Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/November 1891/The Development of American Industries Since Columbus: Iron and Steel Industry VI
|THE DEVELOPMENT OF AMERICAN INDUSTRIES SINCE COLUMBUS.|
IX. THE MANUFACTURE OF STEEL. (Concluded.)
By WILLIAM F. DURFEE, Engineer.
WHILE the Englishmen, Bessemer and Parry, and the American, Martien, were experimenting in England, the germ which they were trying to develop into vigorous life had been discovered in America; for the evidence is unimpeachable that the late William Kelly had been for several years experimenting in the same direction as his English contemporaries. We are indebted to Mr. James M. Swank for securing a description of these experiments from Mr. Kelly himself; and the reader who desires to see the most complete account yet published of them will find it in Mr. Swank's Iron in all Ages.
Mr. Kelly and his brother bought the Eddyville Iron Works, in Kentucky, in 1846. Their product was pig metal and charcoal blooms. As a result of close study, the idea occurred to Mr. Kelly that in the refining process fuel would be unnecessary after the iron was melted, if powerful blasts of air were forced into the fluid metal, for the heat generated by the union of the oxygen of the air with the carbon of the metal would be sufficient to accomplish the refining. He first built a small blast-furnace, about twelve feet high, in which to test this idea. The furnace had two tuyères, one above the other, the upper one to melt the stock, and the lower to convey the blast into the metal. He began his experiments in October, 1847, but was interrupted by other work, and did not find time to take them up again till 1851. Finding that this furnace was not capable of melting the iron properly, he decided to separate his refining process from the melting operation, and take the metal already melted from the blast-furnace. In these experiments he was endeavoring to produce malleable iron.
"With this object in view," says Mr. Kelly, "I built a furnace, consisting of a square brick abutment, having a circular chamber inside, the bottom of which was concave like a molder's ladle. In the bottom was fixed a circular tile of fire-clay, perforated for tuyères. Under this tile was an air-chamber, connected by pipes with the blowing-engine. This is substantially the plan now used in the Bessemer converter. The first trial of this furnace was very satisfactory. The iron was well refined and decarbonized—at least as well as by the finery fire. This fact was admitted by all the forgemen who examined it. The blowing was usually continued from five to ten minutes, whereas the finery fire required over an hour. Here was a great saving of time and fuel, as well as great encouragement to work the process out to perfection. I was not satisfied with making refined or run-out metal; my object was to make malleable iron. In attempting this I made, in the course of the following eighteen months, a variety of experiments. I built a suitable hot-blast oven; but, after a few trials, abandoned it, finding the cold blast preferable, for many reasons. After many trials of this furnace I found that I could make refined metal, suitable for the charcoal forge fire, without any difficulty, and, when the blast was continued for a longer period, the iron would occasionally be somewhat malleable. At one time, on trying the iron, to my great surprise, I found the iron would forge well, and it was pronounced as good as any charcoal forge iron. I had a piece of this iron forged into a bar four feet long and three eighths of an inch square. I kept this bar for exhibition, and was frequently asked for a small piece, which I readily gave, until it was reduced to a length of a few inches. This piece I have still in my possession. It is the first piece of malleable iron or steel ever made by the pneumatic process."
Although not giving up the idea of making malleable iron, Mr. Kelly now proceeded to utilize his invention so far as it was a complete success. He built a converter, five feet high and eighteen inches inside diameter, with the tuyère in the side. In this vessel he could refine fifteen hundred-weight of metal in from five to ten minutes, effecting a great saving in time and fuel. After a few days' trial, the old, troublesome "run-out" fires were entirely dispensed with. "My process," says Mr. Kelly, in the account above quoted, "was known to every iron-maker in the Cumberland River iron district as 'Kelly's air-boiling process.' The reason why I did not apply for a patent for it sooner than I did was that I flattered myself I would soon make it the successful process I at first endeavored to achieve—namely", a process for making malleable iron and steel. In 1857 I applied for a patent, as soon as I heard that other men were following the same line of experiments in England ; and, although Mr. Bessemer was a few days before me in obtaining a patent, I was granted an interference, and the case was heard by the Commissioner of Patents, who decided that I was the first inventor of this process, now known as the Bessemer process, and a patent was granted me over Mr. Bessemer."
There has been a feeling among metallurgists in both hemispheres that William Kelly's claims as an originator of a process similar in all its essential features to that invented by Henry Bessemer rest on a very unsubstantial foundation of experimental facts and experience. This impression is entirely erroneous, as was proved in the interference proceedings before the Commissioner of Patents, pending the issuance of a patent to Kelly (June 23, 1857); and again in 1870, when the question of granting an extension of Bessemer's patent (of November 11, 1856) was before the United States Patent Office, the commissioner refused to grant such extension, holding that the patent should not have been issued, as William Kelly was the prior inventor; and still again, when in 1871 William Kelly's patent was extended for seven years, it having been proved to the satisfaction of the commissioner that he had not been sufficiently remunerated for the invention; and yet again, by the fact of royalties having been regularly paid by the manufacturers of steel during the whole of the seven years for which Kelly's patent was extended, for the right to use his invention; and so unimpeachable was the evidence on which his claims were founded, that there was no attempt to set them aside during that time.
