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

By Duncan Burn | Go to book overview

Chapter V
THE PROGRESS OF COMPETITION (1879-1904)

American railway building in 1879, and then world railway building, swept the British iron and steel export breathlessly up to its nineteenth-century zenith in 1882. Two million tons above the level of 1878; a million tons above the previous maximum ( 1872). Against such increases German and Belgian exports, totalling 1,400,000 tons in 1882, provided no basis for alarms.1 Continental exports were slowly growing. But English makers were refusing orders, and English firms were building new plants, which would still further reduce production costs.

It was, indeed, competition among home producers which during this phase of iron-trade history was initially discovered to be disturbing. Export demand had again proved excessively alluring. It was more generally diffused geographically (which suggested security, less dependence on one market).2 Asia, Africa and South America were consuming more iron. Yet at the same time, when America broke her own records in railway extension, laying 7000 miles in 1880, 9000 in 1881 and 11,000 in 1882, she took more English (and Continental) iron and steel than ever, and so confounded the pessimists.3 England's export to the States reached 1,600,000 tons in the twelve months from September 1879 to August 1880,4 and it was 1,200,000 in 1882. By the side of this, home demand, particularly for iron and steel for shipbuilding, also shot up. This situation induced in England and abroad a more intense growth of production between 1879 and 1882 than had occurred in the early 'seventies, accompanied by rapid plant extension. World pig production rose by 50 per

____________________
1
For figures see Table III below.
2
Econ. 1882, pp. 8, 836, 1148; and below, p. 80.
3
Railway Statistics in Econ. Commer. Hist. for 1882, p. 10.
4
Econ. Commer. Hist. for 1880, p. 20.

-73-

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