Henry Bessemer

Sheffield inventor and developer of the Bessemer process, the first inexpensive industrial process for the mass production of steel from molten pig iron using the Bessemer Converter.

Sheffield Cultural Heritage


Sir Henry Bessemer was from a line of inventors. His father had worked in Paris, engineering things from microscopes to medallions before fleeing to back to England during the French Revolution and after discovering an efficient way to make gold chains, he purchased some land and his son Henry was born.
From early on young Henry showed an aptitude for innovative thinking and engineering, and early in his career he became known for inventing efficient movable stamps, a typesetting device and gold-coloured powder that could be used for paint. Many of his inventions were kept as family secrets, and he found wealth through his endeavours.
Through researching excess oxygen in the process of making cast iron, Bessemer created stronger canons for the French, and an artillery shell powered by gases. His invention - the process of blowing air into molten iron - would purify it, making it hotter, easier to pour and of a better quality.
The eponymous " Bessemer process" was announced in 1856, but bringing it to market proved easier said then done: factors such as phosphorus and sulfur would find their way into the iron, and Bessemer spent years perfecting the process, with a little help from additional discoveries by Sidney Gilchrist Thomas who developed a lining that would keep phosphorus out of the metallurgy.
By the time the Bessemer process was a quantifiable success, the man was almost 70 years old and had a repertoire of successes (telescopes, solar furnaces) and failures (a passenger ship designed to prevent seasickness), and a lifetime of dedication and trial and error.
Henry Bessemer's businesses played a huge part in establishing Sheffield as a powerful industrial centre. Knighted in 1879, he died in 1898, but not before writing a memoir about his life of mechanical miracles.
Sheffield Cultural Heritage

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