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The Bessemer Process: A Revolution in Steelmaking

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Kris Gardner

on 8 May 2014

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Transcript of The Bessemer Process: A Revolution in Steelmaking

The Bessemer Process: A Revolution in Steelmaking
Thesis and Opening
Henry Bessemer's steelmaking process emerged amidst the social turmoil of the mid-nineteenth century, and has been refined by subsequent processes, to revolutionize steel's industrial and manufacturing role within society's world view by enabling the widespread affordable manufacture of high quality steel for the first time in history.
The Evolution of Steelmaking Technology
Man has been shaping and working metals for centuries to produce superior tools and striking pieces of art. However, for a very long time, only the wealthiest people could afford high quality steel due to the impracticality of the existing refining processes. These processes took weeks to complete, and required prohibitively large amounts of expensive fuel. In 1855, Henry Bessemer invented a process that made steel much easier to mass produce, and for the first time in history, high grade steel was available to the common man.
Sir Henry Bessemer and His Inspirations
Lived: 19 January 1813
15 March 1898
Societal Forces and the City of London
Past and Present day Impact
Daily life
Thesis and Closing
Henry Bessemer's steelmaking process emerged amidst the social turmoil of the mid-nineteenth century, and has been refined by subsequent processes, to revolutionize steel's industrial and manufacturing role within society's world view by enabling the widespread affordable manufacture of high quality steel for the first time in history.
Erickson, Charlotte. British industrialists: Steel and Hosiery, 1850-1950.. Cambridge, England: University Press, 1959.
Information about the use of Bessemer steel in London's industrialization

Bessemer, Henry. Sir Henry Bessemer, F.R.S An autobiography.. London: Offices of "Engineering,", 1905.
Inside look at Bessemer's motives for researching his process. Bessemer addresses William Kelly's independent discovery of the process as well as the impact of Henry Thomas's improvements to his process.

Brown, Robert. "London in the 19th Century." The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. (accessed May 7, 2014).
Information about the subway system and the jobs it created, as well as some cultural and economic information

Olsen, Donald J. The Growth of Victorian London. London, 1976.
Information about London's economy, cultural, and immigration growth

Besant, Walter. London in the Nineteenth Century,. London: A. & C. Black, 1909.
London's population growth and living conditions during the 1850s

Fisher, Douglas A.. The epic of steel. 1st ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1963.
This book provided lots of useful background information including technical aspects, as well as a history of steel including the Open Hearth and Basic Oxygen processes.

"Inventor of the Week: The Man of Steel." Lemelson-MIT Program. http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/bessemer.html (accessed May 7, 2014).
Provided some insight on Bessemer's driving forces, specifically his interest in military applications of steel.

"Man of Steel." The Chemical Engineer Today, November 2010. http://www.tcetoday.com/~/media/Documents/TCE/Articles/2010/833/833CEWCTW.pdf (accessed May 7, 2014).
Good biographical overview, and discussed the implications of his invention on a larger base.

Misa, Thomas J.. A nation of steel: the making of modern America, 1865-1925. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.
This book explores the history of steelmaking in America, I got most of my information on the industrialization of steelmaking from here.

Shrager, Arthur M.. Elementary metallurgy and metallography. 2d rev. ed. New York: Dover Publications, 1961.
Information on the technical differences between the Bessemer, Open Hearth, and Basic Oxygen processes and their implications within the steelmaking world.

