Alloy of iron that contains 2–4% carbon, along with silicon, manganese, and impurities. It is made by reducing iron ore in a blast furnace (cast iron is chemically the same as blast-furnace iron) and casting the liquid iron into ingots called pigs. Pig iron is remelted, along with scrap and alloying elements, in cupola furnaces and recast into molds for a variety of products. In the 18th–19th centuries, cast iron was a cheaper engineering material than wrought iron (not requiring intensive refining and hammering). It is more brittle and lacks tensile strength. Its compressive (load-bearing) strength made it the first important structural metal. In the 20th century, steel replaced it as a construction material, but cast iron still has industrial applications in automobile engine blocks, agricultural and machine parts, pipes, hollowware, stoves, and furnaces. Most cast iron is either so-called gray iron or white iron, the colours shown by fracture; gray iron contains more silicon and is less hard and more machinable than white iron. Both are brittle, but malleable cast iron (produced by prolonged heat-treating), first made in 18th-century France, was developed into an industrial product in the U.S. Cast iron that is ductile as cast was invented in 1948. The latter now constitutes a major family of metals, widely used for gears, dies, automobile crankshafts, and many other machine parts.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
For the full entry on cast iron, visit Britannica.com.
Seen & Heard
What made you look up cast iron? Please tell us what you were reading, watching or discussing that led you here.