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1813 - 1898

Toledo Factory
Henry Bessemer

In 1856, Henry Bessemer introduced a new method of producing steel, using a special furnace called a convertor. This development followed work done in Kentucky USA, by William Kelly.

The Bessemer process was able to produce much larger quantities of refined steel than the crucible process. It was worked by blowing air into the bottom of the furnace so that it bubbled through the molten iron. This burned carbon from the iron producing a great deal of heat as it refined the metal.

In 1860, he patented the tilting convertor which produced steel more efficiently than the earlier fixed furnace. At this time, crucible steel cost about £40 per ton. Bessemer steel cost about £20 a ton.

After the Crimean War (1854-1856), there was a large demand for iron and steel for making armaments and also for supplying steel for the new railways.

In 1860, John Brown of Sheffield took out the first licence to produce Bessemer steel.

Using the Bessemer process, steel making companies in Sheffield were able to supply cheap steel in large quantities for railway parts, armour plating and construction. Sheffield firms continued to produce high quality steel for precision tools.

In 1850 the production of steel in Britain was about 50000 tons. About 85% of this was produced in Sheffield. By 1880, production of Bessemer steel was over a million tons out of a total steel production of about 1300000 tons.

Bessemer Converter
You can find Henry Bessemer's autobiography (written for the Iron and Steel Institute) at
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Page last updated on 12th May 2008