TNB Night Owl – Cast Iron: An Abbreviated History

World's largest cast iron skillet, made by Lodge Manufacturing Company, traveling down Interstate 59 on its way to the company museum in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, January 12, 2022. Image captured by the News Blender.

Cast iron was invented in China about 2,500 years ago. It took two thousand years before the ability to manufacture cast iron made it to Europe, where it was first used to make cannons and cannon balls. (Of course.) Cast iron came into it’s own during the Industrial Revolution, when it was widely used to make pots and kettles, and in the construction of bridges and buildings. Less expensive than steel, the material had serious drawbacks in engineered applications because it tended to fail catastrophically when implemented incorrectly. Eventually, cast iron fell out of favor for use in buildings and bridges.

In the United States, many manufacturers of cast iron cookware (most famously frying pans/skillets, and dutch ovens) got their start during the 1800s into the early 1900s. Most of those businesses were bought up by bigger corporations, and still exist, but in a different form and industry. The oldest such establishment still making cast iron for cooking is Lodge Manufacturing Company, founded in 1896 by John Lodge. Through the decades, Lodge’s manufacturing process has seen many improvements, but they’re still located at the same site where their foundry was first built over 125 years ago. Almost all of Lodge’s cookware is made in the U.S., with the exception of a line of enameled cast iron that’s made in China. (An ironic full-circle.) Lodge recently cast an enormous skillet for display at the company museum. While there are other claims to ‘the world’s largest skillet’, this one is the biggest that is actually cast iron.

Surprisingly, about a dozen new cast iron cookware manufacturers have sprung up in the United States in just the last ten or twenty years. Must be a good business to be in now.

“‘World’s Largest’ Cast Iron Skillet Hitches Ride on Interstate 59” (0:52)

“How America’s Largest Cast Iron Pan Factory Makes Almost Two Million Pans per Month — Dan Does” (13:26)

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About Richard Doud 622 Articles
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