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What would it take for civilization on Earth to collapse in an instant?  A nuclear explosion?  A raging and incurable worldwide epidemic?  A surprise black hole capable of swallowing the sun?  Possibly.  Yet, what if something seemingly less catastrophic forced civilization to an end?  What if steel became nonexistent?  The effects wouldn’t seem to be as cataclysmic as the disappearance of the sun; still, we would suffer devastating corollaries if steel was absent from our planet.  Civilization would collapse—and not just literally.

Steel is influential in more aspects of our lives than we are aware of.  This material is used across the globe for a variety of purposes due to its functionality, adaptability, machinability and strength.  Mankind would not exist successfully today if it weren’t for the development of steel.  Steel is an instrumental material in the international progression of infrastructureeconomy,transportation, sustainabilityhealth and entertainment.  In looking at these necessary components of civilization, we offer a list of six reasons, in a three-part blog series, to explain why society would collapse without the world’s most common alloy.

Steel is the material that makes infrastructure, construction and transportation possible.  Without steel, we’d have no skyscrapers to work in, no cars to get us there and no planes to fly around in.  Take a look at reasons one and two in our list of why life would fall apart without such a material.

1.      Bridges would be nonexistent


If steel didn’t exist, neither would bridges.  Steel is a vital component of bridges, particularly suspension bridges, like the Brooklyn Bridge.  In the United States alone, there are more than 1,056 suspension bridges.  During the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1865, bridge designer John Roebling advocated its structure be made of steel, stating that the material was “the metal of the future.”  San Francisco is home to four of the world’s greatest steel bridges – the San Francisco-Oakland, Golden Gate, Richmond-San Rafael and Carquinez Straits – which are rated among the ten most outstanding structures of their kind worldwide.  Imagine the world without these and thousands more bridges.  Without steel, such spanning and functional roadways would be limited in their capabilities and strength, if not completely impossible to construct in the first place.

Buildings and skyscrapers are other pieces of infrastructure that exist thanks to steel.  Building with steel is preferred in construction due to its inexpensive manufacturing, ease of maintenance and resistance to fires and natural disasters.  Steel holds the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any other building material in use today, it is not combustible or prone to water damage, and it boasts easy transport, less material waste and accurate framing.  Some of the largest and most inhabited steel-made buildings include the Chrysler Building, Sears Tower, U.S. Steel Tower, Tapei 101 and the tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa of Dubai.  These buildings would not stand as tall as they do if it weren’t for the strength of steel.  For example, Tapei 101 would literally collapse in a strong gust of wind if it weren’t for the steel pendulum serving as a tuned mass damper suspended between the 88th and 92nd floor, and the Burj Khalifa wouldn’t stand 2,717 feet without 55,000 tons of steel rebar.


2.      Only birds would fly


Getting from A to B would be far more difficult without the existence of steel.  Airplane and vehicle parts made of other materials would not stand the test of time, heat and pressure with the same success that steel has.  Today, the most common material used in the construction of airplanes is aluminum and steel alloys.

Steel is an optimum choice for a variety of reasons.  In airplane construction, steel may be nearly three times as heavy as aluminum, but it is a great deal stronger, requiring less material to build.  Steel can also be fabricated faster and at a cheaper cost, because it is easily spot-welded.  In the long run, maintenance of steel planes is easier, since it is far more durable than aluminum and suffers less structural fatigue.  Commercial and jet engine pistons are made from steel, as are engine mounts, landing gear, engine power units, bolts and rivets, transmission bearings and tail hooks.

Steel is also an important material in auto manufacturing, especially in the dawn of energy efficient vehicles.  Steel makes vehicles stronger with less required mass, which ultimately increases fuel economy.  The recyclability rate of steel also plays a role in making new vehicles environmentally friendly and efficient in production.

Civilization would literally collapse had steel never been created, but that’s not the only reason we need it around.  Stay tuned for our next post and reasons three and four.

Read part 2