Mushet And Bessemer

That Mushet was "used" by Ebbw Vale against Bessemer is, perhaps, only

an assumption; but that he was badly treated by Ebbw Vale is subject to

no doubt. Mushet's business capacity was small but it is difficult to

believe that he could have been so foolish as to assign an interest in

his patents to Ebbw Vale without in some way insuring his right of

consultation about their disposition. He claims that even in the

g of his specifications he was obliged to follow die demands of

Ebbw Vale, which firm, believing, "on the advice of Mr. Hindmarsh, the

most eminent patent counsel of the day,"[49] that Martien's patent

outranked Bessemer's, insisted that Mushet link his process to

Martien's. This, as late as 1861, Mushet believed to be in effective

operation.[50] His later repudiation of the process as an absurd and

impracticable patent process "possessing neither value nor utility"[51]

may more truly represent his opinion, especially as, when he wrote his

1861 comment, he still did not know of the disappearance of his


[49] The Engineer, 1861, vol. 12, p. 189.

[50] Ibid., p. 78.

[51] Mushet, op. cit. (footnote 46), p. 9.

Mushet's boast[52] that he had never been into an ironworks other than

his own in Coleford is a clue to the interpretation of his behavior in

general and also of his frequent presumptuous claims. When, for

instance, the development of the Uchatius process was publicized, he

gave his opinion[53] that the process was a useless one and had been

patented before Uchatius "understood its nature"; yet later[54] he

could claim that the process was "in fact, my own invention and I had

made and sold the steel thus produced for some years previously to the

date of Captain Uchatius' patent". Moreover, he claims to have

instructed Uchatius' agents in its operation! He may, at this later

date, have recalled his challenge (the first of many such) in which he

offered Uchatius' agent in England to pay a monetary penalty if he

could not show a superior method of producing "sound serviceable cast

steel from British coke pig-iron, on the stomic plan and without any

mixture of clay, oxide of manganese or any of these pot destroying


[52] Ibid., p. 25.

[53] Mining Journal, 1857, vol. 27, p. 755.

[54] Mushet, op. cit. (footnote 46), p. 28. The Uchatius

process became the "You-cheat-us" process to Mushet (Mining

Journal, 1858, vol. 28, p. 34).

[55] Mining Journal, 1857, vol. 27, p. 755 (italics supplied).

It was David Mushet (or Robert, using his brother's name)[56] who

accused Bessemer, or rather his patent agent, Carpmael, of sharp

practice in connection with Martien's specification, an allegation

later supported by Martien's first patent agent, Avery.[57] The story

was that for the drafting of his final specification, Martien,

presumably with the advice of the Ebbw Vale Iron Works, consulted the

same Carpmael, as "the leading man" in the field. The latter advised

that the provisional specification restricted Martien to the

application of his method to iron flowing in a channel or gutter from

the blast furnace, and so prevented him from applying his aeration

principle in any kind of receptacle. In effect, Carpmael was acting

unprofessionally by giving Bessemer the prior claim to the use of a

receptacle. According to Mushet, Martien had in fact "actually and

publicly proved" his process in a receptacle and not in a gutter, so

that his claim to priority could be maintained on the basis of the

provisional specification.

[56] See footnote 22.

[57] Mining Journal, 1856, vol. 26, pp. 583, 631.

This, like other Mushet allegations, was ignored by Bessemer, and

probably with good reason. At any rate, Martien's American patent is in

terms similar to those of the British specification; he or his advisers

seem to have attached no significance to the distinction between a

gutter and a receptacle.

Mushet's claim to have afforded Bessemer the means of making his own

process useful is still subject to debate. Unfortunately, documentation

of the case is almost wholly one sided, since his biggest publicizer

was Mushet himself. An occasional editorial in the technical press and

a few replies to Mushet's "lucubrations" are all the material which

exists, apart from Bessemer's own story.

Mushet and at least five other men patented the use of manganese in

steel making in 1856; his own provisional specification was filed

within a month of the publication of Bessemer's British Association

address in August 1856. So it is strange that Robert Mushet did not

until more than a year later join in the controversy which followed

that address.[58] In one of his early letters he claims to have made of

"his" steel a bridge rail of 750 pounds weight; although his brother

insists that he saw the same rail in the Ebbw Vale offices in London in

the spring of 1857, when it was presented as a specimen of Uchatius

steel![59] Robert Mushet's indignant "advertisement" of January 5,

1858,[60] reiterating his parentage of this sample, also claimed a

double-headed steel rail "made by me under another of my patent

processes," and sent to Derby to be laid down there to be "subjected to

intense vertricular triturations." Mushet's description of the

preparation of this ingot[61] shows that it was derived from "Bessemer

scrap" made by Ebbw Vale in the first unsuccessful attempts of that

firm to simulate the Bessemer process. This scrap Mushet had remelted

in pots with spiegel in the proportions of 44 pounds of scrap to 3 of

melted spiegel. It was his claim that the rail was rolled direct from

the ingot, something Bessemer himself could not do at that time.

