Henry Bessemer, who was born on January 19, 1813, inherited his love of
inventing from his father. Old Bessemer had worked in Holland and helped to
build the first steam-engine in that country. Later he designed a new kind
of lathe and made some other inventions while he was in France before the
French Revolution of 1848.
Henry has born in a small village near Hitchin, in Hertfordshire. He never
cared much for toys or games or for playing with other children and loved
to watch the old fllour mill in operation down by the water.
At an early age Henry became interested in drawing. He spent hours in the
fields where he sketched the farm animals or the leaves of trees. He soon
became very good at modeling as well.
As he grew older, he longed to try his hand at making moulds of his models
and then casting them in his father’s foundry. But his father did not allow
him to enter the foundry alone. He allowed him to enter it only wwhen he
himself was three. This was because he did not want other people to know
about the technicalities of this work. But Henry ignored this rule and
every two months when the large melting furnace was used found his away
into the melting ho
to do his casting but also discovered his father’s production secrets.
Old Bessemer soon understood that his little son was really very much
interested in metals, and then he began to encourage him and to teach him.
[pic] Bessemer’s artillery
Henry went to school. When he was fifteen he asked his father to let him
leave school and work in his foundry: he wanted to learn more about metals.
And his father agreed.
Henry loved his work. The experience also gave him a useful insight into
technical draughtsmanship, and important branch of an inventor’s work, at
which, with his natural gift for drawing, he soon excelled. After about a
year Henry knew enough to begin to make articles of his own iinvention. One
of these articles was a small machine for moulding tiny bricks out of white
pipeclay. The bricks were quite useless, but young Bessemer was proud of
Early in 1830, when Henry was seventeen, his father decided to leave
Carlton where they then lived and to transfer his business to London. Henry
was very glad when he was told of his father’s plan.
In London he decided to become an inventor. For a time he had many and
varied ideas, but he failed to realize th
ornaments in brass instead of in dull lead. He sold some of his new
ornaments to gift shops, but he made only a small profit.
Bessemer then turned his attention to designing a new typesetting machine.
At that time a printer had to pick out all his letters by hand. It was very
Bessemer designed a machine with a key-boar rather like that of a piano
that sorted out the letters required in a fraction of the time simply by
depressing the necessary keys. It was a clever invention, and it worked
most efficiently. When it was tested it was found that an inexperienced
printer could set 6000 letters an hour whereas by the old hand method a
skilled man could set only about 1700 letters an hour.
In 1833, he started work at another idea. At that time all legal deeds and
documents, to make them legal, were a tamped with adhesive stamps. But
these stamps were easy to forge, and also they could be removed from old
and useless documents and used again. Bessemer discovered that the
governments were losing a lot of money each year by such frauds. So he
began to work out a new system of stamping in which adhesive stamps were
not used, and documents could b
stamp, which would be impossible either to forge or to remove.
His idea, however, was not adopted because a simpler process of only
dating the stamps had become known by that time.
However Bessemer soon was asked by a London firm if could work out some
method of embossing velvet with figured designs. A number of firms had
tried to impress designs on the velvet by means of heavy rollers, but their
results were not good. The long pile rode up and the designs disappeared.
No matter what they did, they could not keep the pile flat.
Bessemer, after a good deal of experimenting, decided that the only way to
make a good impression on the velvet was to heat the material and to emboss
it in that condition. There were many difficulties, Bessemer said letter,
but in the end he solved his problem. He designed a machine with a metal
roller in which he arranged a number of burners. These burners kept the
roller in at a constant heat and the machine did the work perfectly.
Some time later his sister asked him to gild her volume of flower
paintings. While he was doing this Bessemer invented a way of producing
cheap gold powder.
He built a large machine for gr
his house. Then he started his own factory of gold powder.
More Useful Inventions
When his factory began doing so well, Bessemer again spent all his time
working out inventions. During this period he designed a new press for
extracting the juice from sugar-canes, a steam fan for ventilating mines
and centrifugal pump for land draining, which could raise twenty tons of
water an hour.
Bessemer also interested himself in railways. He invented method of
continuous braking for trains and introduced the use of luggage vans.
For the improvement of glass production he perfected the making of optical
glass and invented a machine for making sheet glass.
His Greatest Discovery
Steal, a metal derived from iron, but stronger and not brittle was in
itself no new thing: what was new was Bessemer’s process for manufacturing
it. This process helped to produce steal cheaply and greatly changed
engineering and industry throughout the world.
