An age employed in edging steel
Can no poetic raptures feel . . .
No shaded stream, no quiet grove
Can this fantastic century move.
-- Philip Freneau, On the Emigration to America and Peopling the Western Country
In 1787 an Italian visitor to England made his way to the Severn Gorge at twilight and paused to gaze down at the river 330 feet below. He then undertook the slow descent to the industrial village of Coalbrookdale, the seeming incarnation of Vulcan's anvil and perfect symbol of the new energy-hungry age. "A dense column of smoke arose from the earth; volumes of steam were ejected from the engines; a blacker cloud issued from a tower in which was a forge; and smoke arose from a mountain of burning coals which burst into turbid flame. In the midst of this gloom I . . . passed under a bridge constructed entirely of iron. It appeared as a gate of mystery, and night, already falling, added to the impressiveness of the scene."
According to archaeologists, the ability to make iron dates back at least 4,000 years. The first individuals to do so learned to heat a small amount of ore in a charcoal fire whose temperature had to reach 2,800U+00BOF before melting could occur. This slow, tedious process yielded such small quantities of the metal that it was first shaped into jewelry for royalty, who valued it more highly than gold.
Over time, it was observed that the fire burned brighter and more intensely on a windy day, speeding up the magical