The 19th January 2013 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Sir Henry Bessemer.

Born in the village of Charlton, near Hitchin in Hertfordshire, UK in 1813 he is best known as the inventor of the Bessemer Converter which was arguably the first pneumatic bulk steelmaking process (Kelly in USA also laid claim to a pneumatic process at this time but it was never commercialised). Bessemer published his invention in 1856 and the first commercial application was seen in 1858. The process was still in operation worldwide well into the 1950s.

Bessemer persevered to overcome major difficulties in commercialising the process, first to overcome porosity in the cast ingots which he did following the suggestion of Robert Mushet to add spiegeleisen (Fe-Mn) to deoxidise the steel and later in recognising that the process was only suitable for the treatment of acid ores – low in phosphorus – as Bessemer used a silica lining in his converter which was attacked if the recognised process of adding lime was used to remove the phosphorus which embrittled the steel on cold working. (Sidney Gilchrist Thomas overcame this problem in 1878 by using a basic lining of burnt dolomite and pitch in the converter rather than Bessemer’s silica lining).

Bessemer was a prolific inventor with 117 patents to his name. Fortunately one invention on the production of ‘gold’ leaf for artists was so profitable that it enabled him to persevere to overcome the problems he first experienced with converter steelmaking.

To celebrate the anniversary of his birth, the Friends of Charlon Village – a hamlet on the southern edge of Hitchin – are holding a party in the local pub (the Windmill) on the evening of the 19 January and have arranged an exhibition on Bessemer’s life at the British School of Invention in Hitchin running from February to 18 May which will close with a Victorian Fair on 18 May.

In addition, the IoM3 in London are organising an exhibition at their headquarters, 1 Carlton House Terrace, from 19 January for three to four months as well as publishing an article by a descendant of Bessemer in the January issue of ‘Materials World’.