One of the most desirable qualities about metal buildings is their resistance to fire. Interestingly, fire resistance is the reason engineers began building with metal in the first place. The earliest record of metal as a building component, replacing timber, was back in 1796. British cotton mills were notorious for their flammability, causing devastating results. So, at the end of the eighteenth century, the Ditherington Flax Mill was constructed using cast-iron columns and framework.
As business owners began to understand the cost-saving advantages of using flame-resistant building materials, the demand for wrought- and cast-iron steadily increased.
The 19th Century: The Era of Metal Building Innovation
Throughout the nineteenth century, architects and builders used iron predominantly for framing. Due to the product's cost and labor intensive nature there was very little innovation in its production, which limited its application in the field. That all changed in the middle of the nineteenth century. Firstly, rolled iron beams were experimented with and perfected. Rolled iron beams were used in 1859 to construct the Cooper Union Building in New York City. Their popularity grew from there. The second major advancement in metal building construction occurred when Henry Bessemer found a way to burn carbon and silicon out of pig iron, transforming it into steel. Each inventive step in iron and steel manufacturing paved the way for more innovative and durable designs.