Old-timers in the ferrous scrap business still refer to Fastmarkets SPB as Iron Age or the Iron Age Fastmarkets SPB. In so doing, they are paying tribute to one of the oldest and most successful trade publications in American history.
Founded 160 years ago, Iron Age and its successor, Fastmarkets SPB, have chronicled the evolution of the nation’s steel, iron and ferrous scrap industries. Along the way, the two publications have provided a pricing service that has created a recognized and accepted third party market for iron and steel products for more than a century-and-a-half.
A Commitment to Pricing Transparency
That commitment to transparency in pricing led Irish immigrant John Williams to establish The Hardware Man’s Newspaper in Middletown, N.Y. in 1855. Originally a hardware salesman in Ireland, Williams fled his native land after an aborted rising against the British in 1848. The family had been identified with the foundry business in Waterford, and when Williams relocated to the United States, he took up sales for a saw manufacturer in Middletown. Frustrated with the lack of transparency in pricing iron goods, Williams started the newspaper to rectify what he considered an intolerable situation.
The Growing Importance of Iron and Steel
David Williams, John’s son, was a printer by trade and joined the publication at the beginning to run the back shop. Initially a monthly of four or eight pages, the newspaper changed its name to The Iron Age in April 1859 to reflect the growing importance of iron and steel in industrial production. The publication was self-supporting from the start, and its establishment was propitious; in the late 1850s, Sir Henry Bessemer’s process to make steel was revolutionizing the industry.
80 Beekman Street
Having outgrown the Middletown office, John and David Williams relocated The Iron Age to new offices at 80 Beekman Street in New York City in 1864. The Civil War was drawing to a close, and John Williams decided to seek new ventures. In 1868, he sold the business to his son, David, and began working with a company seeking to colonize Scandinavian settlers on lands in Iowa; he died the next year on an inspection trip to the company’s lands in Iowa.
A Blanket Sheet
The Iron Age began life as an 11-by-20-inch newspaper, and by 1871, it was what was called “a blanket sheet,” 8 columns wide and about the size of what is today called a broadsheet newspaper like The New York Times. It was typically 16 pages and published weekly. In 1873, David Williams changed the shape of the publication to tabloid size, which approximated the size of the then popular Harper’s Weekly. Readers had asked Williams to publish in a size that would allow them to bind back issues for further reference, and in 1875, The Iron Age adopted the magazine size it would publish for more than a century.
The Iron Age expanded rapidly during the 1870s and 1880s, and Williams’ vision encompassed a national organization covering the nation’s iron, steel and metal trades. The publication opened its first branch office in Philadelphia in 1876, followed soon after by branch offices in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Boston. By 1886, the publication was printing ferrous scrap prices on a weekly basis in a number of U.S. markets, including New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Chicago.
The Williams Printing Company
The growth of the business was so dramatic that David Williams organized the Williams Printing Company in 1887 to build a printing plant that could print The Iron Age, as well as the other publications in the Williams stable: Plumber and Steamfitter, Carpentry and Building, and The Metal Worker. In 1904, the Williams Company built an immense new printing plant on Eleventh Avenue between 36th and 37th Streets. Bundles of The Iron Age were trundled every Thursday morning to the nearby railyards of the Pennsyania, New York Central, Erie, Lehigh Valley, and Baltimore & Ohio Railroads for distribution to subscribers nationwide.
‘The World’s Famous Trade Journal”
In 1901, Printers’ Ink, a journal for advertisers, printed a profile of The Iron Age with some of the following facts:
• In 1900, it printed 2,772 pages of reading matter
• That same year, it printed 8,114 pages of advertisements
• Each weekly issue is a book of 225 to 250 pages
• The magazine is shipped to 500 places in 50 foreign countries
• The Canadian Government takes 54 copies
• The Iron Age has a completed editorial office and staff in Chicago
After 50 years, David Williams sold his interest in the company in 1909 to a group of Philadelphia publishers that specialized in producing trade publications. The Iron Age continued to carry the name of The David Williams Company on the masthead, and the company added automobile production to its coverage of iron and steel works, toolshops, metals factories, and the non-ferrous metals industry. In 1923, United Publishers, a New York book publisher, acquired the company. But it was overextended with a large amount of debt, and when the Great Depression broke out, United Publishers found itself in financial trouble. In 1934, the company was saved from going out of business when a group of investors reincorporated the company as The Chilton Company, which would publish Chilton’s Iron Age for nearly 60 years.
Although it switched from weekly to monthly publication in the 1960s, Chilton’s Iron Age continued to publish weekly newsletters of finished steel and ferrous scrap prices. The magazine closely followed the postwar developments in electric arc furnace steelmaking, continuous casting, and direct reduction, although iron and steel reporting was only a percentage of the wide variety of metal products industries the magazine covered. The magazine was the flagship of the Chilton empire, and as late as 1955, Chilton’s Iron Age accounted for 75 percent of the parent company’s profits.
A New Era
The recession that hit at the beginning of the 1980s was particularly difficult for the nation’s iron and steel industries. ABC Publishing had purchased Chilton in 1979, and the new owners were faced with the loss of advertising revenue at Chilton’s Iron Age, as old-line steelmakers shuttered mills and underwent painful restructuring during the 1980s. When Capital Cities bought ABC Publishing in 1985, Chilton’s Iron Age was a much smaller publication than it had been in the past. In 1987, Capital Cities/ABC attempted to create synergies by merging the Iron Age Group of its Chilton subsidiary into the American Metal Market Group of its Fairchild Publications operation.
Faced with major challenges, management decided to cut back on the frequency of publication for Iron Age. During the next several years, the magazine’s frequency went from weekly to four times a month, to three times a month, to two times a month. By about 1986, Iron Age was a monthly.
Staff, however, continued to do weekly scrap price reporting. Management began to shoot camera-ready copy of the weekly scrap prices, and scrap editor Mike Marley and his team in Radnor, Pennsylvania, copied the two pages with scrap and steel prices, folded them, and stuffed them in envelopes for mailing to subscribers. Because of the demand for the scrap price reporting, management began investigating hiring an outside contractor to create a formal newsletter to mail to subscribers. The weekly Fastmarkets SPB was born in 1986. Future editor El Hoefer joined at this time. The Bulletin has been published weekly since.
Capital Cities/ABC took another tack in 1993 when it redesigned the magazine and renamed it Iron Age/New Steel. The new format was given credit for an attractive new design and coverage designed to treat all aspects of steel mill operation, but the parent company was acquired by the Walt Disney Company in 1996 in a blockbuster merger and acquisition transaction. To raise cash, Disney quickly sold the publishing division of Capital Cities/ABC to Reed Elsevier, a major European publisher.
The End of an Era
Reed Elsevier assigned New Steel and its other metals trade publications to a subsidiary, Cahners Business Information. In the late 1990s, New Steel struggled, a victim of continuing consolidation in the iron and steel business and of the move toward internet-based information gathering. In 2001, Cahners sold its metals properties, including New Steel, Fastmarkets SPB, American Metal Market and Metal Center News to United Kingdom-based Metal Bulletin plc, which soon after ceased publication of New Steel. In 2007, Metal Bulletin plc and its sister publications Fastmarkets SPB, American Metal Market, and Metal Bulletin were acquired by Euromoney Institutional Investor, which continues to publish Fastmarkets SPB, 160 years after John and David Williams published the first issue of Fastmarkets SPB's predecessor: The Iron Age.