What is Iron?

What is Iron?

Iron ore in rock form
iron ore on a rocky base

Did you know that iron is a healthy nutrient for our bodies as well as the main ingredient in the manufacture of steel?

Before we venture into the types of iron, let’s first examine its properties. Iron is a mineral with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26.

On the periodic table, it belongs to the first transition series, which reflects a change in the inner layer of electrons, but we’ll leave that for the chemists since the chemical compound of this mineral is beyond the scope of this article.

Iron is the most common element on Earth when referenced by mass and is very prominently found in the Earth’s outer and inner cores. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth’s crust, but the process to extract it requires kilns or furnaces capable of reaching a temperature of 2,730 °F or higher.

A Little Bit of Iron History

Bronz Statue
Bronze Statue
Wikipedia_Public Domain

The Bronze Age (c. 3300–1200 BC) is characterized by the use of bronze as the metal of choice to create art, tools, and weapons. It was the first time metals were used for these purposes. Prior to this period, Stone was used as a tool and for weapons; hence, the Stone Age.

Interestingly enough, the Bronze Age also brought us the first writing system and the invention of the wheel. Indeed, an intriguing period of creative thought for sure.

Enter Iron

Say goodbye to bronze and hello to iron; hence, the Iron Age, which started around 1200 BC. It should be noted that before the Iron Age was coined, there were occasions when iron was found to be used much earlier. One historical account was that of the ancient Egyptians. Archeologists found iron beads made from meteorites dating back to 3200 B.C.  Iron is abundant in outer space. But these incidences were far and few between until the time when iron became the material of choice.

Iron for Infrastructure

Once we entered the 19th century, new uses for iron materialized in addition to artifacts and weapons. It was discovered that this mineral can be used for building purposes and with the advent of the industrial revolution, where items were being mass-produced, the manufacture of iron became very economical.

Iron in its pure form is not used for building construction, but when other elements are mixed in with it, it becomes an acceptable form for building bridges and buildings.

Cast Iron

Cast iron is an alloy of pure iron, containing 2 to 4% carbon and other impurities, such as sulfur and phosphorus, but it has good tension capabilities; however, it does have a relatively good compressive strength and subsequently, it was used during the 18th and 19th centuries for infrastructure.

WikipediaCommons William Williams The Iron Bridge, Coalbrookdale, Shropshire

Cast iron structures were initially found in the UK, where The Iron Bridge in Coalbrookdale, Shropshire, England was built in 1781 was the first large-scale cast-iron structure to be constructed.

Cast iron was used in the 19th and 20th-century buildings as well. In fact, there is a whole section in New York City that is called the Cast Iron District, also known as SOHO.

Wrought Iron

Wrought iron is also an iron alloy with a much lower carbon content than cast iron.  It is a tougher material than cast iron and is also malleable, ductile, and corrosion-resistant.

Wrought iron is a step above cast iron and since it was malleable, it was given the name wrought since it could be hammered into shape while it remained hot. It is a prerequisite to mild steel, also called low-carbon steel, and is considered the first of the steel alloys. 

As a matter of fact, wrought iron was initially refined into steel. In the 1860s, ironclad warships and railways were built with these iron alloys, but with the advent of the Bessemer process, making steel became less costly to create, wrought iron was eventually halted to make way for the even less expensive and stronger iron alloy called steel.

Iron for Nutrition

Since iron is a mineral, it is also an important nutrient for our bodies as well. If you have an iron deficiency, you can possibly acquire anemia and also fatigue that affects your ability to perform physical work.

So how much iron do you need on a daily basis? For most people, an adequate amount of iron is consumed daily via the foods that we eat, but to determine your specific iron needs you can see a chart and information here. One person told us that he eats yogurt and raisins every day. Raisins contain a certain amount of iron. 

Red Blood Cells
“Red blood cells” by rpongsaj is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Do you know why our blood is red?  It is because there is an interaction between iron and oxygen within the blood creating a red color. Learn more about red blood cells and iron here.

To be sure you have enough iron in your body, check with your doctor to confirm you are not deficient.


Besides being an essential component for healthy blood in our bodies, iron became an essential component for weapons and later, building materials.

Numerous bridges and buildings have been constructed during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, but as the industrial revolution advanced and the making of materials became automated, new alloys of iron were created, specifically, steel and along with concrete led to the construction of stronger buildings, bridges, and skyscrapers we see today all over the world.

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