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Captains Of Industry Or Men Of Business Who Did Something Besides Making Money - Henry Bessemer

1. Preface

2. David Maydole

3. Ichabod Washburn

4. Elihu Burritt

5. Michael Reynolds

6. Major Robert Pike

7. George Graham

8. John Harrison

9. Peter Faneuil

10. Chauncey Jerome

11. Captain Pierre Laclede Liguest

12. Israel Putnam

13. George Flower

14. Edward Coles

15. Peter H. Burnett

16. Gerrit Smith

17. Peter Force

18. John Bromfield

19. Frederick Tudor

20. Myron Holley

21. The Founders Of Lowell

23. John Smedley

24. Richard Cobden

25. Henry Bessemer

26. John Bright

27. Thomas Edward

28. Robert Dick

29. John Duncan

30. James Lackington

31. Horace Greeley's Start

32. James Gordon Bennett

33. Three John Walters

34. George Hope

35. Sir Henry Cole

36. Charles Summers

37. William B. Astor

38. Peter Cooper

39. Paris Duverney

40. Sir Rowland Hill

41. Marie-Antoine Careme

42. Wonderful Walker

43. Sir Christopher Wren

44. Sir John Rennie

45. Sir Moses Montefiore

46. Marquis Of Worcester

47. An Old Dry-goods Merchant's Recollections


Nervous persons who ride in sleeping-cars are much indebted to Henry
Bessemer, to whose inventive genius they owe the beautiful steel rails
over which the cars glide so steadily. It was he who so simplified and
cheapened the process of making steel that it can be used for rails.

Nine people in ten, I suppose, do not know the chemical difference
between iron and steel. Iron is iron; but steel is iron mixed with
carbon. But, then, what is carbon? There is no substance in nature of
which you can pick up a piece and say, This is carbon. And hence it is
difficult to explain its nature and properties. Carbon is the principal
ingredient in coal, charcoal, and diamond. Carbon is not diamond, but a
diamond is carbon crystallized. Carbon is not charcoal, but in some
kinds of charcoal it is almost the whole mass. As crystallized carbon or
diamond is the hardest of all known substances, so also the blending of
carbon with iron hardens it into steel.

The old way of converting iron into steel was slow, laborious, and
expensive. In India for ages the process has been as follows: pieces of
forged iron are put into a crucible along with a certain quantity of
wood. A fire being lighted underneath, three or four men are incessantly
employed in blowing it with bellows. Through the action of the heat the
wood becomes charcoal, the iron is melted and absorbs carbon from the
charcoal. In this way small pieces of steel were made, but made at a
cost which confined the use of the article to small objects, such as
watch-springs and cutlery. The plan pursued in Europe and America, until
about twenty-five years ago, was similar to this in principle. Our
machinery was better, and pure charcoal was placed in the crucible
instead of wood; but the process was long and costly, and only small
pieces of steel were produced at a time.

Henry Bessemer enters upon the scene. In 1831, being then eighteen years
of age, he came up to London from a country village in Hertfordshire to
seek his fortune, not knowing one person in the metropolis. He was, as
he has since said, "a mere cipher in that vast sea of human enterprise."
He was a natural inventor, of studious and observant habits. As soon as
he had obtained a footing in London he began to invent. He first devised
a process for copying bas-reliefs on cardboard, by which he could
produce embossed copies of such works in thousands at a small expense.
The process was so simple that in ten minutes a person without skill
could produce a die from an embossed stamp at a cost of one penny.

When his invention was complete he thought with dismay and alarm that,
as almost all the expensive stamps affixed to documents in England are
raised from the paper, any of them could be forged by an office-boy of
average intelligence. The English government has long obtained an
important part of its revenue by the sale of these stamps, many of which
are high priced, costing as much as twenty-five dollars. If the stamp on
a will, a deed, or other document is not genuine, the document has no
validity. As soon as he found what mischief had been done, he set to
work to devise a remedy. After several months' experiment and reflection
he invented a stamp which could neither be forged nor removed from the
document and used a second time. A large business, it seems, had been
done in removing stamps from old parchments of no further use, and
selling them to be used again.

