Ferrous Metallurgy

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Ferrous Metallurgy


a branch of heavy industry encompassing a group of interrelated subdivisions: ferrous metallurgy proper (blast-furnace production, steel production, rolling); pipe, tubing, and hardware production; mining, concentration, and sintering of ore materials; production of coke by-products; production of ferroalloys and refractory materials; mining of non-ore materials for the industry; and secondary treatment of iron and steel. The industry’s most important products are hot-rolled and cold-rolled products, steel pipe and tubing, and hardware.

Ferrous metallurgy is the basis for the development of most branches of the national economy. Despite the rapid growth in the output of the chemical industry, of nonferrous metallurgy, and of the building materials industry, iron and steel remain the primary building materials used in machine building and construction. In 1976 they accounted for more than 96 percent of the total volume of materials used by the leading branches of machine building in the USSR. Ferrous metallurgy consumes approximately 20 percent of the fuel and power resources of the USSR.

For several thousand years the development of human society has been inseparably linked with the use of iron as the major material for the production of the instruments of labor. V. I. Lenin called iron one of the bases of civilization and a primary product of modern industry (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 23, p. 377).

The production of iron in Russia has been known since antiquity. Iron ore was first smelted in low hearths and later (from circa the ninth century) in special bloomeries with blasting by means of hand bellows. The factory production of pig iron and iron began in the period 1632–37, when the first factory with a blast furnace for the production of up to 120 poods (approximately 1,965.5 kg) of pig iron per day was established near Tula. About 150,000 poods (2.457 million kg) of pig iron were produced in 1700. By the first quarter of the 18th century, iron production had increased by a factor of 5, and Russia led world production, maintaining its position until the beginning of the 19th century. However, the rate of growth of ferrous metallurgy subsequently decreased; by 1913, Russia was only the fifth largest producer in the world, accounting for 5.3 percent of the world production of iron and steel.

As a result of the Civil War and Military Intervention of 1918–20, steel production in the USSR in 1920 was only 4.5 percent of the 1913 level; by 1928, however, production had recovered to the prerevolutionary level. In the period of the five-year plans prior to World War II, old metallurgical enterprises were reconstructed, and new ones were built. A coal and metals base was created from the Ural Region and the Kuznetsk Coal Basin. Soviet ferrous metallurgy put into operation giant enterprises: the Magnitogorsk and Kuznetsk metallurgical combines, the Krivoi Rog and New Tagil metallurgical works, and the metallurgical plants Zaporozhstal’ and Azovstal’. New open-hearth facilities were constructed at the Dzerzhinskii, Makeevka, Krasnyi Oktiabr’, and Zlatoust plants.

Table 1. Production of pig iron, steel, iron and steel rolled stock, and steel pipe and tubing in the USSR (million tons)
Pig iron . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3.314.946.885.9105.4
Steel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4.318.365.3115.9144.8
Finished rolled stock . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3.211.443.780.6101.4
Steel pipe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

During World War II, the fascist German invaders destroyed plants yielding about 60 percent of the total steel production in the USSR. Iron and steel for the war effort were supplied by plants in the Urals and Siberia, where steel production was increased by a factor of 1.5. Plants were constructed in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Soviet republics that previously did not have their own ferrous metallurgy.

The destroyed plants were restored very rapidly after the war. Between the 1950’s and the 1970’s, large new enterprises were constructed: the Orsk-Khalilovo and Karaganda metallurgical combines; the Cherepovets Metallurgical Plant and the Western Siberian Metallurgical Works; and a series of large mining and ore-enrichment combines and plants producing pipe, ferroalloys, hardware, and refractory materials. The modernization of obsolescent installations permitted a significant increase in their efficiency. In addition to considerable increases in production volumes, quality was improved and the range of metal products expanded. The manufacture of advanced types of iron and steel products developed rapidly, yielding a great effect on the national economy. Such products included rolled sheet stock, cold-rolled sheets, cold-rolled transformer steel, bent sections, high-precision shaped sections, low-alloy steel, high-strength pipe, iron powders, and cermets. Quality improvements in metal production and the extension and development of the product range provided the national economy with a saving of more than 2 million tons of iron and steel between 1971 and 1975.