The plain, straightforward statement of Mr. Kelly above quoted is an additional proof that he was no mere schemer or dreamer. It is evident that he had a definite end in view—the making of malleable iron—and had he possessed more. capital and been situated where he could have availed himself of the best facilities, it is quite probable that he would have arrived at that end by the employment of methods and apparatus which would have left little to be desired; but, located in a small community (Eddyville had not five hundred inhabitants), in a part of the country remote from the best mechanical appliances and with limited means, it is remarkable that he carried his invention as far as he did before the heavy hand of bankruptcy crushed alike his ledgers and experiments.
As matters stood when Kelly's patent was issued, Bessemer had received a patent for the same invention, and at a later date a number of patents for apparatus the design of which was clearly very far in advance of anything accomplished by Kelly. Joseph G. Martien also had obtained a patent (February 24, 1857) for substantially the same claims as he had patented in England; but, so far as can be ascertained, he made no attempt to work his process, having become convinced that the inventions of Bessemer and Kelly were much more practical and really of an earlier date.
On May 26, 1857, Robert F. Mushet, son of David Mushet, the famous Scotch metallurgist, obtained an American patent for the addition of a compound of iron, carbon, and manganese to cast iron in the process of making malleable iron and steel. Previous to this invention neither Bessemer nor Kelly had secured uniform product; and in fact Kelly had in only a few instances been able to make a malleable metal, Mushet's invention, therefore, became at once of controlling value as respects the new method of manufacturing steel.
Early in the year 1860 the attention of the late Zoheth Shearman Durfee  was attracted to the Bessemer process. Having become convinced of the great value of the process claimed alike by Bessemer and Kelly, he induced the late Captain E. B. Ward, of Detroit, to join him in obtaining control of Kelly's patents, and of the American patents of Bessemer's apparatus and process, and of Mushet's manganese mixture. In 1861 Mr. Durfee went to Europe and spent several months in studying the practice of making "Bessemer steel" in England, France, and Sweden. After his return he and Captain Ward, in May, 1863, organized "The Kelly Process Company," admitting Daniel J. Morrell, of Johnstown, Pa., and William M. Lyon and James Park, Jr., of Pittsburg, Pa, to an interest in the enterprise. Although Mr. Kelly was not included in this company, a certain interest in any profits which it might make was guaranteed to him. Mr. Z. S. Durfee soon went to England again to arrange for the control of the rights of Bessemer and Mushet in America. He was unsuccessful in the former case, but obtained, October 24, 1864, control of the American patent for the use of spiegeleisen, as Mushet's triple compound was called, on terms which admitted Robert F. Mushet, Thomas D. Clare, and John N. Brown, of England, to membership in the company; and on the 6th of September, 1865, it was further enlarged by the admission of Charles P. Chouteau, James Harrison, and Felix Vallé, all of St. Louis, Mo.
While Z. S. Durfee was on his first visit to Europe, the writer of these papers was invited by Captain Ward to design and erect an experimental plant to determine the possibility of making a good steel by the new process from Lake Superior iron. I accepted the invitation, and reached Detroit, Mich., on the morning of July 1, 1862. It was decided to construct a blowing engine, and a converting vessel large enough for producing steel on a commercial scale, with reference to their use in a works properly planned for economical administration and production should the experimental works justify such an enterprise. As to the rest of the plant, it was decided to construct it as cheaply and simply as would answer the purpose of the experimental works only, and it was further decided that the experimental plant was to be located adjacent to, and partly in, the building of the Eureka Furnace at Wyandotte, Mich., about ten miles from Detroit, where Captain Ward had extensive rolling-mills. The metal for the experiments would be taken direct from the blast-furnace, and the spiegeleisen was to be melted in crucibles.
As soon as this general scheme was fixed upon, I began my plans for carrying it out. But very little guidance was obtainable in this task. I had never seen any apparatus for the manufacture of steel by the method proposed, and the description of that used by Mr. Kelly convinced me that it was not suited for an experiment on so large a scale as was contemplated at Wyandotte. As it was confidently expected that Z. S. Durfee would be able to purchase Bessemer's American patents, it was thought only to be anticipating the acquisition of property rights to use his inventions. I accordingly procured copies of his patents, which, together with the description contained in the first edition of Fairbairn's History of the Manufacture of Iron, embraced all
Fig. 60. — Plan of the Experimental Steel Works at Wyandotte.
the information then accessible to me relative to the European practice of the new art. Difficult as my task was, it was made almost insupportably burdensome by the outspoken opposition of nearly every influential person in Wyandotte. Nevertheless the work progressed, so that on the return of Z. S. Durfee from England in September, 1862, I was enabled to show him the "converter" nearly complete, and was greatly pleased to hear him say that it "looked
Fig. 61. — Cross-section of the Casting-house at Wyandotte.
very like converters that he had seen abroad." In the winter of 1863-'63 the blowing engine was commenced, but owing to various interruptions it was not completed till the spring of 1864.
The plan (Fig. 60) shows the general features of the arrangement adopted, save that over the casting-pit was a single-track traveling-hoist for handling ingots and molds. This hoist was operated by a winch located at w, the space allotted me in the casting-house not permitting the use of a crane of ordinary form.
The reverberatory furnace for melting pig iron was not included in my original programme; but in the summer of 1864, before the first conversion was made, it was decided to erect it in order that we could experiment with a variety of brands of pig iron sent us by parties interested in the works. A hearth was made near the base of the chimney for melting spiegel; and subsequently a small furnace (located at S, Fig. 60) was constructed for melting spiegel when the metal for conversion was taken direct from the blast-furnace.