The inventor called at the stamp office and had an interview with the
chief, who frankly owned that the government was losing half a million
dollars a year by the use of old stamps; and he was then considering
methods of avoiding the loss. Bessemer exhibited his invention, the
chief feature of which was the perforation of the stamp in such a way
that forgery and removal were equally impossible. The commissioner
finally agreed to adopt it. The next question was as to the compensation
of the young inventor, and he was given his choice either to accept a
sum of money or an office for life in the stamp office of four thousand
dollars a year. As he was engaged to be married, he chose the office,
and went home rejoicing, feeling that he was a made man. Nor did he long
delay to communicate the joyful news to the young lady. To her also he
explained his invention, dwelling upon the fact that a five-pound stamp
a hundred years old could be taken off a document and used a second

"Yes," said she, "I understand that; but, surely, if all stamps had a
DATE put upon them they could not at a future time be used again without

The inventor was startled. He had never thought of an expedient so
simple and so obvious. A lover could not but be pleased at such
ingenuity in his affianced bride; but it spoiled his invention! His
perforated stamp did not allow of the insertion of more than one date.
He succeeded in obviating this difficulty, but deemed it only fair to
communicate the new idea to the chief of the stamp office. The result
was that the government simply adopted the plan of putting a date upon
all the stamps afterwards issued, and discarded Bessemer's fine scheme
of perforation, which would have involved an expensive and troublesome
change of machinery and methods. But the worst of it was that the
inventor lost his office, since his services were not needed. Nor did he
ever receive compensation for the service rendered.

Thus it was that a young lady changed the stamp system of her country,
and ruined her lover's chances of getting a good office. She rendered
him, however, and rendered the world, a much greater service in throwing
him upon his own resources. They were married soon after, and Mrs.
Bessemer is still living to tell how she married and made her husband's

Twenty years passed, with the varied fortune which young men of energy
and talent often experience in this troublesome world. We find him then
experimenting in the conversion of iron into steel. The experiments were
laborious as well as costly, since his idea was to convert at one
operation many tons' weight of iron into steel, and in a few minutes. As
iron ore contains carbon, he conceived the possibility of making that
carbon unite with the iron during the very process of smelting. For
nearly two years he was building furnaces and pulling them down again,
spending money and toil with just enough success to lure him on to spend
more money and toil; experimenting sometimes with ten pounds of iron
ore, and sometimes with several hundredweight. His efforts were at
length crowned with such success that he was able to make five tons of
steel at a blast, in about thirty-five minutes, with comparatively
simple machinery, and with a very moderate expenditure of fuel.

This time he took the precaution to patent his process, and offered
rights to all the world at a royalty of a shilling per hundredweight.
His numerous failures, however, had discouraged the iron men, and no one
would embark capital in the new process. He therefore began himself the
manufacture of steel on a small scale, and with such large profit, that
the process was rapidly introduced into all the iron-making countries,
and gave Mrs. Bessemer ample consolation for her early misfortune of
being too wise. Money and gold medals have rained in upon them. At the
French Exhibition of 1868 Mr. Bessemer was awarded a gold medal weighing
twelve ounces. His process has been improved upon both by himself and
others, and has conferred upon all civilized countries numerous and
solid benefits. We may say of him that he has added to the resources of
many trades a new material.

The latest device of Henry Bessemer, if it had succeeded, would have
been a great comfort to the Marquis of Lorne and other persons of weak
digestion who cross the ocean. It was a scheme for suspending the cabin
of a ship so that it should swing free and remain stationary, no matter
how violent the ship's motion. The idea seems promising, but we have not
yet heard of the establishment of a line of steamers constructed on the
Bessemer principle. We may yet have the pleasure of swinging from New
York to Liverpool.

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