The USSR occupies first place in the world in the manufacture of the most important products of ferrous metallurgy (steel, pig iron, iron ore, steel pipe and tubing, coke, and refractory materials). Production growth between 1928 and 1976 is shown in Table 1. As a result of the regular increase in production volumes, per capita steel production increased significantly from 305 kg in 1960 to 564 kg in 1976.

Iron and steel are produced in several economic regions of the RSFSR (Central, Central Chernozem, Ural, Volga, Western Siberia, Eastern Siberia, the Northwest, and the Far East) and the Ukraine (Donets-Dnieper Economic Region), as well as in Kazakhstan, Transcaucasia, Middle Asia, and the Baltic republics.

Ferrous metallurgy is characterized by a high level of production concentration, which is related to increases in the unit capacities of individual installations. Use is made of blast furnaces with working capacities of 5,000 cu m (Krivoi Rog Metallurgical Works), oxygen converters with capacities of 300–350 tons, model 3600 thick-sheet rolling mills, model 2000 continuous wide-band hot-rolling mills with a capacity of 6 million tons per year, and model 1700 five-stand cold-rolling mills with a capacity of more than 1 million tons per year. Iron ore enterprises with a capacity of 30 million tons of crude ore per year and large pipe-rolling and hardware factories are also in operation.

Enterprises of ferrous metallurgy typically feature various forms of integrated production. About 80 percent of steel production is at plants with complete metallurgical processing, combining blast-furnace, steel-smelting, and rolling operations. A number of enterprises and combines also have facilities for iron ore production, in addition to iron and steel manufacturing. Ferrous metallurgy is a branch of industry with a high level of specialization. More than 85 percent of steel pipe and tubing and 90 percent of commercial iron ore are produced at specialized plants.

The USSR has all the necessary resources for the development of ferrous metallurgy, including iron and alloy metal ores, fuel, and power resources; it occupies first place in reserves and volume of mined iron ore and mined commercial coal. The volume of iron ore extracted is sufficient to meet all the needs of Soviet ferrous metallurgy and to export significant amounts of ore concentrate, mainly to the member countries of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON). The USSR is also the leading producer and exporter of manganese and chromium ores. The major reserves of iron ore are found in the basin of the Kursk Magnetic Anomaly, the Krivoi Rog Iron Ore Basin, Kazakhstan, the Urals, Siberia, and the Kola Peninsula (seeIRON INDUSTRY).

The fuel base for ferrous metallurgy consists of deposits of coking coals found mainly in the Donets, Karaganda, and Pechora basins and deposits of natural gas in European Russia, Siberia, and Middle Asia.

Soviet ferrous metallurgy has a high engineering potential. Significant progress has been achieved in production engineering in individual subbranches and production divisions in the industry. The mining of iron ore is conducted primarily with advanced open-pit techniques, and smokeless charging and dry-process coke quenching have been introduced into coke production (seeBY-PRODUCT COKE INDUSTRY). In blast-furnace production, 97 percent of the pig iron produced in 1976 was made in furnaces with high gas pressure, and 84 percent was produced by means of natural gas blasting. In steel production, smelting in basic oxygen and electric furnaces is increasing, and steel refining under vacuum, with synthetic slags, and with inert gases outside the furnace has been introduced. Other innovations include remelting with electroslag, vacuum induction, and electron-beam techniques and through the use of arc vacuum and plasma furnaces. The use of continuous steel casting is increasing, and heat treatment of metal products and methods of nondestructive automatic control are being used effectively in rolling operations. In pipe and tubing production, the technology for manufacturing welded pipe of large diameter and seamless pipe is being improved (seeTUBE ROLLING and PIPE AND TUBING INDUSTRY). Automated production lines are being introduced in hardware manufacture, and industrial methods for the direct reduction of iron ore are under development. Work is being conducted on the creation of an automated system for industry management.