Loughrey, D. R.. Design, operation and construction of a Bessemer converting mill. Pittsburgh: Iron and Steel Engineer, 1942.
Showed the specific technical aspects of the Bessemer converters, as well as how the raw iron is made into steel.
How is Steel Made?
However, to discuss the process's evolution, we must first explore how steel is made.
Well, It all starts with Iron
Iron is a naturally occurring chemical element that provides the essential building blocks to make steel. However, in nature, it is rarely found pure. Generally, it is either embedded in rock as a vein, or dispersed inside a piece of mineral, like in the picture below. A piece of rock that is rich with metal deposit is called Ore.
"Iron ore." Wikipedia.
"Iron ore." Wikipedia.
It all starts with Iron
-Naturally occurring
-Rarely pure
-Provides the chemical building blocks to make steel
"Blast Furnace". Wikipedia.
To get the iron deposits out of the surrounding stone, ore is crushed and melted in a Blast Furnace. The molten iron is then collected and the final product of smelting is solid iron
"Třinec Iron and Steel Works". Wikipedia.
"Iron ore." Wikipedia.
It all starts with Iron
-Naturally occurring
-Rarely pure
-Provides the chemical building blocks to make steel
"Blast Furnace". Wikipedia.
-Ore is crushed
-Melted with Coke
-Final product: Solid iron
"Třinec Iron and Steel Works". Wikipedia.
Iron straight from smelting contains too much carbon, along with slag and other impurities. High-carbon iron (like iron straight from smelting) is called "pig iron", and is too brittle to be useful. Low carbon iron is called "wrought iron", which is too soft and malleable. Right in the middle of these two is the golden window of carbon content, steel.
"Pig Iron". Wikipedia.
Carbon content:
Wrought iron -> Steel -> Pig iron
The Bessemer Process is a Steelmaking Process
High carbon Pig iron from smelting is poured into a Bessemer Converter for conversion into steel
"Sir Henry Bessemer." Wikipedia.
How it Works:
1. Melt pig iron ingots
2. Pour molten iron into Bessemer Converter
3. Force air up through molten iron mass with a pump (like a blacksmith's bellows) to burn out carbon and slag. This air keeps the metal molten and increases combustion temperature, which reduces carbon content of the metal and creates high quality, cheap steel.
Wikimedia Foundation. "Bessemer process." Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bessemer_process (accessed March 5, 2014).
Here you can clearly see the tubes that the air passes though, to be forced through the molten iron and out the top.
In 1740, Benjamin Huntsman discovered his ground breaking Crucible Steel Process. For the first time in manufacturing history, steel could be melted into a homogenous and uniform substance, and shaped into objects for manufacturing. The downside of this practice, however, was that it required a significant amount of fuel to produce, so steel was expensive and only used when absolutely necessary.
After the Bessemer Process had proved its worth, it was used pretty much exclusively in steel manufacturing for several decades, until the Open Hearth Process caught on in the early twentieth century. Initially, it complemented the Bessemer Process instead of replacing it, due to the increased amount of time that it took to make steel, which allowed the steel mill to more accurately control the final product. Where the Bessemer Process took fifteen minutes to convert iron into steel, the Open Hearth process took about eight hours, but produced a much larger batch. Eventually, in the nineteen fifties, the Open Hearth process was replaced by the Basic Oxygen Process, which is more of a hybrid between the Bessemer and Open Hearth processes, but the core concept remains the same. So, about 150 years after Bessemer developed his process, we are still blowing oxygen up though molten metal to convert it to steel, with relatively slight variation to his original concept.
"Basic Oxygen Steelmaking". Wikipedia.
Looks pretty similar to a Bessemer Convertor, doesn't it?
"Henry Bessemer". Wikipedia.
Son of Anthony Bessemer, a scientist and inventor
Lived in London his whole life

Never married
Why Steel?
In his autobiography, Bessemer describes the lack of good quality artillery barrels in the military, and how the bad quality iron barrels that many militaries relied upon were limiting. During the Crimean War in 1854, Bessemer decided that he would attempt to monopolize the industry for steel artillery barrels, but lacked the manufacturing power to produce steel in such large quantities required. This would set him on the path to develop the Bessemer Process, with the intent to sell his mass produced steel barrels to militaries around the globe.
Steinerts, Ed. "Bessemer Converter." MyOlympus.org. (accessed May 8, 2014).
-The Bessemer process was born in the mid-nineteenth century, in London, England.

-London experienced a massive population boom during that time
-1 million people in 1800 to over 6 million by 1900

-The city was unprepared for this boom and it led to overcrowding in streets and prisons
Newgate Prison, 1852
p.185 from Thomas Miller, Picturesque Sketches of London Past and Present, 1852
Significant Figures from London
William Kelly
Sidney Gilchrist Thomas
-Independently developed process that was similar to Bessemer's in 1851
-Discovered improvements to the Bessemer process in 1875 that reduced phosphorus content in the steel produced
"Sidney Gilchrist Thomas." Wikipedia. (accessed April 2, 2014).
"William Kelly (inventor)." Wikipedia. (accessed April 2, 2014).
Economy and Culture
During this period in London's colorful history, the mid nineteenth century, the city's upper class enjoyed an industrial boom made possible, in part, by Bessemer's new steel making process. However, life was not as great for the unlucky majority of the city who made up the industrial workforce. A few years beforehand, Ireland was plagued by the Irish Potato Famine, which left many Irish people to seek asylum in a more prosperous part of the world. This led many of them to emigrate to London in hopes of finding work amidst the aforementioned industrial boom. By the mid 1850's, 20% of the city's population was Irish immigrants. However, the city was not prepared for such staggering numbers of immigrant workers, and overcrowding soon became a significant problem. Along with it, crime rates also rose which led to an overpopulation in prisons (see the picture on the opening slide, Newgate Prison in central London). This presented all sorts of problems. Soon there was a large area of the city devoted to slums for the poor (mostly immigrants) in the city, and the living conditions became less and less sanitary for the average resident.
Smithfield Market in London, 1852

