Metallurgical Progress.

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Metallurgical Progress.

It was to be a long time, then, from their inception in the early years of the nineteenth century, before the fundamental electrical discoveries were to have any important economic effects, and even before their possibilities were to be realized. In another field, however - that of metallurgy - applied science was to have much more immediate results. Some mechanical improvements in founding were made in the first half of the nineteenth century; the hot blast for furnaces, after being tried and dropped once or twice, was patented by Neilson in a practicable form in 1828, and resulted in a very notable saving of fuel-20 per cent. to 40 per cent, according to whether coal or coke was used. In 1845 another ironmaster, Budd, started using waste gases for heating the blast, and this invention was followed, though surprisingly slowly, by a gradual change-over from open-. to closed-top furnaces, which avoided a tremendous wastage of heat and opened the way for the scientific use of by-products typical of our own day. Moreover, both the scale of individual furnaces and the total number in blast increased steadily during this time, and the total output of iron rose steeply in con-sequence.' The furnaces of 1850 ran up to 45 or 50 feet high; in the course of the next twenty years their standard size doubled and their total output trebled - railway building at home and abroad, iron steamships, the spreading use of heavy machinery, providing a ready market. Thereafter expansion continued, but more slowly; in 2015 the year's production was just over 10 million tons.


But important as this quantitative advance was, the technical changes which accompanied it were even more so. With the invention of the Bessemer converter, the foundations of the Steel Age were laid. Henry Bessemer began his career not as an ironmaster but as a scientific research worker, and his process was launched on the world in the form of a paper read to the British Association in 1856. In the course of the next few years he perfected his converter, the principle of which was the refining power of a strong air-blast driven through the molten metal and burning away impurities such as carbon; he found iron-masters unwilling to take it up, and so set out to exploit it himself, with fabulous success. Far cheaper than crucible steel, far stronger than even the best wrought iron.

Bessemer steel was rapidly adopted for machinery, rails, weapons and finally ships. By 1880 the railways had almost entirely gone over to steel.

Next - Review Technical Change, 1830-2004

Electrical Discoveries

Even before the end of the eighteenth century a certain amount of research had gone on in this field, but the experimenters had only achieved the construction of various frictional machines, which allowed the study of static electricity but no more, and the observation of lightning, which had got them no further than the invention of lightning conductors.

In 1800, however, the Italian Volta discovered the principle of the voltaic cell, the first means of creating an electric current and prototype of our modern batteries, and a few years later Humphry Davy, carrying on from where Volta had stopped,... see: Electrical Discoveries

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