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Unlike copper and tin, liquid or solid iron dissolves carbon quite readily.All of these temperatures could be reached with ancient methods used since the Bronze Age.This was followed by the Siemens-Martin process and then the Gilchrist-Thomas process that refined the quality of steel.

Basically, steel is an iron-carbon alloy that does not undergo eutectic reaction.In contrast, cast iron does undergo eutectic reaction.This process, known as smelting, was first applied to metals with lower melting points, such as tin, which melts at about 250 °C (482 °F), and copper, which melts at about 1,100 °C (2,010 °F), and the combination, bronze, which has a melting point lower than 1,083 °C (1,981 °F).In comparison, cast iron melts at about 1,375 °C (2,507 °F).Steel was produced in bloomery furnaces for thousands of years, but its large-scale, industrial use only began after more efficient production methods were devised in the 17th century, with the production of blister steel and then crucible steel.

With the invention of the Bessemer process in the mid-19th century, a new era of mass-produced steel began.In the body-centred cubic arrangement, there is an iron atom in the centre of each cube, and in the face-centred cubic, there is one at the center of each of the six faces of the cube.It is the interaction of the allotropes of iron with the alloying elements, primarily carbon, that gives steel and cast iron their range of unique properties.Since the oxidation rate of iron increases rapidly beyond 800 °C (1,470 °F), it is important that smelting take place in a low-oxygen environment.Smelting, using carbon to reduce iron oxides, results in an alloy (pig iron) that retains too much carbon to be called steel.The carbon in typical steel alloys may contribute up to 2.14% of its weight.