The city's overpopulation led to immense crowds and made transportation very difficult
Smithfield in 1852
p.179 from Thomas Miller, Picturesque Sketches of London Past and Present, 1855

London slums in 1856

The living conditions were poverty level, at best, for the poor masses.
London Slums in 1854
p.124 from Thomas Miller, Picturesque Sketches of London Past and Present, 1855
On the other side of the coin...
"Devonshire House from the Illustrated London News, 1850." Wikipedia. (accessed April 2, 2014).
London's upper class during the middle of the 19th century reaped the rewards of industrial boom and cheap labor
Circumstantial Social and Environmental Impact
The Bessemer process was first patented and emerged into the world's view in 1855, from the midst of the social and economical turmoil that was mid-nineteenth century London. The process undoubtedly benefited from the readily available and cheap workforce, but the workforce would also benefit from the new possibilities that would be opened up by the Bessemer process. By 1863, London's first underground tram was completed, using steel which was manufactured using the Bessemer Process, in an attempt to combat some of the horrible conditions caused on the street by the overpopulation. In addition to the new found ease of transport, the construction of the London Underground employed lots of workers. In 1861, 23,000 people were directly employed by the railways. By 1891, the figure was almost 70,000. Including the families of those employed by the tram system, an estimated 250,000 Londoners were dependent on the construction and maintenance of the railways, which would not have been possible without the availability of steel that Bessemer's process provided.
Without a doubt, the Bessemer process brought about significant changes in the way that people went about their everyday lives. For starters, it signified the beginning of an era of mass production and spelled the beginning of the end for the artisan steelmaker. This has both benefits and detriments. On one hand, steel products became much cheaper to purchase, but on the other, the steel industry lost lifetimes worth of expertise and know-how due to the lack of need for skilled steel making laborers.
Impact on Steelmaking
"The Bessemer Process" Encyclopedia of Science.
"Crucible Steel". Crucible Industries.
In addition the the process's impact on the consumers, it also changed the nature of the industry as a whole. Individual, skilled, and higher-paid labor became unnecessary. Though the Bessemer Process brought steel to the average consumer on a much larger scale, the expertise of the veteran steelmaker was lost.
The impact that the steel industry, and therefore the Bessemer Process, has had on our everyday lives is tremendous. From revolution in industry, to automobiles, to architecture, and even to warfare, our world would simply not be the same without steel. Skyscrapers could not exist without steel framing, our tallest buildings would only be a few stories tall. Our cars and trucks would either be ridiculously expensive, or made from some form of iron. Even simple things that we take for granted, such as the zippers on our clothes, would have to be made with some other material. Steel is so widespread that its grasp on society is somewhat over-arching. As such, if we did not have to mass produce steel, we would have less pollution from steel mills and waste production material. Whether positive or negative, the Bessemer Process and steel itself have had significant impact on all of our lives.
Impact on Present Day
Unintended Consequences
As I have previously discussed, Bessemer did intend to improve manufacture of artillery barrels to sell to various militaries, however, I think it is fair to say that he did not intend his process to make possible the amount of death and destruction that was caused by its use. So, as absurd as this may seem, one of the consequences that Bessemer did not intend while developing his process was the worsening of the death toll in the World Wars. Sure, both wars probably would have happened either way, but the use of machine guns, artillery, tanks, aircraft, and other devastating weapons would have been hindered without the mass production capability that the Bessemer Process provided.
"M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle". Wikipedia.
Steel & Weaponry
Bessemer did not intend for his process to kick start firearms innovation and manufacturing in the late nineteenth and early eighteenth century, but it sure did. John Moses Browning was among the most successful firearms inventors of the twentieth century, and all of his work could not have been done without the use of mass production that the Bessemer Process provided.
In summation, the Bessemer process initially evolved alongside the city of London for the majority of the nineteenth century, and eventually became even more impactful though providing availability to steel manufacturing in warfare and peacetime alike. This change drastically shifted steel's role within our worldview, from a luxury reserved for small and expensive instruments that were not commonly available to the common man, to a must-have material that is used in almost every form of industry. The impact that steel has had on not only each and every one of our lives, but on the course of human history as a whole, in the form of weaponry, architecture, urban development, as well as innumerable other developments, has been monumental.
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