Henry Bessemer was famous English engineer and inventor whose contribution to steel making heralded a new era in the iron and steel industry. He developed an interest in creating new objects since an early age. His father who was himself an inventor had a major role to play in this regard. The financial conditions of his family forced him to quit studies and he learnt from his experiences while working with his father. With his innate knack to solve problems he invented many machines that had practical applications. His innovations include a movable stamp, sugarcane crushing machine, machine to manufacture bronze powder, and graphite to be used in pencils. Bessemer’s main contribution though was his invention of Bessemer process for steel-making. The furnace he had designed allowed oxygen to be blown over molten iron so that the impurities could be oxidised. It also had the provision to collect by-products obtained during the process. Bessemer never in the face of difficulties and when his design for the Bessemer converter was met with criticism he decided to produce iron himself. Eventually the furnace gained popularity and many ironmasters began to adopt his method for producing steel thus making the use of pig iron or cast iron became redundant in the construction industry. To know more about his life and works read on the following biography.
Childhood & Early Life
On 19 January, 1813, the son of Anthony Bessemer, Henry Bessemer was born in Charlton, England. His father was a type founder by profession who also made several inventions.
Owing to financial crisis Bessemer had to quit his studies and assist his father in his business. While working with his father he developed an understanding of metallurgy and most his education was informal.
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Bessemer developed a knack for inventing objects quite early in his life; he was inventor of the first movable stamps that could be used to date documents. He upgraded the typesetting device and invented a machine to produce graphite that could be used in pencils.
He also put his innovative mind to come up a highly efficient model of sugarcane crushing machines.
The invention which catapulted Henry to heights of fame was the machine which could make bronze powder. After detailed study of the facility in Nuremberg that produced bronze powder, he set about simplifying the production process.
His cost-effective design made it possible to reduce the expenses incurred to manufacture bronze powder. He was thus able to sell his product at a price lower than the existing market average price and earned huge profits.
In 1848, this English innovator pioneered the automation of glass manufacturer. He devised a method to produce a continuous glass plate by using rollers. The texture of the final product obtained by this process was not so smooth and required polishing thus adding to the cost of production.
Though the venture was not financially viable, Henry learnt great deal about building furnaces during this time; an experience that would help him in his future endeavours.
Bessemer turned his attention to metallurgy when he learnt of the problems plaguing the weaponry industry. During 1850-55 he worked on devising a cost-effective and efficient method of producing steel.
Using his expertise with furnaces, he designed the Bessemer converter, which could be used to oxidize the molten iron thus removing impurities in the process. The resulting steel was of superior quality and even allowed for mass production.
The process of steel production was termed ‘Bessemer process’ and patented in 1855. Henry then collaborated with several owners of blast furnaces and granted them the license to produce steel using his process.
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Facing various difficulties the initial process was revised and many changes were introduced but by then investors had lost their faith in the process. Bessemer then decided to venture into steel manufacturing himself and established a steel works firm.
The ‘Henry Bessemer & Co.’ was cofounded in collaboration with ‘W & J Galloway & Sons’ and other partners. Eventually the production gained market and competitors started applying for license to use Bessemer process. The increased popularity of his innovation earned him more than a million pounds in royalty alone.
This ingenious inventor came up with a design of ship that is furnished with a suspended cabin supported on gimbals, to help patients suffering from seasickness in rough seas. The steam ship SS Bessemer made its maiden voyage in 1875 and suffered damages during the journey. The ship was then sold for scrap as no investor was willing to invest in the project.
Henry Bessemer was a great inventor who had many patents to his credit but his most important contribution was the Bessemer process of steel making. His low-cost process revolutionized the iron and steel industry as it enabled mass production of steel. Eventually the stronger and sturdier steel was used in construction instead of wrought iron or pig iron.
Awards & Achievements
The pioneering innovator was awarded with many honours for his contribution to science. In 1879, he was conferred upon the title of knighthood and was even inducted into the Royal Society of London.
The ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ honoured this great scientific mind by nominating him as their Foreign Honorary Member in 1895.
Personal Life & Legacy
This famous engineer breathed his last on 15 March 1898, in London and was survived by his son Henry Bessemer.
The ‘Sheffield's Kelham Island Industrial Heritage Museum’ displays one of the earliest models of Bessemer converter.
The renowned inventor is the eponym of a street in Hitchin, England and other in Rotherham