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Primitive societies used wood and stone to create tools and construct dwellings and other structures, but it wasn't until humans learned to extract, melt, and shape metal that technology really began to advance and propel civilization forward.  Copper was likely the first metal to gain widespread use, because its soft composition makes it easy to mold into jewelry and cooking utensils.  Silver and gold were often used to create pieces of art and religious relics.  People soon began to combine different types of metal to create new varieties like bronze, which is a mixture of copper and tin.  The discovery of iron and steel eventually led to the Industrial Revolution of the 1700s and 1800s, and aluminum and lead discoveries have further advanced technology.

cutting steel with an acetylene torch Many common household appliances such as stoves, refrigerators, and dishwashers all contain various types of metal.  Schools, houses, office buildings, and other structures contain pipes, rods, beams, and other metal components.  The discovery of metals and the practice of metalworking have been partially responsible for the growth of railroads, advances in military technology, the invention of the automobile, the growth of large cities and expansion of highway systems, and advances in the air and space industries.

Metalworkers work with various metals and are responsible for helping to create many of the things we take for granted in our modern society.  Metalworking careers exist in the areas of sheet-metal, machining and machine operation, structural and reinforcing metalworking, welding, and jewelry making.  Sheet-metal workers make, install, and repair items using sheet metal, such as hangars, aluminum siding, and outdoor signs.  Machinists and machine operators produce precision steel, copper, iron, aluminum, metal alloy, or plastic parts to meet detailed specifications.  Machinists make or repair items in small quantities, while machine operators produce items in larger quantities on an assembly line.  Structural and reinforcing metalworkers are often referred to as ironworkers; they assemble the steel or iron framework of buildings, bridges, and other structures.  Welders specialize in joining together metals with heat and other processes.  They utilize electric current, gas, laser or electron beams to connect pieces of metal for use in ships, airplanes, automobiles, highways, bridges, and buildings.  Jewelers work in a variety of settings and produce and repair rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and other types of jewelry.  Most metalworking careers can be entered into through internships or specialized training, but do not require a four year degree.

More information about careers in metalworking can be found at the International Training Institute for the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Industry, the Machinist Career Guide, and the American Welding Society and National Center for Welding Education & Training.

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