Could some method of producing cheap steel in bulk (like Bessemer) have been developed before steam engines?
The Safehold series in which there is a religious prohibition on heat engines & electricity made me wonder about this question. I wondered how much more than in the books could the humans have improved technology without violating the prohibitions. Cheap steel without heat engines would allow a lot of improvement.
Steel wheels on steel rails cut rolling resistance a lot, & so would make land transport of goods cheaper even if draft animals are the only motive force.
Wire rope would allow another improvement in transportation in a world without heat engines to power things.
Another improvement that cheap steel allows is pedal powered machinery, greatly reducing the drudgery of doing work with human muscle power. Cheap steel is needed to make the pedal cranks.
So is there any reason the people of Safehold couldn't do Bessemer or Open Hearth steelmaking using water & muscle power for moving things while using charcoal or coke for the heating & chemistry of steelmaking.
Maybe this should be a separate question, but can others who have read the series suggest improvements on the technologies shown in the books that don't involve violating the prohibitions?