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1830 - 1878

Toledo Factory
William Baker a London born chemist, moved to Sheffield when he took up the post of Lecturer in Chemistry at the Collegiate School. He lived at 6 Taptonville, Broomhill.

Baker began an chemical analysis service whilst at the Collegiate School and during the late 1860's he set up his own practice as an analytical chemist at 46 High Street, Sheffield.

His services demonstrate the extent to which the steel industry was being developed and expanded in Sheffield during the nineteenth century and support the statement that the time produces the man.

He was consulted by most of the leading iron and steel manufactures of his day, Sir Robert Hadfield, the eminent metallurgist was one of Baker's pupils.

In 1872 he was appointed as the Public Analyst for the district of Upper Strafforth and Tickhill, in the West Riding of Yorkshire and for the Borough of Rotherham.

An advert in White's Directory of Sheffield & Rotherham for 1876 states :-
Mr William Baker FCS Associate of the Royal School of Mines, London and Analytical and Consulting Chemist. Offices and Laboratories, 46 High St Sheffield. Analyses of Iron and Steel, Spiegeleisen, Manganese, Ores of all kinds, Nickle and Copper Alloys, Waters, Manures, Coal Coke, Fire-Clays etc. CONSULTATIONS daily on Maufacturing Processes or Special Chemical Investigations.

By 1876 his clients included the London metal merchants; Thorsten Nordenfeldt, (armaments manufacturer), The Mersey Iron and Steel Company of Liverpool, the Whitecross Company, (wire manufacturers) of Warrington and a host of Sheffield businessmen such as Henry Bessemer, John Brown, William Jessop, Samuel Osborn, Wilson Cammell and the Sanderson Brothers.

Baker spent a considerable amount of time with what he called the phosphorous problem. In 1878 he gave a lecture to the Literary and Philosophical Society on the acid Bessemer process, which was then in use but which was not capable of removing phosphorous from iron. This meant only pig iron with a low phosphorous content could be processed. Thisestricted the manufacturers in their supplies of pig iron. He admitted that he had not been successful in solving the problem either.

The Baker laboratory records show that he did have considerable success in many other areas. For example, Seebohn and Dieckstahl, Sanderson Brothers and Samuel Osborn were able to promote their self-hardening and air-hardening steels in America and Europe by the early 1870's.

Baker assisted the heavy side of the industry, particularly Firth's, with the production of steel for large gun barrel forgings. Many early Bessemer steelmakers, including Brown's, relied on his laboratory facilities.

Baker died suddenly as a result of a freak accident. On the 1st May 1878 he was spending the evening with friends at the Sheffield Club on Norfolk Street. On leaving the club he decided to slide down the bannisters. He lost his balance and fell three storeys. This resulted in serious head wounds, from which he died on the 6th June.

His laboratory record books reveal many of the secrets, problems and practices of the Sheffield steelmakers and show the considerable contribution he personally made to the progress of Sheffield's steel trade and the general prosperity of the town during the nineteenth century.

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Page last updated on 20th April 2003