Continuing our description of the works, Fig. 01 is a view of the machinery in the casting-house as it appeared to a person standing in the "pulpit" (see Fig. 60) and looking toward the converter, V. This converter is represented on a larger scale in sectional elevation
Fig. 62. — Section or the First American Steel Converter.
by Fig. 62; and to the right of this figure is seen a longitudinal section and end views of one of the seven tuyères used in the converter. This vessel was made with its upper part in two separate sections, and it was supported on its trunnions by two tall cast-iron standards, and was turned by worm-gearing arranged to be driven either by band or power. The engine which supplied the blast to the converter is represented in front elevation by Fig. 63; it was constructed from original working drawings made by the writer. It was intended to produce a pressure of blast of sixteen pounds per square inch, which was regarded as very heavy; in fact, I was informed, at the time of commencing the plans for this engine (the winter of 1862-'63), that the pressure used for blowing steel in England and Sweden was but eight pounds. I adopted the higher pressure with a view to shortening the time required for a "blow," but I soon became satisfied that this was a mistaken departure. I found myself in most excellent company, however, for, before my engine was finished, steel was blown in England with a blast pressure of twenty-five pounds, a practice which has continued until the present time. The engine had three upright cylinders of the same internal dimensions (twenty-four inches in diameter and thirty-six-inch stroke), the middle one being the steam cylinder and the outside ones the blowing cylinders.
Very soon after entering upon the study of the new process it became evident to me that an accurate knowledge of the chemical constituents of the metals and other materials employed was essential to its successful conduct; for, after we had found by working them that certain irons were, and others were not, suited to our purpose, analysis would in future enable us to determine whether any offered brand of iron was of suitable quality. These considerations, with others, determined the addition of a chemical laboratory to the works.
As late as 1868 a large establishment for the manufacture of steel (in which over a million dollars was invested) commenced operations in western Pennsylvania, and at the end of one year it was abandoned and dismantled, the whole of the investment having been utterly lost in consequence of attempting to use material which an analysis costing not over fifty dollars would have shown to be absolutely unfit for the purpose intended. American "iron-masters" (so called) were not alone in their contempt for chemistry. I have in my possession a pamphlet published by a well-known firm of steel manufacturers in Sheffield, England, as late as 1870, for the purpose of attracting attention and trade, in which the following sentences occur: "The various articles on the manufacture of cast steel in encyclopædias and other works are for the most part out of date or are written by scientific men having little or no practical acquaintance with the subject, and consequently are not of much value.... The steel manufacturers of Sheffield are not chemists. The application of chemistry to the manufacture of cast steel has not yet met with any success. The
Fig. 63. — Blowing-Engine of the Wyandotte Works.
analysis of steel is a very difficult process. It has frequently been attempted in Sheffield, but never with any practical success." It is possible that the triumphs of chemistry during the past twenty years, as illustrated by the Thomas-Gilchrist and many other important improvements in metallurgical practice, may have convinced the worshipers of the ultra-practical — American as well as English — that there are possibilities in chemistry not dreamed of in their philosophy.
The need of a laboratory was fully appreciated by Mr. Z. S. Durfee, and in the spring of 1863 he secured the services of Mr. Emil Schalk, a native of Germany, and a graduate of the École Centrale of Paris, as chemist. On his arrival in Detroit, at the request of Captain E. B. Ward, he accompanied an exploring party to northern Wisconsin. The result of this expedition was the discovery of a number of deposits of excellent iron ore.
On Mr. Schalk's return in October, 1863, he commenced some original investigations with a view to determine the influence of nitrogen upon steel, which promised to develop very interesting and valuable results; but, unfortunately, circumstances for which
Fig. 64. — Chemical Laboratory at Wyandotte.
he was in no way responsible caused his resignation in December, 1863, before they were completed. Of Mr. Schalk's abilities I had the highest estimation, and I very much regretted his departure from Wyandotte.
I will now describe the arrangement of the laboratory. The main building shown in the plan (Fig. 64) was about twenty-four feet square; it was divided by a partition into two rooms, A and B, of equal size, and each about eighteen feet high. At the rear of this building was a lean-to shed, C; d is an entrance to this shed from without; x, a door communicating with A; and y is the main entrance to the building. The room A was used for general analytical work, and was provided with furniture and apparatus, as shown in the plan. The furnishing of the room B is also indicated.
The "melting-hole, in the corner of the lean-to shed C, was large enough to receive a pot which would hold seventy pounds of melted metal. Space will not permit a detailed description of the apparatus used in this laboratory, but it would be regarded at the present day even, as thoroughly adequate for its purpose.
In the works at Wyandotte, on one of the early days of September, 1864, was produced, under the supervision of the writer of these papers, the first "Bessemer steel"  made in America. This event was a great disappointment to all those who had filled the air with predictions of failure, and they immediately turned their attention to a general depreciation of the results attained, and the persecution, with renewed vigor, of all who were responsible for them.
