Born on 19th of January 1813
Died on 15th of March 1898
Although we remember Bessemer because of the process for producing cheap steel invented by him, he is less well known than say Brunel or Stephenson. Arguably, however, he is of greater significance given that by enabling British factories to make large quantities of cheap good quality steel he ushered in a new engineering age in the country with better bridges, railways, machinery and armaments.
Bessemer’s father was a successful inventor who had made his fortune and acquired an estate in Charlton, Hertfordshire, where Henry was born on January 19 1813. Henry followed in his father’s footsteps, and made his own fortune in his twenties – though it was eclipsed by his subsequent success – with a process to make ‘gold’ paint using brass powder ground in machines designed by him.
He did not sit back once his name was made: improvements to sugar-cane processing followed, as did a new design of cannon shell used in the Crimean War. This shell was too powerful for the guns firing it, as their cast-iron lacked strength, and steel of good quality was expensive and in short supply. Bessemer saw the opportunity, and solved the problem.
His solution was the process where air is blown through molten iron, providing oxygen to burn off the excess carbon and other impurities that weakens steel otherwise. Technical problems with implementing the process meant steelmakers were unconvinced, so typically Bessemer rolled up his sleeves and solved those problems in a plant he set up in Sheffield. His cheaper and better steel persuaded others to take out licences to employ his carefully patented methods: Bessemer made a fabulous fortune from this.
Not content with his work thus far, Bessemer, knighted in 1879, made further improvements in continuous steel casting. He died in London on March 15 1898.
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1 Response to Henry Bessemer
From Margaret on 25th April 2009
After learning metallurgy in his father‚s type foundry he set up his oen bsuiness in London producing small castings and art work. In 1855 he patented an economical process for making steel and opened his steelworks in 1859 which expanded to meet the worldwide demand for steel rails, locomotives and bridges. He was elected FRS in 1877 and knighted in 1879.
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