Sir Henry Bessemer is the iconic inventor renowned for revolutionising the steelmaking industry by introducing the Bessemer Process, which gave steelmakers the ability to produce large, workable, slag-free ingots of steel by blowing oxygen through molten pig iron. However, Henry Bessemer was not a one-trick pony, and since we at Pulman Steel feel that we owe a debt of gratitude to this great steel pioneer, we would like to explore the lesser-known aspects of Sir Henry’s life.
The son of accomplished inventor and engineer, Anthony Bessemer, Sir Henry Bessemer was born on 19th January 1813 in Herefordshire, England. It is said that Henry showed great promise of inventive skills from a very young age as he assisted his father in his type foundry.
It wasn’t long before Bessemer began inventing useful objects including the first movable stamp, which was primarily used to stamp the date onto documents. He also was responsible for making improvements to the typesetting device commonly used at the time, and also creating a machine that produced graphite to be utilised in pencils.
Using the knowledge gained from his father’s type foundry, Bessemer was able to make an early name for himself by using perforated dyes to stamp dates on deeds – thus solving the growing problem of fraud the government was facing at the time.
Henry Bessemer’s first invention that propelled him into fame and fortune was a steam-powered machine that could produce bronze powder for use in gold paint at a cost far below the competition. This invention proved to be very profitable for Bessemer, allowing him to fund his passion for invention.
His next venture was into the sugar refining industry, as he obtained a number of patents for machinery to crush the raw sugar cane in a more efficient manner. Seeing little profits from these inventions, Bessemer’s attention was diverted by the Crimean War into artillery projectiles.
The artillery being used by the British army in the Crimean War were far from perfect, and so Henry Bessemer came up with a design for an improved artillery shell with an elongated, grooved profile. His designs, however, proved to be flawed due to the inherent weakness of the current guns, which were unable to withstand the force created by these projectiles.
This was to be the spark that drove Sir Henry Bessemer to revolutionise the steelmaking industry as he strove to find a stronger material to allow for his artillery shells. His solution was, of course, the Bessemer Process, which will be forever known as his greatest invention, and one that transformed the world as we know it.