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1740 - 1800

Toledo Factory
Henry Cort was born in Lancaster in 1740. His father was a builder and brickmaker.

In 1765 he was employed as an agent for the Royal Navy in London, a position that made him aware of the poor quality of British iron compared to the iron that was imported from abroad. British produced wrought iron was so poor in quality that the British government would not purchase it and the British produced cast iron could only be used for limited purposes. Britain was importing large quantities of Russian iron and were being made to pay very high prices.

Henry began experimenting on and improving the manufacture of English iron.

In 1775 he gave up his job as agent for the Navy and set up his own business, a forge and iron mill, in Portsmouth harbour.

Between 1783-4 he took out patents for the processes he had developed which improved the quality of bar iron. One patent process involved the production of bar iron by hammering at a perfect welding heat (constant temperature) and rolling out all the impurities. This produced iron that had been compressed into a tough and fibrous state.

Lord Sheffield recognised the significance of these processes when he stated the following in 1786
it is not asserting too much to say that the result will be more advantageous to Great Britain than the possession of the thirteen colonies (of America); for it will give the complete command of the iron trade to this country, with its vast advantages to navigation.

The second patent involved the manufacture of bar iron from ore or cast iron in a reverberating or air furnace without a blast. During this process the liquid iron was constantly stirred with iron bars burning off the carbon from the cast iron and the iron was separated from the slag. This was then hammered and rolled as stated above.

Henry Cort's achievements can be assessed from the following statistics:-

Production of British Iron
1700 = 12,000 tons
1750 = 18,000 tons
1780 = 90,000 tons
1820 = 400,000 tons

By the end of the 19th century Britain was producing 4 million+ tons of pig iron per year, which was more than the entire production of all the other European countries.

In 1820 there were at least 8,200 of Cort's furnaces operating in Great Britain and many of the actual iron iron manufactures considered the Cort's greatest achievement to have been his rolling process.

Cort never benefitted financially from his work. His partnership with the Jellicoes ended in financial disaster and he left his iron works in 1789, a ruined man.

Henry was finally granted a government pension in 1794 to support his wife and family of twelve children.

Henry Cort died in 1800.

You can find more comprehensive information on Henry Cort at Henry Cort - Father of the Iron Trade.


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Page last updated on 24th July 2006