Improvements For Practicality

Among the various treasures that the New York Public Library has digitized is an 1874 catalog of the Union Iron Company of Buffalo, New York. Union was not a major player during the spectacular late-1800s growth of the iron and steel industry in the US: it was founded in 1862 and temporarily closed by the depression of 1873. It restarted a few years later but without any great success. Putting aside corporate history, the catalog is interesting both as a beautiful object and as a snapshot of the wrought iron industry at an early stage of development. The last two pages of the catalog illustrate “The Kellogg Wrought Iron Columns” which are a little hard to pin down. I haven’t been able to find a patent from 1874 that looks like this although there’s one that’s also wavy:

At first glance, the columns illustrated above seem bizarre, even without the engraved buffalo. In the context of the 1870s iron industry, they make a bit more sense. American rolling mills in the 1870s were limited to I-beams, angles, channels, zees, tees, rails and plates. Wide-flange beams were thirty years away, and cast-iron was the preferred material for columns because it was known to be twice as strong in gross compression as wrought iron. Cast iron also had the advantage that it could easily be formed into hollow cylinders and rectangular tubes, which are good cross-sectional shapes for columns. The only way to get the advantages inherent in hollow-tube geometry with wrought iron was to build up sections by riveting small pieces together. So far, so good. But those sections above…

The channels in the middle weren’t rolled in those curved-back configurations. Rather, normal channels were bent like that (probably after rivet holes were punched in the flanges) and then riveted together to form the scalloped-tube sections. I’ve learned to never say that something was never done – there are a lot of oddities that got built once or a few times – but these were never common if they ever actually existed at all. The name Kellogg shows up with something far more normal: built-up box columns. In 1881, the federal government published the results of tests on different forms of iron and steel, tested in various ways, and here are Kellogg columns:

That form of built-up box – two channels with lacing on the sides – was popular until well after 1910. Many of the bridges I’ve discussed here had versions of it, as well as many of the buildings I’ve worked on. It’s a lot easier to create than the scalloped versions since there is no longitudinal bending of iron shapes, and it’s a lot easier to use, since the flat sides provide straightforward locations to attach intersecting members.

More on this tomorrow…

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