A Short History of Sheet Metal [Updated]

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A Brief History of Sheet Metal From Renaissance Europe to Today [Updated]

Sheet metal is integral to our modern economy and the items we create. With origins in the Renaissance period and widespread use in the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, sheet metal has an interesting history of change and innovation.

Let’s take a brief look at the history of sheet metal. It can be summed up in a few important eras, which are described below.

Sheet Metal from the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution  

renaissance metal armor
Metalworking in the Renaissance period often involved the creation of armor. Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Renaissance was a time of new developments and creativity. Masters of art and science began to experiment with new methods and shared their results with their peers.

By the time of the Renaissance, metal had been worked for thousands of years. Traditional techniques hadn’t changed much when Leonardo da Vinci made the first sketches of a rolling mill.

This sketch would not be put to use until around 1590, when the first rolling mill was created using two heavy cylinders. This machine pressed metal to the desired thickness without intensive labor.

Sheet Metal and the Industrial Revolution

bessemer converter
A Bessemer converter, named for its inventor Henry Bessemer. cooldudeandy01, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Almost two centuries after the first rolling mill was developed, the process for creating sheet metal was perfected by Jean Pierre Droz in 1770. Droz was a coin and metal engraver who worked to improve the quality of coinage in France.

As the Industrial Revolution dawned, the demand for sheet metal increased. Henry Bessemer is credited with devising a way to mass produce steel affordably. His process involved blowing air through pig iron to remove impurities.

By 1851, sheet metal production was underway in America and Europe on a large scale. A 6 meter long and 11 millimeter thick piece of sheet metal was displayed at the British Great Expedition. It would signify the potential of sheet metal as a major building material.

Sheet Metal Today    

sheet metal today
Sheet metal production is an integral part of modern economies. US Army Corps of Engineers / CC BY-SA

Sheet metal production continues to be an important industry in America and around the world. As of 2011, the sheet metal industry was worth $20.5 billion and over 4,400 sheet metal fabrication shops were in operation in the United States.

Sheet metal is used to create a range of products such as cars, aircraft, electronic parts, medical equipment, mining tools, and construction materials.

Sheet metal will remain an essential material as manufacturing processes continue to advance and demand for new infrastructure increases.

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