Before Bessemer’s discovery, steel was made out of brittle and very impure
cats-iron by a long a laborious open hearth process. This steel was very
costly. Also, it could be made only in small bars, and not in the large
units in which it is now made. So steel could not be used for making heavy
articles. Ships, railway lines, and, in fact, all heavy engineering works
were made out of iron, which was much less strong. Steel was so costly that
only about fifty thousand tons were produced in Britain each year.
Bessemer had built himself two new apparatuses for experiments. One was
special furnace and the other a melting bath. One day when he was blowing
air over the top of the bath he saw that two little pigs of iron near the
top did not melt. As they still did not melt even when there was more heat
and the temperature in the furnace became maximum, Bessemer prodded them
with a bar. Strangely enough, he found that they were no longer brittle
like cast-iron. They had become plastic. This was because the oxygen in the
air, which had come into close contact with these two pigs, had
decarbonized them. This did not happen to the metal submerged in the bath
because it was not in contact with the oxygen in the air. The two pigs had
been decarbonized and had become malleable iron.
The discovery gave Bessemer a brilliant idea. He knew that to make steal
he had to purify the iron. It could be done, he thought, not only by
reducing the carbon content but also by removing the silicon and
phosphorous in it. Then, when it had been purified, a very little carbon
and some other chemicals were added to kill or calm the metal. It now
occurred to Bessemer that, by forcing a current of air through the molten
iron in a closed bath or converter, the oxygen in the air might drive out
the impurities in the iron. At the same time the impurities were carried
away through the chimney. So he tried pouring some molten iron into a large
cylindrical converter and blowing air into this.
The experiment was successful. Bessemer found that he had, in fact,
purified his iron without any form of external heating. In doing so, ha had
also established a most important fact: that the process of oxidation (with
the removal of the impurities) in itself automatically raises the
temperature of the metal much higher than it is possible to attain by
normal furnace heating, and that oxidation can be brought about just as
easily by cold air as by hot air.
Bessemer’s next task was to design a better and less dangerous converter.
After making several father experiments, he decided that oxygen would
penetrate the molten metal more evenly, and the iron was purified more
efficiently and quickly when the air was introduced through the bottom of
So he built a new converter and it was most efficient. Bessemer could turn
molten pig iron into high-grade steel in only about fifteen minutes.
The Bessemer Process of Steel Production
Henry Bessemer patented his new process in 1856.but there were still
difficulties and he had to overcome them before his system was adopted
He was sure that his system was good and decided to begin production
himself. He built his own steel works in Sheffield and was soon producing
very cheap steel. He could produce it in large sheets and not only in small
bars. It was possible to use his steel in the construction of ships,
bridges, railway lines, and in other large engineering and industrial
When Bessemer first suggested the use of steel for railway lines which was
a great novelty at the time to the chief engineer of the London and North
Western Railway, the letter was quite angry. “Mr. Bessemer, do you wish to
see me tried for manslaughter?” he said.
But experience showed that Bessemer’s steel was of such high quality and
so efficient that he damaged for it grew quickly. By 1880 Bessemer’s
factory was producing 830,000 tons of steel a year – nearly seventeen times
more than the whole country had produced by the producing process.
As the Bessemer process of steel producing became accepted everywhere,
Bessemer himself came to be regarded as one of the great inventors of the
19th century; and he received many awards and honors. In 1871 he was
elected President of the Iron and Steel Institute, and eight years later he
was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.
The United States of America, who had founded her own steel industry on
the Bessemer process, named two towns after him.
Henry Bessemer retired in 1879, but even after his retirement, he still
led a very busy life and continued to do so until only a year or two before
his death at eighty-five.
[pic] Bessemer’s statue
Besides the new process of steel production, he made some inventions:
machines for polishing diamonds and grinding mirror glass; a method of
asphalt paving; and a ship with a special kind of rotating saloon that
always remained in an upright position, no matter how much the ship itself
rolled. This ship was built to save passengers from seasickness. Bessemer
also carried out experiments with a new telescope and with a solar furnace.
He was always trying some new idea.
Henry Bessemer was one of the most successful inventors of his day. He
received more than one hundred and fifty patents. His achievements were
remarkable because the only practical experience that he had ever received
in either metallurgy or engineering before he began his work was the few
years that he had spent in his father’s foundry. He had received no proper
training, but had acquired nearly all the technical knowledge in the course
of his own researches. His success was due to his personal characteristics
– to his inventive mind, his energy, as well as to his superb skill as a
draughtsman. Perhaps most important of all was confidence of success.