The first steel rails produced in America were rolled at the works of the Chicago Rolling-Mill Company (now a part of the Illinois Steel Company's plant, but then under the superintendency of O. W. Potter, Esq., late President of the Illinois Steel Company), at Chicago, on the 24th day of May, 1865. These rails were successfully rolled in a "twenty-one-inch three-high train," whose rolls were intended for rolling iron rails, and this fact is indubitable evidence of the excellent quality of the steel. There were three rails rolled on the 24th, and on the 25th three others. Various experiments were tried to test the ductility and working qualities of the steel produced at Wyandotte; some of the early product was sent to Bridge water, Mass., and there rolled into tack plate and cut into tacks, which were pronounced to be very much superior to any previously made of iron. In order to test the welding qualities of the steel, John Bishop, the blacksmith of the works, made a tobacco-pipe, the size of an ordinary clay pipe, the bowl and stem of which were welded up of Wyandotte steel, and when perfectly polished there was no visible evidence of a weld. I have now two jackknives and a razor made from this steel; the knives are rather soft, but the razor was used regularly by my father for fifteen years, to his entire satisfaction.
When it had been shown that the pneumatic process was a qualitative success, instead of carrying out the original understanding and erecting new works arranged with especial reference to rapid and economical working, the parties in interest insisted that I should put a second converter into the experimental works, and attempt to make it a commercial success. Knowing that such an attempt could only result in utter failure, I resigned my position (June 1, 1865). Nevertheless, the proposed plan was carried out, and the works were permanently closed after about a year's unprofitable experience.
While the experimental works were being constructed at Wyandotte, the firm of Winslow, Griswold & Holley was formed for the purpose of purchasing Bessemer's American patents, and manufacturing steel under them. Negotiations with Bessemer were concluded in the spring of 1964, and an experimental plant at Troy, N. Y., was started on February 16, 1865.
The purchase of the American patents of Bessemer by this firm at once challenged the right of the Kelly Process Company to employ the process invented by Kelly, and to the use of the apparatus invented by Bessemer; but, at the same time, the Kelly Process Company having purchased the Mushet patent for the use of spiegeleisen, was in a position to challenge the possibility of Messrs. Winslow, Griswold & Holley's making steel by the "Bessemer process" at all. The validity of the Bessemer patents for apparatus was, from the first, conceded by the Kelly Process Company, and arrangements were made, as soon as it was ascertained that they could not purchase the American patents of Bessemer, to dispense with the use of the machinery protected thereby; for they could avail themselves of that used by Kelly, which, although not nearly as convenient, was still, with some obvious improvements, capable of doing good work; or, rather, what the practice of the time called such.
In view of these facts the Kelly Process Company was clearly the master of both the legal and commercial situation; and had it been governed by an enlightened business selfishness it would have profited by the advantageous position in which (thanks to the indefatigable labors of the late Z. S. Durfee, its secretary) it was placed; but in order to do this the law had to be invoked, and to the majority of the members of the Kelly Process Company the law was a terror! Lawyers must be paid! Experts would not testify gratuitously! Costs of court would accumulate! Judges were doubtful! Jurors were uncertain! And then, if victorious, what would they gain? And if defeated, utter ruin would overwhelm them! Never before or since has a party of reputable business men been so needlessly alarmed and so utterly oblivious of the first principles of a sound business policy. The various bugaboos and hobgoblins which their terrified imagination conjured up of the horrors of the life to come among courts, judges, lawyers, experts, witnesses, and obstinate jurors, in case they ventured to assert in a court their manifest right, at last drove them into making a proposition to Messrs. Winslow, Griswold & Holley looking to a combination of the interests of the two companies, and to their final acceptance of an agreement under which they surrendered rights which were of great value to Messrs. Winslow, Griswold & Holley, and obtained practically no rights in return save that of receiving but thirty per cent of the royalties earned by the combination, and that of leaving to Messrs, Winslow, Griswold & Holley the remaining seventy per cent. In the whole history of business affairs it would indeed be hard to find a more perfect illustration of "the tail waggling the dog" than this. It is only justice to the late Z. S. Durfee to say that he opposed this compromise and its unjust disposition of the rights of himself and associates with all the energy of which he was capable; and the fact that all the royalties the combination ever earned were received under the operation of an extension of the patent of William Kelly is quite sufficient to justify his business sagacity and foresight.
The experimental works erected by Messrs. Winslow, Griswold & Holley at Troy were used for nearly two years for the purpose for which they were designed, and their proprietors "extended every facility to blast-furnace owners in all parts of the country to have their irons tried for steel;... many were tried and most were found wanting." It does not appear that any effort was made to compare the chemical composition of the irons that made good steel with that of the irons that would only make bad steel; and what was "good metal" seems to have been decided by actual treatment in the converter. Notwithstanding the numerous failures in the Troy works to make good steel out of poor iron (all tending to discredit the process), there were a sufficient number of successes and enough "good metal" discovered to encourage the firm in the erection of new works (called the fiveton plant) on a manufacturing scale. January 1, 1867, the late A. L. Holley left the Troy works to take charge of works at Harrisburg, for which he had furnished the plans. For a short time after the departure of Mr. Holley the Troy works were under the charge of Mr. John C. Thompson. He was succeeded by Z. S. Durfee, who "built the forge and made some alterations both in plant and details of manufacture. Among other things, he adopted for the small or experimental plant the practice of melting the recarburizing metal in crucibles, and obtained most excellent results.... Mr. Durfee resigned his connection with the works in 1868, and Mr. Holley once more became the manager."
