Day 25/365 of Steel – Henry Grey

Henry Grey (1846- 4 may 1913)

There are few things more emblematic in construction and architecture than the iconic I-beam. The distinctive beam has been around for a while, developed in 1849 by an engineer named Alphonse Halbou. Despite its clear innovations over previous beams, many of which were shaped like the letter Z, the I-beam took a few decades to really catch on. The world’s first steel building, the Rand McNally building of 1889, gave the I-beam the perfect moment to show its strength.

Rolling Flanged Metal Beams or Bars - Henry Grey
Fig 1: Rolling Flanged Metal Beams or Bars – Henry Grey

Halbou invented the I-beam, but an English engineer named Henry Grey perfected it. In 1897, Henry Grey developed a new rolling mill process that Charles Schwab brought to the Bethlehem Steel Corporation to produce wide flanged I-beams and H-beams. Compared to standard I-beams, these Bethlehem Beams increased strengths, lowered weights and saved money in material and construction.

Wide Flanged - H - Beam
Fig 2: Wide Flanged – H – Beam

Early I-beams could only hold around twenty stories, but Grey developed a new rolling method, using horizontal and vertical rollers—producing a wide-edged beam out of a single steel ingot. This method allowed him to control the distribution of steel within the beam. Alleviating internal stress within the beam, the new method allowed for I-beams to be strengthened and made in bigger sizes, enabling them to carry far more weight then before.

Suddenly, the sky was the limit. And there was no more significant icon of that age than the skyscraper carrying H-beam. Wide-flanged and strong, it lifted the aspirations of architects into reaches of the sky that had once only known the flight of birds.

"Happy People" - by Luc De Prest
Fig 3: “Happy People” – by Luc De Prest

125 years later, the I-Beam and H-Beam are still very much alive and kicking. My dear friend Luc De Prest ( ) creates compositions from steel H-Beams. His ‘Happy People’ and ‘The Wall’ are a tribute to the true icon of the steel construction industry. Long live steel!

"The Wall" - By Luc De Prest
Fig 4: “The Wall” – By Luc De Prest

About the Author:

Bruno Dursin – Managing Director at Believe in Steel. Bruno has more than 30 years of experience in promoting steel & steel solutions. His clients benefit from his extensive network within the building industry.

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