History of Puddling
The process of puddling was one of the most important process in making iron and steel. It was developed in the second half of the 18th century. It replaced the charcoal fuelled process. Henry Cort made the process in 1784. He came up with the process in England. Cort’s process made making iron easier since no charcoal fuel was needed during this process. Cort’s process began to flourish all around the world. It traveled all around Europe and eventually to the United States. Many process were developed after Henry Cort’s process, but his process open the doorway for other processes.
Process of Puddling
Before the use of the technique called “puddling” the product produced by iron making was called “pig iron”. Pig iron was very brittle and had many impurities so it had to be converted into wrought iron. The process of puddling did this conversion. The iron puddler was in charge of his own furnace where the conversion of iron took place. Pig iron was heated to a molten state in a large furnace. The molten metal was stirred and carbon began to burn off. The carbon was very important in the puddling process. It determined wheather or not it would be the right type of iron. Finally, the molten metal was then made into balls and the remaining impurities were hammered out.
Importance of the Puddler
The process of puddling was no easy task and these workers were held in high regard. The puddler was highly skilled and was the best worker in the company. This was a dangerous occupation, which required much physical strength, stamina and concentration, “The puddlers were the aristocracy of the proletariat, proud, clannish, set apart by sweat and blood. Few of them lived past forty. Numerous efforts were made to mechanize the puddling furnace…Machines could be made to stir the bath, but only the human eye and touch could separate out the solidifying decarburized metal.” What also made the iron puddlers so special was that there were no schools or teaching of iron puddling. The process was passed down from father to son.
Puddling and Steel
The process of puddling has a lot to do with iron more then steel. However, the puddling process made the first glimpses of steel. Workers began experiment with the puddling process to make the steel. This steel was called puddled steel. The experiments were successful, but sometimes the steel would split and break. Puddled steel was just wrought iron that was not heated as long. The process of puddling steel opened the doors to many different processes of making steel. Eventually The puddlers were replaced by machines and different process. However, without the process of iron puddling, the iron and steel would never have progressed as it did today.
Extracts from “Life of Iron Puddler”: http://www.sirhowy.com/puddler.html
More on Puddling Furnace: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puddling_%28metallurgy%29
Kenneth, Warren. Bethlehem Steel: Builder and Arsenal of America. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh, 2008.
Sirhowy Valley History, “The Iron Puddler,” Sirhowy Valley History. http://www.sirhowy.com/puddler.html (accessed February 28, 2013).
The Cambridge Economic History of Europe. The Cambridge Economic History of Europe, Vol. VI, Part I, 1966, p. 447