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

By Duncan Burn | Go to book overview

Chapter X
BRITAIN AND THE ADVANCE OF THE PROCESSES 1880-1904

No one, not even Lowthian Bell, claimed for Great Britain at the close of Victoria's reign the technical primacy in mass production steelmaking, irrespective of the "basic" problem, though it was still said by the apologists that there was no indifference to innovation where it was commercially justified. In an unconsciously illuminating remark to the Iron and Steel Institute in 1901 Bell showed how greatly the position had altered since the 'seventies. "At the Clarence Works", he said, "they had done their best to keep themselves up to the American standard: but the cases (on the North-East Coast and in the States) were so different that he had been unable to go to the length of making all the changes recommended." Britain was no longer making the pace. "It must be remembered", he added, in a reference to the prospect of growing imports, "that the amount that might possibly be saved by following the example of the Americans--something like 5s. a ton--was more than counteracted by the cost of transporting iron in any form from the United States to this country."1 The same figure--5s. a ton--was given by a witness to the Tariff Commission as the outside limit of cost advantage which German manufacturers enjoyed.2

The innovations of the 'eighties and 'nineties which have been incorporated in modern standard practice were pioneered out- side Great Britain to a far greater degree than was true of the innovations of the 'seventies. The United States became the acknowledged pioneer in blast-furnace practice, developing along the lines laid down in the 'seventies but harmonising

____________________
1
J.I.S. Inst. 1901, I, pp. 123-4.
2
Rep. Tariff Comm.§680.

-183-

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