Up to January, 1871, the ingots produced in these works were either hammered in the forge, or "bloomed" from nine-inch ingots, at the Rensselaer Rolling Mill in Troy, N. Y., or the Spuyten Duyvil Rail Mill at Spuyten Duyvil, N. Y., and then rolled into rails at these establishments, but on the above date Mr. Holley had a thirty-inch blooming mill ready to run. This mill was the joint invention of James Moore, William George, and A. L. Holley, and was built by James Moore, at his Bush Hill Iron Works, Philadelphia. The mill was provided with front and back lifting tables raised by hydraulic power. The tables carried loose rolls, on which the twelve-inch ingot (heavy enough to make two rail blooms) was placed and pushed into the rolls by men. Eight men were required to attend the mill. This mill proved to be a great advance over previous practice, but in the fall of 1872 improvements were added (invented by George Fritz, of Johnstown, Pa.) which reduced the force required at the mill to three men and a boy.
It is manifestly impossible in these pages to give in detail the history of the several Bessemer steel-works now in operation, and I have been thus particular in sketching at length the inception and development of the plants at Wyandotte, Mich., and Troy, N. Y., because they were the genesis of the Bessemer steel industry in America, and their history admirably illustrates the manifold obstacles which the promoters of all ultra-novel and radically revolutionary inventions have always had to encounter. I well remember the sneers which greeted my statement that the time would come "when a steel rail could be made cheaper than an iron one"; and now that time having arrived, it is no small compensating satisfaction to know that the faith delivered thirty years ago to the workers at Wyandotte and Troy has expanded with the years and by "works" has been made perfect: mountains have been removed, and the metal of their ores now in our railways binds the nation together with bars of steel, along which glide shuttle-like, to and fro, the steam-propelled carriers of the commerce of a continent; interweaving it with the warp threads of agriculture and all arts, and producing a fabric of national prosperity and happiness that shall wear through the ages and continue to clothe this people while time endures.
A modern establishment for the manufacture of steel rails is vastly different from those ancient "plants" in which bar iron and iron rails were made forty years ago. Works that would turn out seventy tons per day then were thought to be remarkable both in size and in administration, but at the present time there are many mills in the United States that can produce more than ten times as much in the same time. In the more perfectly arranged
Fig. 65. — Night Scene outside a Casting-house.
steel-works the molten metal is taken directly from the blast-furnace to the converter, and, after being "blown," is cast into an ingot sufficiently heavy to make four rails; this ingot is taken from its mold while it is red-hot on its outside and still liquid internally, and put into a "soaking pit" or a reheating furnace to prevent loss of heat, and as soon as possible, it is sent to the "blooming train" and rolled into a bloom; this is at once automatically conveyed to the "rail-train" and rolled into a continuous rail about one hundred and twenty-three feet in length, which is carried on rollers driven by power to the "cutting-off saws," which divide it into four rails of thirty feet in length, and the two extreme ends of the original rail, called "crop ends," are about eighteen inches long. The four rails, while still red-hot, are carried by machinery to the " cambering machine," and thence to the "hot-bed." They are next taken to the "cold straightening presses," and any crookedness is removed by powerful pressure; the bolt-holes for "fish-plates" are then drilled in their ends, after which the rails are turned over to the "inspectors" representing the railway for which the rails are intended.
Fig. 65 is a very spirited night view of a scene outside the casting-house of one of the furnaces of the Illinois Steel Company. A portion of the furnace itself and one of its supporting columns are seen through the left-hand arch. In the left foreground are two "slag-buggies" being filled with liquid slag; on the right is a locomotive ready to pull them to the dump. In the center of the picture are two large "ladles" (numbered 14 and 10) capable of holding ten tons each of fluid metal, which is conveyed to them by the "runners" or "gutters" whose ends are seen projecting over the "ladles"; these gutters receive the molten metal direct from the "blast-furnace," and as soon as the "ladles" are filled they are drawn away by a locomotive which takes them up an inclined plane on to an iron bridge or platform, which extends across the converter-house in front of the converters. This bridge is plainly shown in Fig. 60, and a small locomotive is seen on the left-hand end of it.
Beyond this bridge, and between it and the back wall of the building, are the three converters, each intended for the conversion of ten tons of iron into steel at one operation. The left-hand converter is shown "turned down," pouring its contents of liquid steel into a casting-ladle; the central converter is upright, and a
Fig. 66. — Interior of a Converting-house by Night.
dazzling white volcanic flame issues roaring from its mouth, discharging itself though the open archway in the wall of the building— a "blow" is evidently under full headway. The third converter is seen on the extreme right of the picture, with its mouth downward, its bottom having been removed for repairs.
Fig. 67. — A Steel Blooming-mill.
In front of this bridge are a number of cranes, all operated hydraulically, but, unlike the ordinary "hydraulic press," whose movement is usually very slow, these cranes are very rapid in their action, more so than any other form of crane; were this not the fact, it would be impossible to handle the vast quantity of hot materials—"ingots," and their "molds"—that must be disposed of with great promptness in a modern steel-works. These cranes are veritable giant arms, lifting and conveying with a tireless strength, insensible alike to heat and weight, such masses of steel as have only come to the knowledge of man since the invention of the Bessemer process.
