The History of Ironwork

The use of ironwork dates as far back as ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Its popularity peaked during the 16th century where it became an innovative way for society to build structures, such as kingdoms and battleships.

Iron is a metal that is both malleable and tough – making it useful in many different ways. At the height of its popularity, designers honed the craft of hand-forged metal to build decorative gates and railings.


The use of iron quickly grew during the 16th century where it was no longer solely used in tooling and weaponry. Artists grasped the freedom of architectural design that existed with ironwork and began building some of the world’s most beautiful structures that tourists continue to visit today.

The term wrought iron means “worked iron.” The process a blacksmith takes to create a wrought iron structure is truly an art form. In the beginning blacksmiths would work with a bloomery, which is similar to a furnace that uses charcoal to heat iron ore.

When iron ore becomes hot it creates a run-off – referred to as slag. Slag is similar to liquid magma. This spongy slag run-off is shaped, and then worked as it cools into a solid iron state. 


The process of ironwork became increasingly efficient throughout the industrial revolution. Today, the process of hand-forged metal is primarily done in fineries, using heavy machinery. Most wrought iron structures are now formed using alternative metals like mild steel, but the term wrought iron remains.

The tradition of hand-crafted wrought iron still exists in shops around the world, although they are rare. The timeless beauty of ironwork remains a popular style for decorating homes, buildings, and cabins and it is still seen as the hallmark of luxury and elegance.

World Famous Ironwork

Probably the most famous iron structure that stands today is the Eiffel Tower. Gustave Eiffel engineered the tower which was built in 1889. The structure was meant as an artistic expression of gratitude for the industrial and scientific movements that were made possible with the end of the French Revolution.


People protested the controversial structure, calling it a monstrosity and questioning its usefulness. It was criticized as a waste of architectural design and engineering from those who thought its construction was impossible. Gustave Eiffel defended the tower comparing it to the Egyptian Pyramids.

The tower was constructed despite some negative opinions and made its debut as the entrance of the 1889 World’s Fair. The Eiffel tower stands over 1,000 feet tall – comparable to the height of an 81-storey building. It held the title of the world’s tallest structure for 41 years until 1930 when the Chrysler Building was erected in New York City.

It took two years and teams of 300 people to design and craft over 18,000 precise pieces of ironwork that were later riveted together.

Today the structure is seen as one of the most striking works of art throughout the world – drawing nearly seven million people to France each year. Visitors come from all over the globe to dine at the second level restaurant or see the view from the third level observatory. Gustave Eiffel created an iconic piece of iron artwork that forged an entire style movement called Art Nouveau – his work is a truly legendary success.

Art Nouveau
The influence of architectural artwork in structures like the Eiffel Tower launched an era of modern design during the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Art Nouveau encompasses all art forms including interior design, print, graphics, fashion, and architecture. Those who study this style of art along with Art Deco refer to it as a ‘total art’ form.

Ironwork became a highly sought after trend in home decorating and commercial design throughout Europe during the 1900s. The Art Nouveau trend spread into England and eventually made its way to the United States and North America during the 1920s.

Art Nouveau began as a trend, but eventually became a stylistic movement – paving the way for many of today’s technological innovations. One example of this is the use of lithographic printing.Curved lines and swirled patterns seen in ironwork structures, inspired prints and patterns used in fabrics, jewellery, and print advertising at the time.

Art Nouveau is predominantly seen in the architecture throughout Europe. Historic cathedrals and beautiful balconies decorated with intricate ironwork are indicative of the European style of design.
Some popular monuments tourists associate with this style are the Casa Batlló in the centre of Barcelona Spain, the Vitebsk Railway Station in St. Petersburg, and the Paris Métro entrances all over France.

Antoni Gaudi is one of the most famous architects and major influencers related with the Art Nouveau style of design. He was never able to complete his masterpiece, the Sagrada Família. Although still unfinished – it is the most-visited monument in Spain.

Designers continue to draw inspiration from the Art Nouveau style in current fashions and home décor. The delicate beauty and unsurpassed strength of ironwork is what makes this craft so appealing—and truly timeless.


For more tips and information, don’t hesitate to contact our helpful staff at Riverside Ironworks Canada Inc.!


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