Ebbw Vale And The Bessemer Process

After his British Association address in August 1856, Bessemer had

received applications from several ironmasters for licenses, which were

issued in return for a down payment and a nominal royalty of 25 pence

per ton. Among those who started negotiations was Mr. Thomas Brown of

Ebbw Vale Iron Works, one of the largest of the South Wales plants. He

proposed, however, instead of a license, an outright purchase of

's patents for L50,000. Bessemer refused to sell, and according

to his[34] account--

intense disappointment and anger quite got the better of [Brown]

and for the moment he could not realize the fact of my refusal....

[He then] left me very abruptly, saying in an irritated tone ...

"I'll make you see the matter differently yet" and slammed the door

after him.

[34] Bessemer, op. cit. (footnote 7), p. 169.

David Mushet's advocacy of Martien's claim to priority over Bessemer

has already been noticed (p. 33). From him we learn[35] that Martien's

experiments leading to his patent of September 15, 1855, had been

carried out at the Ebbw Vale Works in South Wales, where he engaged in

"perfecting the Renton process."[36] Martien's own process consisted in

passing air through metal as it was run in a trough from the furnace

and before it passed into the puddling furnace.

[35] Mining Journal, 1856, vol. 26, p. 631.

[36] James Renton's process (U.S. patent 8613, December 23, 1851)

had been developed at Newark, New Jersey, in 1854. It was a

modification of the puddling furnace, in which the ore and carbon

were heated in tubs, utilizing the waste heat of the

reverberatory furnace (see the Mechanics' Magazine, vol. 62, p.

246, 1855). Renton died at Newark in September 1856 (Mechanics'

Magazine, 1856, vol. 65, p. 422).

It is known that Martien's patent was in the hands of the Ebbw Vale

Iron Works by March 1857.[37] This fact must be added to our knowledge

that Mushet's patent of September 22, 1856 was drawn up with a specific

reference to the application of his "triple compound" to "iron ...

purified by the action of air, in the manner invented by Joseph Gilbert

Martien,"[38] and that this and his other manganese patents were under

the effective control of Ebbw Vale. It seems a reasonable deduction

from these circumstances that Brown's offer to buy out Bessemer and his

subsequent threat were the consequences of a determination by Ebbw Vale

to attack Bessemer by means of patent infringement suits.

[37] Mining Journal, 1857, vol. 27, p. 193.

[38] British patent 2219, September 22, 1856.

Some aspects of the Ebbw Vale situation are not yet explained. Martien

came to South Wales from Newark, New Jersey, where he had been manager

of Renton's Patent Semi-Bituminous Coal Furnace, owned by James Quimby,

and where he had something to do with the installation of Renton's

first furnace in 1854. The first furnace was unsuccessful.[39] Martien

next appears in Britain, at the Ebbw Vale Iron Works. No information is

available as to whether Martien's own furnace was actually installed at

Ebbw Vale, although as noted above, David Mushet claims to have been

invited to see it there.

[39] Joseph P. Lesley, The iron manufacturer's guide, New York,

1859, p. 34. Martien's name is spelled Marteen. A description of

the furnace is given in Scientific American of February 11,

1854, (vol. 9, p. 169). In the patent interference proceedings

referred to below, it was stated that the furnace was in

successful operation in 1854.

Martien secured an American patent for his process in 1857 and to file

his application appears to have gone to the United States, where he

remained at least until October 1858.[40] He seems to have taken the

opportunity to apply for another patent for a furnace similar to that

of James Renton. This led to interferences proceedings in which Martien

showed that he had worked on this furnace at Bridgend, Glamorganshire

(one of the Ebbw Vale plants), improving Renton's design by increasing

the number of "deoxydizing tubes." This variation in Renton's design

was held not patentable, and in any case Renton's firm was able to show

that they had successfully installed the furnace at Newark in

1852-1853, while Martien could not satisfy the Commissioner that his

installation had been made before September 1854. Priority was

therefore awarded to Quimby, Brown, Renton, and Creswell.[41]

[40] U.S. patent 16690, February 22, 1857. A correspondent of the

Mining Journal (1858, vol. 28, p. 713) states that Martien had

not returned to England by October 1858.

