N 1890, THE ONLY EQUIPMENT needed to start a small scrap iron and metal business was a cutting torch and an alligator shear. The moving and loading of material was by wheelbarrow, manpower, and . . . mules.” - Abraham Tenebaum, Little Rock, AR

In many ways, today’s scrap yards bear little resemblance to those described by Mr. Tenebaum – a turn- of-the-century American scrapper. He would likely be overwhelmed by the size and sound of everything used to make the scrap industry go in this day and age. But if he looked closer, there are definitely things he would recognize and find familiar!


When you picture a scrap yard, what do you see? Perhaps a wide landscape with mountainous piles of shiny metal, or giant machines separating types of plastic inside a factory. The scrap yard today is part of an international operation that moves tons of reusable materials. Taking a look back, we can see the much humbler roots of today’s yards.


As you might imagine, safety measures have gone through many changes in the scrap yard. Both as the industry has gotten more complex and as our understanding of the risks and dangers associated with the materials and machines has grown, safety standards have pushed to the forefront. The protective gear that scrap industry employees wear exemplifies the significant increase of attention and care for the safety of workers and visitors to the scrap yard.


To the average person, “scrap” is all the same: a pile of junk. But in truth, and in the eye of a scrapper, that “junk” is made up of many different materials from many different sources, all with their own characteristics, and, most importantly, their own dollar value. Being able to sort your scrap into its component parts, and isolating the most valuable materials, is essential to success in the scrap industry. The methods and tools to accomplish this have evolved over time (though you will see that sometimes, the old ways are still the best ways!).


A scale might be the most important tool in any scrap yard because it is weight that defines the value of each scrap material. From small, hand-held versions carried by early scrap peddlers to shipping-container sized flats for loaded trucks, the scale has evolved along with the scrap industry.


“The main change was the introduction of the electric magnet…that allowed scrap to be lifted by other than hand labor.” – Peter Avagliano, vice president of Schiavone-Bonomo Corp. in Jersey City, N.J.


One thing we know about scrap: it is HEAVY! And that makes moving scrap a challenge. While the earliest scrap dealers relied on sacks, wheelbarrows, and horse-drawn carts, the need for more powerful, efficient methods of moving heavy materials into and around the yard were necessary. From steam powered hydraulics to monstrous grappling claws, new machines evolved to fill the needs of ever-growing scrap yards.


Much like the electric magnet, the acetylene torch was introduced to the scrap yard in the early 20th century (1907 to be exact), and has been a constant, familiar sight in the yard ever since.


There is something to be said for the art of destruction – it’s a necessary part of turning scrap into something useful. Like torches, shears have been omni-present in the scrap industry since their introduction. Starting out as heavy, man-powered cutting tools, today they come in all sizes, from hand-held to bigger-than-a-school-bus.