Wrought iron is a popular choice for gates, fences, balustrades, and other decorative aspects of properties. But the material has a rich history dating back 5,500 years, and because of its versatility, strength, and durability, was used in a weird and wonderful range of applications.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the most fascinating uses of wrought iron throughout history, which illustrate its diversity and value.
Ironclad warship. Image from Mashable (UNITED STATES – CIRCA 1863: U.S. iron clad gunboat Essex (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images)_
During the 19th century, the British had tens of thousands of iron warships in its world-conquering Royal Navy, with wrought iron a key component. It was the one of strongest and most durable materials at the time, used to forge a formidable sea force that helped the British empire to conquer a quarter of the world.1
Although modern research found wrought iron to be unsuitable for ship building (it becomes brittle below 20°C), it didn’t stop the Brits from building thousands of wrought iron ships, and using the material to create armour plates to protect against cannon fire. Until steel was invented in the mid 19th century, it was the material of choice for warships.
Ploughs and seed drills
Image from Wikipedia
The humble plough is a tool first used by the Chinese and Romans, helping their expansive empires to thrive by producing reams of food for their citizens and armies. The metal component of the plough was forged with wrought iron, which was the best material available until steel came along.
The seed drill is another critical invention for farming, used for sowing crop seeds and burying them to a specific depth. In the 2nd century BCE, the Chinese invented the wrought-iron multi-tube seed drill, which was able to increase food production and help to support the country’s growing population.4
Image from Skinner Auctioneers
Horses were the transport of choice until the late 1800’s, and were used for a range of purposes, from the epic charge of the light brigade to pulling coaches around cities. Horses that pulled an excessive amount of weight often found themselves with worn hooves, which led to the invention of protective metal horse shoes, which also enhanced the horse’s traction. As one of the hardiest and most malleable substances available, wrought iron was a common choice for horseshoes.
Image from Etsy
Before trucks were invented, horse-drawn wagons were the fastest way to transport people and commercial goods. The first wagons were used as early as the 1st century, with metal wrought iron wheels a core component.2
Fancy storage racks
Wrought iron can be moulded into intricate decorative shapes, which made it a popular choice for fancy storage racks. The material was used to create baker racks piled with freshly-made bread, ornate wine racks filled with expensive booze, and ceiling-mounted pot racks for hanging cooking equipment.3
Image from Moticello Shop
An étagère is an open-standing shelf used to display objects or ornaments. A common example of an étagère is a tower of porcelain used for serving desserts such as madeleines, cakes, brownies, and fruits. Because wrought iron is able to be shaped into intricate and delicate patterns, it’s a suitable material for creating beautiful étagères, stacked with delicious foods.
A railway coupling is a mechanism used to connect rolling stock (individual units) of a train, and was invented in 1973 by Eli H.Janney. Back then, the couplings were made from wrought iron, as it was the best material available for the job.
Image from Gabys
Before blinds took over as the light-blocker of choice, curtains were used in people’s homes, and because of its malleability, wrought iron was a popular choice for the rod that held them. A decorative and delicate curtain rod can provide a luxurious look to a room with curtains, and they’re still used in people’s homes today.
Image from Fotor
Candles slowly declined after Thomas Edison commercialised electricity, but before then, they were the main source of evening light for people, and could be found in homes across the world. If you were a member of the aristocracy, you might have commissioned a blacksmith to create a series of ornate candle holders for your home, forged from wrought iron. You can still buy wrought iron candle holders today, and they remain as beautiful and original as they once were.
Today, wrought iron is used mainly for gates, fences, balustrades and other property components, to create impressive-looking security features. But in the past, wrought iron was used across a huge range of applications such as warships, wagon wheels, storage racks, and more. It remains an incredibly versatile material, which will continue to be used for its beauty and strength.