[58] October 17, 1857, writing as "Sideros" (Mining Journal,

1857, vol. 27, p. 723).

[59] Mining Journal, 1857, vol. 27, p. 871, and 1858, vol. 28,

p. 12.

[60] Ibid. (1858), p. 34.

[61] Mushet, op. cit. (footnote 46), p. 12. The phrase quoted

is typical of Mushet's style.

This was the beginning of a series of claims by Mushet as to his

essential contributions to Bessemer's invention. The silence of the

latter during this period is impressive, for according to Bessemer's

own account[62] his British Association address was premature, and

although the sale of licenses actually provided him with working funds,

the impatience of those experimenting with the process and the flood of

competing "inventions" all embarrassed him at the most critical stage

of this development of the process: "It was, however, no use for me to

argue the matter in the press. All that I could say would be mere talk

and I felt that action was necessary, and not words."[63]

[62] Bessemer, op. cit. (footnote 7), pp. 161 ff. and 256 ff.

[63] Ibid., p. 171.

Action took the form of continued experiments and, by the end of 1857,

a decision to build his own plant at Sheffield.[64] An important

collateral development resulted from the visit to London in May 1857 of

G. F. Goransson of Gefle, Sweden. Using Bessemer equipment, Goransson

began trials of the process in November 1857 and by October 1858 was

able to report: "Our firm has now entirely given up the manufacture of

bar iron, and our blast furnaces and tilt mills are now wholly employed

in making steel by the Bessemer process, which may, therefore, be now

considered an accomplished commercial fact."[65]

[64] This enterprise, started in conjunction with Galloway's of

Manchester, one of the firms licensed by Bessemer to make his

equipment, was under way by April 1858 (see Mining Journal,

1858, vol. 28, p. 259).

[65] Mining Journal, 1858, vol. 28, p. 696. Mushet commented

(p. 713) that he had done the same thing "eighteen months ago."

Goransson was later to claim considerable improvements on the method of

introducing the blast, and, in consequence, the first effective

demonstration of the Bessemer method[66]--this at a time when Bessemer

was still remelting the product of his converter in crucibles, after

granulating the steel in water. If Mushet is to be believed, this

success of Goransson's was wholly due to his ore being "totally free

from phosphorous and sulphur."[67] However, Bessemer's own progress was

substantial, for his Sheffield works were reported as being in active

operation in April 1859, and a price for his engineers' tool and

spindle steel was included in the Mining Journal "Mining Market"

weekly quotations for the first time[68] on June 4, 1859.

[66] Swank, op. cit. (footnote 42), p. 405.

[67] The Engineer, 1859, vol. 7, p. 350.

[68] Mining Journal, 1859, vol. 29, pp. 396 and 401. The price

quotation was continued until April 1865.

In May 1859 Bessemer gave a paper, his first public pronouncement since

August 1856, before the Institution of Civil Engineers.[69] The early

process, he admitted, had led to failure because the process had not

reduced the quantity of sulphur and phosphorous, but his account is

vague as to the manner in which he dealt with this problem:

Steam and pure hydrogen gas were tried, with more or less success

in the removal of sulphur, and various flues, composed chiefly of

silicates of the oxide of iron and manganese were brought in

contact with the fluid metal, during the process and the quantity

of phosphorous was thereby reduced.

[69] The Engineer, 1859, vol. 7, p. 437.

But the clear implication is that the commercial operation at Sheffield

was based on the use of the best Swedish pig iron and the hematite pig

from Workington. The use of manganese as standard practice at this time

is not referred to,[70] but the rotary converter and the use of

ganister linings are mentioned for the first time.

[70] Jeans, op. cit. (footnote 5), p. 349 refers to the

hematite ores of Lancashire and Cumberland as "the ores hitherto

almost exclusively used in the Bessemer process."

A definitive account of the Swedish development of the Bessemer

process, leading to a well-documented claim that the first

practical realization of the process was achieved in Sweden in

July 1858, was recently published (Per Carlberg, "Early

Production of Bessemer Steel at Edsken," Journal of the Iron and

Steel Institute, Great Britain, July 1958, vol. 189, p. 201).

