Legend has it that one of the first contracts the U.S. Continental Congress penned was for muskets, which were to be used in the Revolutionary War effort. The Founders then penned another for gathering the scrap metal needed to help supply the craftsmen that made the muskets.
Revolutionary War muskets (or long guns) were actually made from wood with metal parts, which included the steel bayonets.
However, it stands to reason that the newly created Congress pushed for weaponry and other war items to be manufactured from recycled material whenever possible: the fledging United States was cash strapped.
According to information at Recycle Nation, George Washington urged the reuse of worn chains from frigates, while Paul Revere advertised for scrap metal of all kinds.
The American Civil War also saw collection for recyclable materials for both the North and South. People donated church bells, steeples, pots and pans – anything that could be used for the war effort.
But other than wars, when the need for metal was great, Americans didn’t consistently recycle metal goods. In fact, when World War 2 began, an “estimated 1.5 million tons of scrap metal lay useless on U.S. farms – enough to build 139 battleships weighing 900 tons each, 750,000 tanks 18-27 tons each, or countless airplanes, weapons and other materials.” (Source)