The name "corten" refers to the two distinctive properties of steel: corrosion resistance and tensile strength. The name "CorTen" refers to a weathering steel alloy material produced by United States Steel. During the 1930s, U.S. Steel developed a product called Corten Steel. Corten Steel was originally designed to help build railroad coal wagons.
Cor-Ten was discovered only in the 1960s. Eero Saarinen, the architect of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the TWA Flight Centre at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, pioneered the use of this weathering steel.
It is a brown-orange steel. The coloration is caused by the self-protecting rust layer that naturally forms over time. Once it has matured, this layer protects against corrosion. Metal oxide is called a « patina ». Corten steel is a metal that changes over time under the influence of atmospheric conditions.