The various operations of the "converting-house," embracing the turning of the converter, the regulation of the blast, and the movement of the cranes, are all directed and controlled by means of proper "hand-gear" located upon the platform called "the pulpit" represented in the foreground of the picture.
The general aspect of the interior of a converting-house at night is at once startling and grandly impressive. Here heat, flame, and liquid metal are ever present; locomotives whistle and puff, dragging with clatter and clang huge ladles of molten iron; the lurid light, flashing and flaming, that illuminates the scene, throws shadows so intensely black that they suggest the "black fire" of Milton, for in such a place it is impossible for a shadow to be cool; half-naked, muscular men, begrimed with sweat and dust, flit about; clouds of steam arise from attempts to cool in some degree the roasting earth of the floor; converters roar, vibrate, and vomit flames mingled with splashes of metal from their white-hot throats; at intervals the scorching air is filled with a rain of coruscating burning iron; ingot molds lift mouths parched with a thirst that can only be appeased for a short time by streams of liquid steel that run gurgling into them; the stalwart cranes rise, swing, and fall, loading scores of tons of red-hot steel upon cars of iron: all these conditions and circumstances combine to make an igneous total more suggestive of the realms of Pluto than any other in the whole range of the metallurgic arts.
The ingots of steel are taken from the "converting-house" as promptly as possible after they are cast, and carried on iron cars to the "blooming-mill" (Fig. 67), where they are put into gas-fired furnaces (the end of one is seen on the right of Fig. 67), where their heat is maintained, and thence they are taken to the "blooming train" and rolled into blooms. The steel-rail bloom is a rectangular bar of steel, long enough to produce four or even six rails.In the cut (Fig. 67) on the left is seen a white-hot ingot of steel being carried on an iron "buggy" to the rolls of the blooming train, which occupies nearly the center of the picture. On the right of this train is seen a bloom about to pass through the
Fig. 68. — Part of Blooming-mill.
Fig. 69. — View of Plate-mill.
Fig. 69 is a view of a plate-mill at the Homestead Steel Works (Carnegie, Phipps & Co.) near Pittsburgh, Pa. This mill is what is known as a "three-high plate-mill." The train of rolls is driven at the rate of fifty revolutions a minute. On the delivery side of these rolls is a roller table five feet in width and 363 feet long, the rollers being driven by power. This mill can roll plates three inches thick and 115 inches wide, or sheets 3⁄32 of an inch thick and 117 inches wide, and of course any intermediate dimensions of any length, and of a weight not exceeding six tons. This mill can turn out five thousand net tons per month.
|Fig. 70. — Hydraulic Shears.|
Fig. 70 is a view of the hydraulic shears in the "slabbing-mill" of the Homestead Steel Works.
The men in the picture will assist the mind of the reader in forming a correct idea of the magnitude of this ponderous piece of mechanism, whose purpose is to cut into the required lengths the "slabs" as they come from the "slabbing rolls." The lower knife is stationary, and the movement of the upper knife in a vertical plane is insured by guides on the "housings" of the machine. The upper knife is actuated by a water pressure of about three thousand tons, and the shears are capable of cutting a section 24" X 48" of hot metal. The "slabs" are taken to the plate-mill, reheated, and rolled to the required dimensions. The above description of some of the machinery in use m the Illinois Steel Works and in the Homestead Steel Works must serve for illustrating the ponderous character of the mechanism of a modern "steel plant," as it is plainly impossible m this paper to speak of details which would require a volume to adequately
The "Bessemer process," as for many years conducted, could only deal successfully with iron which contained a very small quantity of phosphorus; this being the case, a very large proportion of the world's make of that metal was useless for the manufacture of steel; and therefore it was evident that any improvement by which such iron could be made available would have great value. This fact stimulated inventors to endeavor to discover some means by which pig iron high in phosphorus could be used in the "converter" or "open-hearth" furnace. Success was finally achieved in this by two English chemists, Sidney Gilchrist Thomas and Percy C. Gilchrist, of London, who secured patents for their invention November 22, 1877. Their modification of the "Bessemer process" consists in the employment of lime as the chief constituent of the lining of the "converter" or "openhearth furnace," and the action of this "basic lining" (hence the process is commonly called the "basic process") is to remove the phosphorus from the metal as a "phosphate of lime" in which condition it is found in the "slag" produced. There are a number of claimants, English, French, and American, for the discovery of the value of lime as a lining in "Bessemer converters" and "open-hearth furnaces" for the treatment of iron rich in phosphorus, who have caused so much litigation as to retard greatly the use of the "basic process" in this country; but, nevertheless, there were made during the year 1890 about ninety thousand tons of "basic steel" in the United States. The "basic process" is very largely employed in Europe, and fairly deserves recognition as the most important improvement in the metallurgy of steel that has been practically developed within the past dozen years.
In recent years there have been a number of alleged improvements m the manufacture of steel patented, most of them having no value.
It will be remembered that some of the early American experimenters, who "with great pains and cost found out and obtained a curious art by which to convert, change, or transmute common iron into steel" (in Connecticut, 1728 to 1750), succeeded in making somewhat more than half a ton of steel" in four years This seed of the steel industry on this continent has year by year and generation after generation increased and multiplied until for the year 1890 the production of steel of all kinds in the United States reached the enormous total of "4,277,071 gross tons" an amount larger than was produced in that year by any other country in the world.