Mushet had, with some intuition, found opportunity to reassert his

contributions to Bessemer a few days before this address, describing

his process as perhaps lacking "the extraordinary merit of Mr.

Bessemer," being "merely a vigorous offshoot proceeding from that great

discovery; but, combined with Mr. Bessemer's process, it places within

the reach of every iron manufacturer to produce cast steel at the same

cost for which he can now make his best iron."[71]

[71] The Engineer, 1859, vol. 7, p. 314. Bessemer's intention

to present his paper had been announced in April.

One of Mushet's replies to the paper itself took the form of the

announcement of his provisional patent for the use of his triple

compound which, in the opinion of The Mining Journal appeared to be

"but a very slight modification of several of Mr. Bessemer's

inventions." Another half dozen patents appeared within two months, "so

that it is apparent that Mr. Mushet's failure to make the public

appreciate his theories has not injured his inventive faculties."[72]

These patents include, besides variations on his "triple compound"

theme, his important patent on the use of tungsten for cutting tools,

later to be known as Mushet steel.[73]

[72] Mining Journal, 1859, vol. 29, p. 539 and 640. Another

Mushet patent is described as so much like Uchatius' process that

it would seem to be almost unpatentable.

[73] See Jeans, op. cit. (footnote 5), p. 532.

Mushet's formal pronouncement on Bessemer's paper, dated June 28, 1859,

is perhaps his most intelligible communication on the subject. He alone

"from the first consistently advocated the merits and pointed out the

defects of the Bessemer process," and within a few days of the British

Association address he had shown Ebbw Vale "where the defect would be

found and what would remedy" it. It was not, in fact, the presence of

one-tenth of a percent of sulphur or phosphorous which affected the

result if the Bessemer process were combined with his process by adding

a triple compound of iron, carbon, and manganese to the pig. "There

never was a bar of first-rate cast steel made by the Bessemer process

alone"; (and that included Goransson's product) "and there never can

be, but a cheap kind of steel applicable to several purposes may be

thus produced." After emphasizing the uniqueness of his attempt to make

Bessemer's process successful, he asserts:[74]

In short, I merely availed myself of a great metallurgical fact,

which has been for years before the eyes of the metallurgical

world, namely that the presence of metallic manganese in iron and

steel conferred upon both an amount of toughness either when cold

or when heated, which the presence at the same time of a notable

amount of sulphur and phosphorous could not overcome.

[74] The Engineer, 1859, vol. 8, p. 13 (italics supplied). It

is noted that Mushet's American patent (17389, of May 26, 1857)

prefers the use of iron "as free as possible from Sulphur and


The succeeding years were enlivened, one by one, by some controversy in

which Mushet invoked the shadow of his late father as support for some

pronouncement, or "edict," as some said, on the subject of making iron

and steel. In 1860, on the question of suitable metal for artillery,

later to be the subject of high controversy among the leading experts

of the day, Mushet found a ready solution in his own gun metal. This he

had developed fifteen years before. It was of a tensile strength better

even than that of Krupp of Essen who was then specializing in the

making of large blocks of cast steel for heavy forgings, and

particularly for guns. Indeed, he was able publicly to challenge Krupp

to produce a cast gun metal or cast steel to stand test against

his.[75] A year later his attack on the distinguished French

metallurgist Fremy, whom he describes as an "ass" for his interest in

the so-called cyanogen process of steel making, did little to enhance

his reputation, whatever the scientific justification for his attack.

His attitude toward the use of New Zealand (Taranaki) metalliferous

sand, which he had previously favored and then condemned in such a way

as to "injure a project he can no longer control,"[76] was another

example of a public behavior evidently resented.

[75] The Engineer, 1860, vol. 9, pp. 366, 416, and passim.

[76] The Engineer, 1861, vol. 11, pp. 189, 202, 290, 304.

By mid-1861, on the other hand, Bessemer was beginning to meet with

increasing respect from the trade. The Society of Engineers received a

dispassionate account of the achievement at the Sheffield Works from E.

Riley, whose firm (Dowlais) was among the earlier and disappointed

licensees of the process.[77] In August 1861, five years after the

ill-fated address before the British Association, the Institution of

Mechanical Engineers, meeting in Sheffield, the center of the British

steel trade, heard papers from Bessemer and from John Brown, a famous

ironmaster. The latter described the making of Bessemer rails, the

product which above all was to absorb the Bessemer plants in America

after 1865. After the meeting, the engineers visited Bessemer's works;

and later it was reported,[78] "at Messrs. John Brown and Company's

works, the Bessemer process was repeated on a still larger scale and a

heavy armor plate rolled in the presence of some 250 visitors...."