Much attention is being devoted in the industry to the mechanization and automation of production processes, improvements in the organization of production and labor, and questions of socialist competition. During the ninth five-year plan (1971–75), virtually all increases in production volume in ferrous metallurgy were achieved as a result of increased labor productivity, that is, without an increase in the number of workers.

Table 2. Steel production in the COMECON countries (million tons)
Bulgaria . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Cuba . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0.10.3
Czechoslovakia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6.811.514.7
German Democratic Republic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Hungary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Poland . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6.711.815.6
Rumania . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1.86.510.7

Ferrous metallurgy is also developing successfully in other socialist countries. As a result of an increase in production volumes, the contribution of the COMECON countries to world steel production (together with the USSR) increased from 24.9 percent in 1960 to 28.8 percent in 1976. Data on steel production in the COMECON countries are given in Table 2.

In 1976, Czechoslovakia produced 9.5 million tons of pig iron; Poland, 7.9 million tons; Rumania, 7.4 million tons; and the German Democratic Republic, 2.5 million tons. In 1975, Czechoslovakia produced 10.0 million tons of iron and steel rolled stock; Poland, 11.1 million tons; Rumania, 6.8 million tons; and the German Democratic Republic, 5.2 million tons.

The socialist countries are actively cooperating with the developing countries in efforts to establish and expand ferrous metallurgy. By 1977, with the assistance of the USSR, metallurgical works were constructed in many countries, including India, Egypt, and Iran, with annual production capacities of 7.2 million tons of pig iron, 5.3 million tons of steel, 4.1 million tons of rolled stock, and 6.7 million tons of mined iron ore. Metallurgical production complexes with capacities of 11–14 million tons of steel and rolled stock are in the planning stage or under construction.

In the capitalist countries, ferrous metallurgy is most developed in the USA and Japan. The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), Great Britain, France, and Italy are also large producers of iron and steel (see Table 3).

Table 3. Steel production in the industrially developed capitalist countries (million tons)
USA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .92.1122.0120.0
Japan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22.193.3107.0
Federal RepublicofGermany . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Great Britain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24.728.322.7
France . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17.323.823.0
Italy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8.217.323.3

In 1976, Japan produced 86.0 million tons of pig iron; the USA, 79.8 million tons; and the FRG, 32.3 million tons. In 1975, Japan produced 86.3 million tons of iron and steel rolled stock; the USA, 72.5 million tons; and the FRG, 33.0 million tons.

Ferrous metallurgy in the capitalist countries is characterized by a high degree of monopolization of production. Thus, five companies account for 80 percent of the steel production in Japan and about 60 percent in the USA. Six companies account for more than 75 percent of the steel production in the FRG. Two companies account for 65 percent of the steel production in France, and one company in Great Britain accounts for more than 85 percent of the country’s steel production (seeIRON AND STEEL MONOPOLIES).

World steel production totaled 192 million tons in 1950, 463 million tons in 1965, and 690 million tons in 1976. The number of steel-producing countries increased from approximately 50 in 1965 to 65 in 1976. Characteristic of the development of ferrous metallurgy is the rapid increase in the scale of the world market for iron and steel: exports of iron and steel products from producer countries more than doubled between 1965 and 1976.


Strumilin, S. G. Istoriia chernoi metallurgii SSSR, vol. 1. Moscow, 1954.
Chernaia metallurgiia kapitalisticheskikh stran. Moscow, 1958.
Metallurgiia SSSR, 1917–1957, vols. 1–2. Edited by I. P. Bardin. Moscow, 1958–59.
Chernaia metallurgiia SSSR. Moscow, 1967.
Kazanets, I. P. Chernaia metallurgiia v deviatoi piatiletke. Moscow, 1972.
Mirovaia ekonomika i mezhdunarodnye otmosheniia, 1977, no. 8, supplement.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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