Since the beginning of the Iron Age around 1200 BC, this amazing metal has been the catalyst for the development of the modern world. Steel is the foremost metal of the day, produced at levels twenty times that of aluminum, copper, zinc, tin and lead combined. As the United States exited WWII in 1945, we were the leading steelmaker in the world with about 80% of the total production. U.S. Steel Corporation owned the global market.
We Americans have a tendency to think of ourselves as the Big Dog on planet earth, and this is one of the reasons. A lot has changed in the past 70 years.
Today China is the dominant steelmaker with an estimated 45-60% of the total volume. The U.S. has a paltry 6%. The once-powerful U.S. Steel Corporation has long since been removed from the Dow 30 Industrials list. For the record, Disney replaced them.
How could it be that mighty U.S. Steel was displaced by the House of Mouse? How did the U.S. fall so far behind in this critical gauge of industrial prowess? For most of a half-century, the majority of steel came from open-hearth furnaces. That was clearly working quite well, so why change? In the meantime, the rest of the world was quickly converting to the greater efficiency and higher quality obtained from top blown basic oxygen furnaces, or BOFs. When you’re not the top dog, you are compelled to scramble and try something different.
The U.S., self-proclaimed world capital of entrepreneurship and innovation, was simply out-innovated. The journey from “breakthrough” past “good enough” and on to “obsolete” is a short one.
In the meantime, electric-arc furnaces using scrap metal are gaining ground.