Man has used metals for some 10 000 years. At first it was just native metals that occur naturally on the surface and can be worked cold. It was not possible to produce large metal parts – e.g. from gold or copper – until refractury cucibles for melting and casting could be made. But by 6000 years ago people succeeded in obtaining metals from their compounds, the ores.

Copper was the first metal that mankind produced in considerable quantities, followed by bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. The earliest extraction of iron is ascribed to the Hittites in Asia Minor about 4000 years ago. All these extraction methods were based on experience passed down from generation to generation. Until the Renaissance, metallurgical knowledge was restricted mainly to the classical metals gold, silver, copper, tin, lead, mercury and iron.

It was not until the 16th century, and more especially the 18th, that the basis for a scientific study of metals was established. The present distinction between ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgy came about in the 19th century.