October 11: blast!

2012/10/11 § 2 Comments

On this day in 1855 Henry Bessemer was granted a patent for his method of processing steel from pig iron.

Bessemer (1813-98) was one of those great nineteenth-century tinkerers whose genius for solving problems was matched by the capacity of the era to provide resources to meet increasingly heroic aims of industrial manufacture.  A byproduct of his experiments in the production of sheet glass, his idea was to convert pig iron to steel by blowing oxygen through it to burn off its impurities (chiefly carbon).  Voilà: cheap steel (only about 1/6 the cost of steel before the process was developed).  Bessemer’s invention allowed the replacement of cast and wrought iron with the stronger metal, which made the construction of broader bridges and taller skyscrapers more economically feasible by the end of the century.

Investigate the “Drama of Steel” (1940s style) here

Image: a Bessemer converter, in action (from this source)

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§ 2 Responses to October 11: blast!

  • Patrick Pinnell says:

    By all rights, there should have been a massive explosion when he first tried that — which is why no one more knowledgeable had tried it before.

  • Clio says:

    Where would you humans be without lunatic tinkerers?

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