[77] The Engineer, 1861, vol. 12, p. 10.

[78] Ibid., p. 63.

These proceedings invited Robert Mushet's intervention. Still under the

impression that his patent was still alive and, with Martien's, in the

"able hands" of the Ebbw Vale Iron Company, he condemned Bessemer for

his "lack of grace" to do him justice, and took the occasion to indict

the patent system which denied him and Martien the fruits of their


[79] Ibid., pp. 78 and 177.

The Engineer found Mushet's position untenable on the very grounds he

was pleading--that patents should not be issued to different men at

different times for the same thing; and showed that Bessemer in his

patents of January 4, 1856, and later, had clearly anticipated Mushet.

In a subsequent article, The Engineer disposed of Martien's and

Mushet's claims with a certain finality. The Ebbw Vale Iron Works had

spent L7,000 trying to carry out the Martien process and it was

unlikely that they would have allowed Bessemer to infringe upon that

patent if they had any grounds for a case. Bessemer was not imitating

Mushet. The latter's "triple compound" required manganese pig-iron

(with a content of 2 to 5 percent of manganese) at L13 per ton while

Bessemer used an oxide of manganese (at a 50 percent concentration): at

L7 per ton.

The alloy of manganese and other materials now used in the

atmospheric process contains 50 percent of manganese a proportion

which could never be obtained from the blast furnace, owing to the

highly oxidisable nature of that metal. And it is absolutely

necessary, in order to apply any useful alloy of iron, carbon and

manganese, in the manufacture of malleable iron and very soft steel

that the manganese should be largely in excess of the carbon


[80] Ibid., p. 208. There is an intriguing reference in this

editorial to an interference on behalf of Martien against a

Bessemer application for a U.S. patent. No dates are given and

the case has not been located in the record of U.S. Patent

Commissioner's decision.

Sufficient answer to Mushet was at any rate available in the fact that

many hundreds of tons of excellent "Bessemer metal" made without any

mixture of manganese or spiegeleisen in any form were in successful

use. And, moreover, spiegeleisen was not a discovery of Robert Mushet

or an exclusive product of Germany since it had been made for twenty

years at least from Tow Law (Durham) ores. If Bessemer had refused

Mushet a license (and this was an admitted fact), Bessemer's refusal

must have been made in self-defense:

Mr. Mushet having set up a number of claims for "improvements" upon

which claims, we have a right to suppose, he was preparing to take

toll from Mr. Bessemer, but which claims, the latter gentleman

discovered, in time, were worthless and accordingly declined any

negotiations with the individual making them.[81]

[81] Ibid., p. 254.

Mushet's claims were by this time rarely supported in the periodicals.

One interesting article in his favor came in 1864 from a source of

special interest to the American situation. Mushet's American

patent[82] had been bought by an American group interested in the Kelly

process at about this time,[83] and Bessemer's American rights had also

been sold to an American group that included Alexander Lyman

Holley,[84] who had long been associated with Zerah Colburn, another

American engineer. Colburn, who subsequently (1866) established the

London periodical Engineering and is regarded as one of the founders

of engineering journalism, was from 1862 onward a frequent contributor

to other trade papers in London. Colburn's article of 1864[85] seems to

have been of some importance to Mushet, who, in the prospectus of the

Titanic Steel and Iron Company, Ltd., issued soon after, brazenly

asserted[86] that, "by the process of Mr. Mushet especially when in

combination with the Bessemer process, steel as good as Swedish steel"

would be produced at L6 per ton. Mushet may have intended to invite a

patent action, but evidently Bessemer could now more than ever afford

to ignore the "sage of Coleford."

[82] U.S. patent 17389, dated May 26, 1857. The patent was not

renewed when application was made in 1870, on the grounds that

the original patent had been made co-terminal with the British

patent. The latter had been abandoned "by Mushet's own fault" so

that no right existed to an American renewal (U.S. Patent Office,

Decision of Commissioner of Patents, dated September 19, 1870).

[83] See below, p. 45. The exact date of the purchase of Mushet's

patent is not known.

[84] Engineering, 1882, vol. 33, p. 114. The deal was completed

in 1863.

[85] The Engineer, 1864, vol. 18, pp. 405, 406.

