Monday, July 09, 2007

Notes from Misa's A Nation of Steel

"In our scientific ages, pundits and publicists have often asserted that modern technology is simply the insights of modern science coupled to the craft tradition. This view of technology as applied science has served as a powerful myth for legitimating science policy (give scientists money, and technological innovations will automatically result), but this view is worse than useless for comprehending the dynamics of technical and social change." (p. xv)

"Furthermore, any reasonable description of technical change must consider how and why institutions have fostered and developed technologies." (p. xvi)

* Emphasis on "thick description" (p. xvi)

Posits that technology is a result of various social changes. It's a symptom, not a cause (p. xvii)

"The effort to create a new steel for urban structures--in effect, to break the tyranny of technique imposed by the Bessemer steel rail--was a mammoth technical and scientific effort involving new linkages between producers and consumers of steel. This effort drew on nearly four decades of groundwork in building bridges, towers, and elevated trains." (p.50)

* Phoenix iron works survived recession via elevated trains in New York
* Skilled labour was an ongoing issue: getting it and keeping it from striking

"Although Phoenix and Cooper-Hewitt had been leaders in structural iron, they became followers in structural steel. Other companies were able to roll larger or lighter sections of steel, while Phoenix and Cooper-Hewitt remained expert in rolling the largest sections of iron." (p.60)

W.L.B. Jenney: "The standard specifications of the Carnegie Steel Company are usually used in the West." (p.60)

"Building codes reflected the intersecting demands of historical precedent, innovation from the building trades, and a city's political process. The New York building code, for example, was revised through negotiations among the Fire Department, Architectural Iron Association, American Institute of Architects, Mechanics and Traders Exchange, Real Estate Owners and Builders Association, and Real Estate Exchange, as well as fire insurers, fire engineers, building superintendents, theater consultants, and lawyers." (p.66)

Different cities gave different design value for various materials: wrought, cast, and steel. Chicago preferred steel and the building design matched this preference.

"The Carnegie handbook for structural steel that advertised these technical advantages [of deeper beams and lighter weights] became a powerful competitive tool. 'Architects, engineers and others who draw specifications seem to know of no book but Carnegie's,' observed a rival's sales agent in 1897. 'Ten years ago their book was not better than Phoenix, Pencoyd, Passaic or any of the others,' he stated, 'but in the last 5 years the others have been obliged to adopt Carnegie's sections right straight through.' 'No advertisement,' observed the salesman, was as valuable as handbook like Carnegie's that is 'almost universally sought after' and gradually sets a standard that all competitors must meet or else lose business. The ultimate compliment was paid earlier than the salesman may have known, when Passaic's 1886 handbook plagiarized an entire introductory section from Carnegie's 1881 edition." (p.71)

Charles L. Stroble transformed the Carnegie handbook. He joined the Keystone Bridge Company in 1878 where he served as engineer and special assistant to the president until 1885. He designed new column designs using z-bars and from 1885 to 1893 worked extensively with Chicago architects as a consulting engineer. His contributions to the 1881 handbook were several pages of "General Notes on Floors and Roofs" that described a variety of connection methods. This section was gradually expanded in successive editions. The 1893 and 1896 editions were further expanded b F.H. Kindl. These works essentially began to serve as textbooks: "For an architect new to structural-steel construction, or for an experienced architect seeking to persuade an uncertain client, here was a handbook valuable beyond all others." (p.74) The need for a textbook prompted Wiley to establish a series of engineering textbooks. In essence, Carnegie was able to dominate structural steel through his use of the handbook.

The 1893 version is available from the Internet Archive:

CHK: Temin. 1964. Iron and steel in 19th century America; Temin. 1963. Composition of iron and steel products. Journal of economic history.

From 1910, the SAE also had a battle to define the standards for steel composition in automotive applications.


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