Henry Bessemer was born in 1813 in Charlton, Hertfordshire. The son of a wealthy engineer he was bright inquisitive and inventive from an early age. When he was 17 he invented embossed stamps to use on title deeds, thus ensuring that the stamps could not be re-used. He made his first fortune by inventing a process which turned brass paint into a ‘gold’powder which was used to gild books and other decorative items. He did not patent the invention but instead chose to keep the process a secret and for the next 35 years the machinery used in this process were kept behind locked doors.
His most famous invention was the Bessemer Converter of 1856.
At the time he was developing the mortar shell and was looking for a smelting process which would produce a steel strong to make guns which could withstand firing his new heavy shells The only metal available then was wrought iron. He came up with the idea of blowing air in at the bottom of a vat of molten metal to oxidize and remove the unwanted impurities. William Kelly, an American inventor had patented a method for doing this but bankruptcy forced him to sell his patent to Bessemer. The Bessemer Converter was the first process for mass-producing steel inexpensively.
“I had an immense advantage over many others dealing with
the problem inasmuch as I had no fixed ideas derived from long-
established practice to control and bias my mind, and did not
suffer from the general belief that whatever is, is right.”
Steel ‘Converter’ - Furnace