Rust | Jonathan Waldman

Summary of: Rust: The Longest War
By: Jonathan Waldman


Dive into the relentless world of corrosion with the summary of Jonathan Waldman’s ‘Rust: The Longest War’ and explore humanity’s ongoing battle against rust and its impact on daily life. Discover the vast effects of corrosion on everything from infrastructure, military equipment, and even aluminum cans. Peek into the seemingly small but hugely significant war against rust, as well as the efforts and strategies deployed to mitigate its wear and tear. Unveil humankind’s overlooked attitude towards maintenance and the growing corrosion engineering field, as they work tirelessly to triumph over this pervasive enemy.

The Costly Battle Against Rust

Rust affects almost everything humans build, destroying structures and equipment, with the cost of fighting it amounting to 3% of the US GDP. Despite corrosion affecting almost every metal and costing the average American $1,500 annually, rust does not receive enough attention. The general disregard for maintenance reveals how people prioritize creation over upkeep, even though everything has a natural lifespan, including structures and monuments. Engineers and architects utilize an assortment of technological measures to combat rust, from incorporating extra steel in offshore oil rigs to adding corrosion inhibitors to vehicles’ paint and fuel. However, the war against rust is still expensive, as rust slows down or even disintegrates objects at different rates depending on their location. Rust can corrode metal faster in salt belt states than in Tucson, and it even occurs in outer space. In summary, rust is an insidious enemy that requires significant effort and expense to keep at bay, and society should pay more attention to maintenance to prolong the life of the structures and equipment they build.

Restoring the Lady

Lady Liberty stood tall as an American symbol of freedom, but neglect had taken its toll. In 1980, vandalism led to the discovery of corrosion and decay. The extensive damage required a massive renovation project costing hundreds of millions of dollars. The French and American inspection team determined that the statue was unsound, with rusted iron frames, missing rivets, and corroded metal. Despite initial clashes between governmental agencies, the restoration was a collaboration that attracted donations from individuals and corporations. The project exemplified the dedication necessary to preserve American icons for generations to come.

The War On Rust

For centuries, humans have been battling the issue of rust. From Roman times to the present day, people have documented the corrosion of various metals and sought ways to prevent it. Before oxygen’s discovery, individuals like Boyle and Pliny the Elder could only speculate about the causes and mechanisms of rusting. The formal discovery of oxygen revealed the vital role this gas played in the metal’s corrosion. Humphry Davy’s experiments in galvanization showed that covering iron with a layer of zinc could prevent rusting. Michael Faraday also made a significant contribution by discovering that electricity could slow corrosion. In the 1900s, chemists formulated the first comprehensive corrosion theory, demonstrating that metal rusting was a result of the chemical bonding between bases and acids. Additionally, it was established that oxygen’s highly electronegative properties make it the primary agent responsible for corrosion. While researchers have identified only a few metals that do not corrode, the fight against rust continues with constant efforts to identify effective preventative measures.

Harry Brearley and Stainless Steel

Harry Brearley’s childhood fascination with steel and blacksmithing led to his discovery of stainless steel, a significant breakthrough against corrosion.

As a young boy, Harry Brearley discovered his fascination with steel and blacksmithing when he visited a steelworks for the first time. He watched the blacksmiths test the steel they made by pounding bars of different alloys into a vise, and he took note of their judgments of the bars’ quality. Brearley carried this fascination throughout his life, leading him to the discovery of stainless steel in 1913, which was a crucial breakthrough in the fight against corrosion. Brearley’s passion and curiosity about steel led to a pivotal moment in manufacturing history.

The Science of Corrosion

Corrosion is a familiar yet insidious phenomenon that affects everyday objects, from beverage cans to metal structures. The canning industry employs advanced anticorrosion methods to prevent food and drink from interacting with the metal. However, the linings used in cans expose consumers to toxic chemicals. Meanwhile, galvanizers try to convince industries and the government to galvanize structures instead of painting them. Galvanizing structures is more effective and cost-efficient in the long run. Rust has caused several catastrophic incidents in history, including bridge collapses and disabled nuclear missiles during the Cold War. Despite the benefits of galvanizing, consumers remain largely unaware of the process and choose to avoid the initial cost of galvanizing.

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