*** World War I: national economies economics non renewablke materials fuel

World War I: Non-renewable Materials--Metals

American oil industry
igure 1.--

Non-renewable materials (minerals, both elelents and compounds, chemicals, and other materials) needed for an increasly wide range of products in the developing industrial economy. The world at the time of World War I was bifurcated. Raw materials were vital during World War I. Due to the need to maufacture huge quantities of armaments, the belligerent countries needed tosecure s increased quantities of raw material. Iron was needed fin hugequantities for steel and steel was needed for most importabnt weapons systems. And as a result of the developments of new weaoins and technologies many other metals were needed. Here the Allies which controlled the sea lanes could import. The Germans did not haved access to ocedan trans port because of the Royal Navy blockcade. Each country attempted to increase its supply of resourcesd and to use what they had more efficiently. This required massive state intervention to controll the domestic consumption and administer the distribution of what was available. Some countries did this better thn others. Industry was mostly located in Europe. Resources were mostly located outside Europe. Germany did not even have important iron resources to supply its industry. Neither did Britain, but the Royal Navy guaranteed its ability to import needed resources in time of crisis. There were two outlyers. Russia had resources, but had only begun to devlop its industry. The rapid pace of Russian growth was of concern to the Germans. The major exception was the United States. America not only had the world's largest industrial plant, but also domestic sources of many of the important raw materials needed by its industry.


Aluminum was not an industrial metal of major importance before World War I. Some aluminum was used by the automobil industry, especially the massive and growing American automobile industry. Nor was it of any importance in the manufacture of weaponry. The scientists of the beligerent countries went into high gear. And no other metal received more scientific attention during the war than aluminum, in part because it was a kargly unkniwn metal. A range of research projects significantly expanded the uses of aluninum, increasing demand. The result was new markets and alloys. Surprisingly, the most important new use was not the aircraft industry. The mist imopotant use of aluminum during the war was to produce ammonal. This was mixing aluminum powder and ammonium nitrate to manufacture munitions. Some of the new war-time uses developed were in: fuses, fayers, castings for engines, personal equipment, mess equipment and a deoxidizer in steel production. Prices for aluminum skyrocketed during the War. The United States played a major role in supplying aluminum to Britain and France. None other than Bernard Baruch, the chairman of the American War Industries Board wrote, "Not enough aluminum could be produced to supply the war needs of ourselves and the Allies and at the same time supply normal civilian requirements. Hence the control to be exercised by the board had to be directed chiefy to two problems: Control of distribution and control of prices. The board also assisted the Aluminum Co. of America in securing power for increased production and encouraged the recovery of secondary metal from scrap." The Allies could turn to Ameruca for aluminum and iother matrials, Germany was on its own. The Germans had prepared wekk, equipping its Army for a short victorious war. When the French stopped the German Army at the Marne onlyb one month into the war, the possibility of a short war evaportated And aluninum was only one area that the Gernmans would need for a long war and for which they had not prepared. Germany had no way of meeting the war time needs of its military forces. The country had only a single smelter--the Rheinfelden smelter operated by Aluminium-Industrie AG Neuhausen, with an annual capacity of only 1,000 tons. The Grrmans built five new smelters increasing Germany annual capacity to 35,000 tons. Construction of a sixth smelter was begun, but still unfinished when Germany was firced to ask for an armistice. [Hanners, p.3.] There were also alumina refineries. But this could not begin the match Allied production, bolstered by American industry. The Germans produced the finest aircraftv if the War, but could not match the Allies greater industrial capacity. The Germans after the War not only prepared militarily for another War, but the NAZI Giovernment began preparing economically--something the Kaiser had not done. Part of those preparations was to signifuicantly increase almuminum production capacity. One lesson not learned from the World War I was the tremenous industrial capacity of feee market economies, especially thatb of the United States. Before the War, aluminum was not used for aircraft. Aluminum was not widely available and was very expensive. The war changed that. The unexpected entrance of aircraft and the launching of the first air war was not yet a major fsctor. World War I aircraft were made with wood and canvas, but during World War I, lightweight aluminum began to replace wood as an essengtil building material. And asluminum began to be used in aircraft engines. Hugo Junlers built the girst all metl monoplane. He used an asluminum alloy with copper, magnesium and manganese. One reason the Germans began using aluminum is that they had experience with it. Aluninum was used in the construction d Zepplins befiore the war. American automobile companies before the War begasn experimenting with aluminum in the construction of engines, but as prices increased durung the War, recalculaed their plans.


Copper had a wide range of industrual uses, but its military uses a not be readily apparent, but it was second most important metal in modern warfare. It is essential to virtually every modern weapon as well as battlefield equipment. Modern warfare is impossible without copper. This is primarily the result of its conductive characteristics. Copper can conduct electricity, withstand water, and transmit heat, making it vital for a tange of applications. Other characteristics include malleability and durability. World War I scientists and technicians employed copper in desisning the weapons and machinery that made the War the most deadly in history up to that time. This included fire arms and munitions. Rifles and machine guns were not only more accurate, but the ratec of fire increased ecponentially. New weapons appeared in the battkefiekd like tanks and airplanes. Submarines played an important role for the first time and their capacity and range increased. All this woukld have been impossible without copper. The needed for communication to mange the huge armies and navies mobilized turned electricity into a major factor in warfasre. Conductive metal was needed and this was primarily copper. This involved both radio and laying land lines. Copper was also needed for the brass used in shell casings.


Iron and Steel

Iron was needed in huge quantities for steel and steel was needed for most important weapons systems. Alloys needed for high quakity steel involved many other metals. Britain for much of the 19th century was the most important manufacturer of steel, earning it the title of the 'workshop of the world'. By the 20th century it was overtaken by both the United States and Germany. France was a distant, but not unimortant fourth. And Russian steel production was rapidly increasing. (Which must have concerned the Germans.) The American steel industry at the turn of the 20th century was the single most important steel industry in the world, but not out of line with that of Grmany and Britain. But than Henry Ford and the clunky old Model-T (1908) began boosting the American steel indudustry into the satratophere. Even as early as World War I (1914-18), largeky because of the American consumer and the automobile, America steel production was leaving Britain and Germany behind. The Anglo-American steel industry was very different than the German steel industry. The Anglo-American industries grew based on the demand generated by conumr demand expressed by the free nmarket. Thev German steelm industry, likev thev railroads were strongly influenced by military needs. The German industry grew so rapidly in large part because of military contracts. But it also affected the future potential size of the industry. It was based in part on the ability of the Government to finance it and these large expenditures affected overall German economic growth and finances. In contrast, except for the Civil War, the American iron and steel industry was not significantly financed by the Government and had no real limitatiin other than market demand. It also helped to build a much stronger financial base than in Germany. Utimately Germany with mrale detriorating on the home frint would be forced to take a risky gamble. They had to accept a negotiated peace or attempt to win the war miitarily by efforts like unresricted submarine warfare even though it meant bringing America into the War. merican President Woodrow Wilson after being reelected (1916) was beginning to use American economic power to force Britain and France to accept a negotiated peace (1917). [Tooze] The collapse of the Russian Army in the East and the near collapse of the French Army in the West brought real hope of victory to the Germans. The Kaiser under emormous pressure from the miliatry and his son gambled on achieving a military victory. It proved to be one of the worst gambles in history. Andthe same one another German leader would make two decades later with even worse results.






Hanners, Richard. Montanna Aluminum, Chapter 10 (2017).

Tooze, Adam. The Deluge: Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-31 (Viking: New York, 2014), 644p.


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Created: 6:26 AM 2/14/2021
Last updated: 10:38 PM 6/1/2021