Twenty-six years ago there were but two Bessemer converters in the United States, and it is not at all probable that in the year 1865 there were more than five hundred tons of "Bessemer steel" made therein; but this germ product has so wonderfully developed that in the year 1890 the total production of "Bessemer steel" in this country was 4,131,535 net tons, or 8,263 times the tonnage of 1865. This enormous output was made in eighty-five "converters" owned by forty steel-works, which were distributed in eight States, viz., Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and Colorado.
In 1772 the American manufacturers' price for steel was equal to $180.60 per gross ton. Steel of better quality can be purchased of the American manufacturer of to-day for thirty dollars per gross ton, a decline of eighty-four per cent in one hundred and nineteen years.
Twenty-seven years have elapsed since the first Bessemer steel was made in America, and that time, improved by the labors of skillful men from among our engineers, metallurgists, and chemists, has wrought wondrous changes in the construction and management of our furnaces, steel-works, and rolling-mills. To-day the tendency of all metallurgical manufacturing enterprises is toward concentration, not only in commercial and administrative affairs, but in their machinery as well. Giant engines, ponderous roll-trains, colossal hammers, crushing forging-presses, stalwart cranes, furnaces whose "fervent heat" destroys all doubt of the possibility of the fusion of worlds, ore piles rivaling mountains in magnitude; enormous stores of coal, suggesting yet more enormous mines; a vast entanglement of railways to all parts of the works; a water-supply sufficient for a town; miles of subterranean pipes bringing gaseous fuel to the roaring mills—are but the common details of a modern establishment for the manufacture of steel. Practices once condemned as criminal extravagances are now regarded as essential economies; things once deemed impossible by men of little faith are but the familiar occurrences of to-day. Buildings, machinery, methods, have all been touched by the spirit of progress. Science has become better acquainted with art, and art has a better appreciation of science, and their united forces are marching forever forward. Before their steady advance difficulties vanish, obstacles are surmounted, and seeming impossibilities are overcome; sound principles are established in place of empiricisms, and educated skill replaces laborious ignorance. Verily, "old things are passing away and all things are become new."
Evidence is given in the Rev. Thomas Parkinson's Yorkshire Legends and Traditions of the survival of the belief in fairies to a late date. An old man told the author a few years ago that his father, when young, had seen a dance of fames, and that they were "of nearly all colors." A similar statement has been made to Mr Parkinson's reviewer in the Athenaeum, who suggests that such visions may be misinterpreted facts, not mere mental illusions. The birds called ruffs dance in the moonlight much after the fashion of the round dances of yore, and some of these dances may have been mistaken for those of fairies.
- In this connection it is proper to note that all the profits which the owners of the patents of Bessemer, Kelly, and Mushet ever received were earned and divided during the seven years covered by the extension of the patent of William Kelly; and had not that extension been granted, the parties who had put their money into the purchase of these patents would never have received one cent for their investment.
- Under date of May 29, 1357, Martien wrote to Messrs. Munn & Co., the solicitors of William Kelly, a most generous letter, in which he abandons all claim to precedence in the invention. The following is an extract from this letter: "I have found and have been made perfectly satisfied, from the ample testimony laid before me in the case, that Mr. Kelly is honestly the first and original inventor of the said process of manufacturing iron without fuel. I find, moreover, that he has quietly been and is making improvements and advancing with his invention in a very praiseworthy manner, and of which the public will be put in possession in a short time."
- The late Z. S. Durfee was born in Fall River, Mass., on April 22, 1831, and died in Providence, R. I., June 8, 1880. He was a practical worker in iron and steel, and I claim that he was the first business man in America to fully appreciate the great value of the new process. He manifested the faith that was in him by a persistent effort to secure its adoption, and, had his views been supported by his business associates, the manufacture of steel by the pneumatic process would have been both a technical and commercial success in the United States many years earlier than it was.
- These gentlemen were selected because of their well-known business ability and their influential association with or ownership of some of the largest and best-appointed iron and steel works of the country, and it was confidently expected that they would take a lively interest in the new process by promptly employing it in the works with which they were identified, and that their example would be very generally followed by the larger iron and steel works of the United States. In this expectation Captain Ward and Z. S. Durfee were greatly disappointed, as neither Mr. Lyon nor Mr. Parke ever adopted the process in their works, and Mr. Morrell only succeeded in overcoming the objections of his associates in the Cambria Iron Company (of which he was general manager) in such time as to enable him to commence making steel eight years after he was admitted as a member of "The Kelly Process Company."
- These gentlemen were owners and operators of large iron-works; and, although their admission as members of "The Kelly Process Company" was with the expectation that their example and influence would promote its interest, they did not erect steel-works, and the company was in no way strengthened by their connection with it.
- It was at these works, in the summer of 1865, that Z. S. Durfee made the first attempt to melt pig metal in a cupola for use in the converting vessel. At that time the practice abroad was to melt the metal in a reverberatory furnace. Owing to the small size of the cupola and its distance from the converting vessel, the experiment was not entirely successful; but Mr. Durfee did not abandon his belief in the usefulness of this process. I claim for him the origination of the idea of cupola melting, which has contributed so much to the rapidity and economy of production in the steel-works of the world.