[41] U.S. Patent Office, Decision of Commissioner of Patents,

dated May 26, 1859 in the matter of interference between the

application of James M. Quimby and others ... and of Joseph


Since Renton had not patented his furnace in Great Britain, Martien's

use of his earlier knowledge of Renton's work and of his experience at

Bridgend in an attempt to upset Renton's priority is a curious and at

present unexplainable episode. Perhaps the early records of the Ebbw

Vale Iron Works, if they exist, will show whether this episode was in

some way linked to the firm's optimistic combination of the British

patents of Martien and Mushet.

That Ebbw Vale exerted every effort to find an alternative to

Bessemer's process is suggested, also, by their purchase in 1856 of the

British rights to the Uchatius process, invented by an Austrian Army

officer. The provisional patent specifications, dated October 1, 1855,

showed that Uchatius proposed to make cast steel directly from pig-iron

by melting granulated pig-iron in a crucible with pulverized "sparry

iron" (siderite) and fine clay or with gray oxide of manganese, which

would determine the amount of carbon combining with the iron. This

process, which was to prove commercially successful in Great Britain

and in Sweden but was not used in America,[42] appeared to Ebbw Vale to

be something from which, "we can have steel produced at the price

proposed by Mr. Bessemer, notwithstanding the failure of his process to

fulfil the promise."[43]

[42] J. S. Jeans, op. cit. (footnote 5), p. 108. The process is

not mentioned by James M. Swank, History of the manufacture of

iron in all ages, Philadelphia, American Iron and Steel

Association, 1892.

[43] Mining Journal, 1856, vol. 26, p. 707.

So far as is known only one direct attempt was made, presumably

instigated by Ebbw Vale, to enforce their patents against Bessemer, who

records[44] a visit by Mushet's agent some two or three months before a

renewal fee on Mushet's basic manganese patents became payable in 1859.

Bessemer "entirely repudiated" Mushet's patents and offered to perform

his operations in the presence of Mushet's lawyers and witnesses at the

Sheffield Works so that a prosecution for infringement "would be a very

simple matter." That, he says, was the last heard from the agent or

from Mushet on the subject.[45] The renewal fee was not paid and the

patents were therefore abandoned by Ebbw Vale and their associates, a

fact which did not come to Mushet's knowledge until 1861, when he

himself declared that the patent "was never in my hands at all [so]

that I could not enforce it."[46]

[44] Bessemer, op. cit. (footnote 7), p. 290.

[45] The American Iron and Steel Institute's "Steel centennial

(1957) press information" (see footnote 2), includes a pamphlet,

"Kelly lighted the fireworks ..." by Vaughn Shelton (New York,

1956), which asserts (p. 12) that Bessemer paid the renewal fee

and became the owner of Mushet's "vital" patent.

[46] Robert Mushet, The Bessemer-Mushet process, Cheltenham,

1883, p. 24; The Engineer, 1861, vol. 12, pp. 177 and 189.

Further support for the thesis that Ebbw Vale's policy was in part

dictated by a desire to make Bessemer "see the matter differently" is

to be found in the climatic episode. Work on Martien's patents had not

been abandoned and in 1861 certain patents were taken out by George

Parry, Ebbw Vale's furnace manager. These, represented as improvements

of Martien's designs, were regarded by Bessemer as clear infringements

of his own patents.[47] When it came to Bessemer's knowledge that Ebbw

Vale was proposing to "go to the public" for additional capital with

which to finance, in part, a large scale working of Parry's process, he

threatened the financial promoter with injunctions and succeeded in

opening negotiations for a settlement. All the patents "which had been

for years suspended" over Bessemer were turned over to him for L30,000.

Ebbw Vale, thereupon, issued their prospectus[48] with the significant

statement that the directors "have agreed for a license for the

manufacture of steel by the Bessemer process which, from the peculiar

resources they possess, they will be enabled to produce in very large

quantities...." So Bessemer became the owner of the Martien and Parry

patents. Mushet's basic patents no longer existed.

[47] The Engineer, 1862, vol. 14, p. 3. Bessemer, op. cit.

(footnote 7), p. 296.

[48] Mining Journal, 1864, vol. 34, p. 478.