As modern chemistry and physics began to grow, scientists looked at the artisan's practice and found much on the nature and behavior of matter that posed problems for their philosophies. The papers in this book – the most important pf which appear in English for the first time – cover that period when people who were part scientist, part industrialist, first came to learn clearly that the properties of iron and steel depend on their chemical composition and internal structure. The collection does not attempt to give an account of the production of iron on a growing industrial scale – indeed, the sources for studying this do not lie mainly in literature – but rather to make modern readers witness to the increasing concern of educated men with what for centuries had been the concern of the unlettered artisan alone,
The earliest item reproduced, the Stahel und Eysen (1532), is a little anonymous booklet of recipes on hardening and softening iron and on etching it decoratively. The last paper included, by a trio of famous scientists, Vandermonde, Berthollet, and Monge (1786), clearly and concisely defined the role of chemically identifiable carbon in giving the distinctive qualities of the three main forms of commercial iron. In between are articles by Italian, German, Swedish, and French writers of varying backgrounds, showing different stages in the dawning of this insight over a period of more than two hundred years.
The book is not a consolidated history but a collection of sources for the materials student, or for the student of the history of science, or for the general reader with some nongeneral interest to browse through, puzzle over, and enjoy. It will be important to scholars that these articles, many of them rare and difficult to obtain, have been translated and collected in one volume; the book will interest general readers as well, for the documents reveal so well the importance of continuing contact between science and the complicated real world of the workshop and are so uniquely expressive of the excitement the scientist feels when he grasps the meaning of something that has long been beyond understanding.