp. 94, &c.
Essay upon the Advancement of Trade in Ireland, Works, 1720, vol. i. p. 119.
Statistics and Geography of the Production of Iron: New York, 1856, p. 7.
Trade and Navigation of Great Britain, 1738, p. 104.
Considerations on the making of Bar Iron with Pit or Sea Coal Fire, 1747.
Houghton's Collection of Letters for the Improvement of Husbandry and Trade, 1727-1728, vol. iv. p. 259.
The Costlie Whore, quoted by Percy, Metallurgy of Iron and Steel, p. 144.
Metallum Martis, London, 1665, p. 8.
Smiles' Industrial Biography, p. 77.
Literature of Political Economy, p. 238.
Chapter xi
Report of the British Association, 1863, p. 738
Smiles' Engineers, vol. ii. p. 61
Percy's Metallurgy, Iron, p. 889.
History of Wednesbury, p. 116.
H. Blackwell, Iron-making Resources of the United Kingdom, 1852, p. 174
Percy's Metallurgy of Iron and Steel, p. 187.
Scrivenor on the Iron Trade, p. 301.
Page 150.
Blackwell, p. 165.
Percy's Metallurgy of Iron, p. 564.
Truran on the Iron Manufacture of Great Britain, pp. iii. iv.
Canada at the Universal Exhibition of 1855, p. 296.
Percy's Metallurgy, Iron and Steel, p. 382. The last remarks are mistaken in their present application, as will be explained in the following chapter.
Percy's Metallurgy of Iron, p. 381.

Chapter XVI

End of Notes

19 of 22

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