- At this time there was no such thing as a laboratory in connection with a steel-works in America: to the so-called "practical steel-makers" chemistry was an unknown and unappreciated science, and no sneer was too cynical for them to bestow upon those who advocated its employment. The laboratory at Wyandotte (which was derisively called "Durfee's 'pothecary-shop") was ultimately destroyed by the influence of incarnate malicious ignorance.
- This description of the Experimental Steel Works of Wyandotte is, owing to space limitations, much curtailed; but any interested reader will find in the Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, vol. vi, p. 40, and in the Transactions of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, vol. xii, p. 223, papers by the writer hereof in which much more attention is given to details than is here permissible.
- I adopt here and elsewhere in this article the popular designation, for the reason that I believe it to be the just and proper one; for, while there is no room for a doubt that the late William Kelly anticipated Bessemer by several years in the discovery of the fundamental idea of the process, he did not carry it out to its ultimate possibility as a means for the manufacture of steel; and while there is no reason to believe that Bessemer ever heard of what Kelly was doing, it is pretty certain that had not Kelly noted the granting of a patent to Bessemer he would never (owing to his unfavorable location supplemented by pecuniary embarrassment) have been able to procure such attention from the iron trade of this country as would have insured him any reward for his invention. Furthermore, although in Kelly's stationary "converter," it would have been, under proper management, quite possible to make a satisfactory quality of steel (stationary "converters" were used in Sweden with success for many years), it was quite evident from the first that the highly original and ingenious apparatus invented by Bessemer (especially the tilting "converter," and the "casting ladle" having a tap-hole in its bottom) was far superior to anything proposed by Kelly. It is also quite evident that had not Mushet (or some one else) suggested the use of spiegeleisen, neither the ideas of Kelly nor Bessemer would have been of value except in the direction in which they were practically carried out by Kelly as a substitute for the refinery-fire, or in the special case of iron containing a notable quantity of manganese (as was the fact in those used at first in Sweden); but it is not at all probable that Kelly would have discovered what was necessary to perfect the process, as he had no knowledge of spiegeleisen (in 1857 no iron was known in the commerce of America by that name) and was not a chemist or an employer of chemists—but, judging from the fact that Bessemer availed himself of the aid of chemistry at an early day in his investigations, it is not at all improbable that he would have himself discovered the value of spiegeleisen had not Mushet anticipated him. I think all the facts warrant the naming the discovery The Bessemer-Kelly-Mushet Process; but as Bessemer, by his ingenuity, persistence in methodical endeavor, and business sagacity, is clearly entitled to the first place, and if the process is to bear but one name, the popular verdict of over thirty years is fully justifiable in calling it "The Bessemer Process."
While we are thus considering the relative merits of the chief actors in this metallurgical drama, it is but just that we should award due praise to Martien, the American, and Parry, the Englishman, for ideas of great originality, which, had they been followed out to their logical conclusion, must have developed similar results to those attained by Bessemer. These metallurgists evidently were standing, as it were, on the "delectable mountains" of discovery, and seeing dimly and afar some suggestions of the practical glories of the metallurgy of coming generations.
- These rails were laid in the track of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, and it is known that they carried the traffic over ten years, but unfortunately there is no record of the time when they were taken out and discarded.
- It is believed that these were the first tacks made of steel.
- In the early days of the Bessemer process, three "blows" in ten hours was thought to be a very creditable performance, but at the present time a works that could not make that number in an hour would be regarded as a fit subject for an inquest.
- Paper by R. W. Hunt, Trans. American Institute of Mining Engineers, vol. v, pp. 201-216.
- The phenomenal development of the "Bessemer process" in America during the fifteen years preceding the death of Mr. Holley in 1882 was largely due to his efforts. For a full account of the life and labors of the late Alexander L. Holley, C. E., LL. D., the reader is referred to a memorial volume published in 1884 by the American Institute of Mining Engineers, and to an able address delivered by James Dredge, Esq., Honorary Member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, in Chickering Hall, October 2, 1890, on the occasion of the unveiling of the Holley Memorial Statue, in Washington Park, New York.
- These works are still running, the company owning them now being known as the Troy Steel and Iron Company.
- The "Iron Mountain" of Missouri, which at one time was supposed to be inexhaustible, has had all its ore passed through the "furnace" and converted into iron and steel; and it is only a question of a few years when other great deposits now regarded as "mountains of ore" will share the same fate.
- This is a pit but little wider than the ingot, lined with fire-brick. The lining prevents the heat of the steel from radiating into space, and hence the internal heat of the ingot is diffused uniformly through its mass; and after being in the "pit" a certain time the ingot is apparently hotter than when it was put in; it is then taken out and rolled immediately. "The soaking-pit process," invented by John Gjers, is the most important improvement in the manufacture of steel that has been brought forward in the last eight years.
- This term is the reverse of descriptive. The "hot-bed" is a huge gridiron, on which the rails are placed to cool.
- I am under obligations to E. C. Potter, Esq., late Vice-President of the Illinois Steel Company for the very effective views from which this and the three following engravings have been reduced.
- Figs. 69 and 70 are reduced from photogravure engravings illustrating a paper by W. Richards and J. A. Potter, descriptive of the Homestead Steel Works, which was published in vol. xv, No. 3, of the Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute.
- It is but just to explain that the "basic process" as conducted in Europe involves the use of the invention of Messrs. Thomas and Gilchrist, in connection with those of G. J. Snelus of Workington, and Edward Riley, of London, whose inventions have contributed materially to its success.