The Economic History of Steelmaking, 1867-1939: A Study in Competition

By Duncan Burn | Go to book overview

Chapter II
'LEAPS AND BOUNDS': AND REBOUNDS 1868-1879

By 1869, when Jordan's study was published, and the Coal Commission heard evidence on fuel economy, public interest in the problems of the iron industry had evaporated. The excitement of the two preceding years had been disproportionate to the immediate danger, and declined with the return of more prosperous business. The depression in the iron industry in 1866 had been due to a collapse of its internal trade--particularly to the drying up of the "home rail" demand. Although the consequent low prices probably resulted in a greater use of iron in England for bridges and buildings, it was an extension in the foreign demand for its staple product which refreshed the industry. Even in 1867 there were signs of increased activity in foreign railway construction; Russia doubled her purchase of rails to 115,000 tons, and an increase of 50,000 tons in the rail export to the United States reflected the impulse which the victory of the North had given to the building of the Trans- continentals; but prices were too low for anyone to sense a "revival" in this year. Within the next three years the American and Russian consumptions continued to expand, and, particularly from 1869, railway building was taken up extensively in a large number of other states. By April 1870 the Iron and Coal Trades Review had diagnosed a "mania". India, now that the State had railways in hand, was setting out on a new 10,000 miles; Canada as a result of Confederation had a modest 3000 mile programme; the United States had 15,000 miles more in view. Russia had placed orders in Cleveland to a value of three million pounds. Most Central and South-Eastern European states, partly under the stimulus of the Suez Canal, were either building or seeking the money to build new lines; and, like the

-18-

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