Working Paper Ircres-CNR 01/2016                              
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Le ferriere genovesi in età preindustriale: aspetti tecnici, innovazioni e declino

[Genoese ironworks in preindustrial age: techniques, innovations and decline]


Giovanni Ghiglione

National Research Council of Italy

Research Institute on Sustainable Economic Growth

c/o Dip. Storia Moderna e Contemp. - Università di Genova

Via Balbi, 6 - 16126 GENOVA

Tel.:  +39/ 010-2465.459

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Abstract: These pages take up very briefly, the results of a series of research on "The steel industry of the Ligurian ancient regime (sec. XV-XIX): technical, settlement, language", one of the first activities developed by the Centre for Study of History Technology (CSST) of CNR of Genoa, since the early seventies. The study on the local production of iron in the pre-industrial age, has identified a number of production sites in particular settled Ligurian Apennines, the detecting method of reduction of iron ore - direct method of low fire - and technical innovations adopted in the production process, from bellows to idroeholic machine, the change in the composition of the charge: iron ore, scrap iron in different percentages and fluxes. They did not miss, in the course of research, comparisons with other steel settlements that used the same method of the low fire, particularly the ironworks Catalan and also references to other production sites that operated differently, with the indirect method or blast furnace, just in the neighboring Tuscan area. Research has achieved a sufficiently clear activity practiced by the genoese steel industry ironworks of old regime, considering all the technical-scientific difficulties accompanying historical aspects.Therefore, this paper highlights some moments, especially economic and technical, of a very broad research and aims to point out some possible interpretations that have emerged during that long period of investigation. However, the interpretation of the low fire Genoese as technical back, compared to the blast furnace "at the Brescian way" and that has been given by researchers from the CSST - while trying appreciation historic - a recent article that we point out in the course of these pages, provides useful information for the genoese technical  not considering it outdated compared to contemporary blast furnace "at the Brescian way"; in fact, the Genoese being linked to the elbano mineral could not operate differently, demonstrating among other things, most suitable technique.  Therefore, suggestions and criticisms in the historical re-reading of one of the oldest and main activity are welcomed, and all that requires further study, in view of the fact that the old genoese ironworks also lost the memory, in favor of more recent term "Catalan".Finally, to investigate historical technique of ancient genoese ironworks we also give here a small push to observe and investigate historically the subsequent to the current complex technical steel works (when it was possible to give more toughness to the steel using the alloys) in consideration that the steel industry and metallurgy, despite the increasing scientific knowledge of metal properties, is still today an essentially  empirical activity in which the production of new alloys stimulates the search and, substantially, takes place proceeding by trial and error.

Keywords: techniques, history of iron metallurgy, production sites in Ligurian Appennines, preindustrial manufacture.

JEL Codes: L61; N63; N93



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