What are the origins of the word steel?

Steel has a long and rich history, with the earliest known steel weapons dating back 4,000 years. Up until the industrial revolution, steel was produced in relatively small amounts by the Pre-Romanian Iberian Peninsula (now Spain and Portugal), the Roman Military and Chinese for weaponry such as blades and swords.

Despite its use over thousands of years, it wasn’t always called steel.

Defining steel

Steel by definition in modern times is a commercial iron that is alloyed with carbon and other elements, which is usually less than 1%.  Raw iron is a naturally weak material, however the addition of other elements such as manganese, niobium or vanadium give strength its stiffness and strength. In major steel production, metallurgical coal (or coking coal) is relied on to reduce the iron ores and introduce carbon to improve steel grade.

Where did the word “steel” originate?

The noun steel originates from the Proto-Germanic adjective stakhlijan which when translated to its English counterpart means “made of steel”, which is also related to the term stakhla which means “standing fast”. The root of the word stakhla is stak, meaning “to stand, place, or be firm”.  The notion of the word steel is likely to be “that which stands firm” which is fitting for a substance which is strong and durable.  As it stands, no corresponding words exist out of Germanic, except for those likely derived or borrowed from a variety of Germanic dialects.

The most notable use of the word steel as an Old English adjective from c. 1200 from the phrase stylen, pronounced “steel en”. While the phrase make hard or strong like steel has been used as early as the 1580’s.

Steel began to make its way into Western vernacular from the Industrial revolution with steel wool products available from 1896. In the early years of the 20th century, the first stainless steel drum was created on the island of Trinidad, with the name solidified in 1952.

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