[86] Mining Journal, 1864, vol. 34, pp. 77 and 94 (italics

supplied). It has not yet been possible to ascertain if this

company was successful. Mushet writes from this time on from

Cheltenham, where the company had its offices. Research continues

in this interesting aspect of his career.

The year 1865 saw Mushet less provocative and more appealing; as for

instance: "It was no fault of Mr. Bessemer's that my patent was lost,

but he ought to acknowledge his obligations to me in a manly,

straightforward manner and this would stamp him as a great man as well

as a great inventor."[87]

[87] Mining Engineer, 1865, vol. 35, p. 86.

But Bessemer evidently remained convinced of the security of his own

patent position. In an address before the British Association at

Birmingham in September 1865 he made his first public reply to

Mushet.[88] In his long series of patents Mushet had attempted to


almost every conceivable mode of introducing manganese into the

metal.... Manganese and its compounds were so claimed under all

imaginable conditions that if this series of patents could have

been sustained in law, it would have been utterly impossible for

[me] to have employed manganese with steel made by his process,

although it was considered by the trade to be impossible to make

steel from coke-made iron without it.

[88] The Engineer, 1865, vol. 20, p. 174.

The failure of those who controlled Mushet's batch of patents to renew

them at the end of three years, Bessemer ascribed to the low public

estimation to which Mushet's process had sunk in 1859, and he had

therefore, "used without scruple any of these numerous patents for

manganese without feeling an overwhelming sense of obligation to the

patentee." He was now using ferromanganese made in Glasgow. Another

alloy, consisting of 60 to 80 percent of metallic manganese was also

available to him from Germany.

This renewed publicity brought forth no immediate reply from Mushet,

but a year later he was invited to read a paper before the British

Association. A report on the meeting stated that in his paper he

repeated his oft-told story, and that "he still thought that the

accident (of the non-payment of the patent stamp duties) ought not to

debar him from receiving the reward to which he was justly entitled."

Bessemer, who was present, reiterated his constant willingness to

submit the matter to the courts of law, but pointed out that Mushet had

not accepted the challenge.[89]

[89] Mechanics' Magazine, 1866, vol. 16, p. 147.

Three months later, in December 1866, Mushet's daughter called on

Bessemer and asked his help to prevent the loss of their home: "They

tell me you use my father's inventions and are indebted to him for your

success." Bessemer replied characteristically:

I use what your father has no right to claim; and if he had the

legal position you seem to suppose, he could stop my business by an

injunction tomorrow and get many thousands of pounds compensation

for my infringement of his rights. The only result which followed

from your father taking out his patents was that they pointed out

to me some rights which I already possessed, but of which I was not

availing myself. Thus he did me some service and even for this

unintentional service, I cannot live in a state of indebtedness....

With that he gave Miss Mushet money to cover a debt for which distraint

was threatened.[90] Soon after this action, Bessemer made Mushet a

"small allowance" of L300 a year. Bessemer's reasons for making this

payment, he describes as follows: "There was a strong desire on my part

to make him (Mushet) my debtor rather than the reverse, and the payment

had other advantages: the press at that time was violently attacking my

patent and there was the chance that if any of my licensees were thus

induced to resist my claims, all the rest might follow the


[90] Bessemer, op. cit. (footnote 7), p. 294.

[91] Ibid.

Mushet's Titanic Steel and Iron Company was liquidated in 1871 and its

principal asset, "R. Mushet's special steel," that is, his tungsten

alloy tool metal, was taken over by the Sheffield firm of Samuel Osborn

and Company. The royalties from this, with Bessemer's pension seem to

have left Mushet in a reasonably comfortable condition until his death

in 1891;[92] but even the award of the Bessemer medal by the Iron and

Steel Institute in 1876 failed to remove the conviction that he had

been badly treated. One would like to know more about the politics

which preceded the award of the trade's highest honor. Bessemer at any

rate was persuaded to approve of the presentation and attended the

meeting. Mushet himself did not accept the invitation, "as I may

probably not be then alive."[93] The President of the Institute

emphasized the present good relations between Mushet and Bessemer and

the latter recorded that the hatchet had "long since" been buried. Yet

Mushet continued to brood over the injustice done to him and eventually

recorded his story of the rise and progress of the "Bessemer-Mushet"

process in a pamphlet[94] written apparently without reference to his

earlier statements and so committing himself to many inconsistencies.

[92] See Fred M. Osborn, The story of the Mushets, London,


[93] Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute, 1876, p. 3.

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