Steel City: Entrepreneurship, Strategy, and Technology in Sheffield, 1743-1993

By Geoffrey Tweedale | Go to book overview
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5
Arsenal of the World

[ Sheffield] is at the present moment the greatest Armoury the world has ever seen.

British Association Handbook and Guide to Sheffield ( Sheffield, 1910), 217.

Life in the trenches is paradise compared with the cutlery trade at the present time.

SCL Wostenholm Records. James Paine to William Nixon, 13 March 1915.

Steel was the primary instrument in the carnage of the First World War. In the words of one Sheffield metallurgist, writing in the 1920s and expressing misgivings that would have been out of place in Sheffield before 1914: 'metallurgical advances in themselves made possible the form and magnitude of warfare typical of the [First] World War. The modern battleship, destroyer, submarine, airplane and the armored tank, together with their armaments, were impossible but for the collaboration of the engineer and the metallurgist.'1 He might also have added that many of these advances were made in Sheffield. In almost every area of war material--from the soldier's manganese steel helmet to the armour-plate of a Dreadnought, from the rifle bullet to the largest naval projectile, from the army razor to the bayonet--Sheffield steel was on the front line on both land and sea. Not surprisingly, the city was more profoundly affected than almost any other English manufacturing centre by events between 1914 and 1918, when the arms trade revealed its full potential for destruction and, of course, for profits.

In this period, when the arms trade was taken to its logical conclusion, when the weapons which the Germans, British, and French had been selling round the world were turned against each other, Sheffield willingly embraced its destiny as the armoury of the nation. With armaments already accounting for much of their business and with hatred of the Germans rife, Sheffield workers and industrialists had few qualms about producing weapons. As the city announced proudly:

At no time in the history of Sheffield were so many firms engaged in the manufacture of materials for the purpose of carrying on war, and the output of material of that kind was never so large. It is fortunate that the requirements of the British

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1
W. H. Hatfield, The Application of Science to the Steel Industry ( Cleveland, Ohio, 1928), 66.

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