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The Secret History of Scrap Metal

Contrary to popular belief, scrap metal is a fascinating subject and no one knows this better than the team at Metal Men Recycling. This week, we’ve dug deep into the archives to find three unconventional stories about scrapping and recycling which are guaranteed to fascinate even the most jaded of readers.

Scrap metal played a major role in Britain’s war effort…. maybe

During World War II, Londoners took part in an enormous scrap metal drive where the iron doors and railings surrounding parks, houses, shops, and public buildings was taken away to be melted down and made into munitions, aircraft and tanks. Almost everything metal was rationed during this time and there were scrap drives to collect everything from aluminium pots and pans through to copper ornaments. The general consensus amongst historians however, is that a lot of the metal collected, particularly the iron, was never recycled as weapons of war and that instead, the drive was an elaborate propaganda scheme designed to keep the citizen’s morale high. The fate of all the scrapped metal is also subject to conjecture. Popular theories include that it was dumped in the Thames, that is was used as ship ballast for vessels leaving the Port of London, or that is was shipped overseas to Nigeria and Guyana.

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A conman sold the Eiffel Tower to scrappers, twice

In 1925 a con man called Victor Lustig invited six scrap metal dealers to a confidential meeting at a hotel to discuss the Eiffel Tower, which was well known to be in a state of disrepair and extremely expensive to maintain. Lustig introduced himself as a government official and told the businessmen that the city of Paris could no longer afford the upkeep of the then 26 year old monument and that he had been instructed to sell it as scrap metal. Next, he took the group of men in a limousine to view the tower (and so he could see which businessman was the most gullible and vulnerable) and told them to submit their bids the next day, emphasising that it was a state secret. The next day, Lustig managed to extract money for the Eiffel Tower but also a large cash bribe from a man named Andre Poisson who after Lustig escaped, was too embarrassed to go to the police.

Lustig tried to pull off the same con a month later but the businessman he chose to sell to this time took the counterfeit documents to the police before the deal was closed. Surprisingly, Lustig escaped and went on to con famous American mob boss Al Capone.

Ancient Egyptians had no qualms about recycling graves

Whilst this is not technically a story about metal scrapping exclusively, it’s an interesting historical footnote nonetheless. In ancient Egypt, the elaborate funerary processes and afterlife preparations which the culture is famous for were actually part of an illicit coffin recycling trade. Recent research suggests that many coffins were made with pieces of older coffins which had been extracted by tomb robbers. Tomb robbing was incredibly common in ancient Egypt and the scarcity of the materials which were lavished upon the dead like metal, gemstones and wood meant that the trade in recycled coffins was quite lucrative.