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Steel sold for twenty-five cents a pound. The ironmasters mined little coal and baked no coke. Not an ounce of iron had been made in Wheeling, Youngstown, Cleveland, or Chicago--the latter being a fur-trading village, without harbour or railroad. Birmingham, Alabama, was not on the map until two-score years later. There was not a foot of railroad near Pittsburgh, and not one rail, either of iron or steel, had been produced in any part of the country. As late as the beginning of the Civil War, what was called a first-class furnace would cost about fifty thousand dollars, employ seventy men, and produce a thousand tons of iron a year. The business was conducted, not by corporations, but by individual ironmasters, who ruled in a truly feudal way over their small communities. There were no millionaires, and what little money an iron-maker had was liable to become waste paper at any moment by the collapse of a rickety bank. Four furnaces out of five were haunted by the spectre of debt; and in a bad year, like or , scores of furnaces were blown out. The tariff, too, was even more variable than the currency. It was raised and lowered by the fitful gusts of politics until , when the Morrill tariff first gave some chance of stability to the unfortunate industry. With the Civil War came the first large orders and continuous business. Every plant was run night and day. Of the three billion dollars that the war cost the Federal Government, a goodly share went to the iron men. Uncle Sam was the best customer they had ever known. They had a surplus in the bank, at last--a store of capital which enabled them to do business on a larger scale. When the smoke of battle had cleared away, Captain Eber B. Ward, of Detroit, loomed up as the first of the iron kings, with several millions to his credit and three flourishing plants, in Chicago, Detroit, and Milwaukee. The marvellous modern expansion of the iron and steel industry was now about to begin. The germ of its stupendous growth lay in the invention of the Bessemer process. This was more than a trade problem. The railroads were using iron rails, which wore out in less than two years. The largest locomotive of that time would today be considered little more than a toy. There were no skyscrapers and no subways, and stages were practically the only street-cars. Neither wood nor iron was fit for the new uses of the growing republic; and the high cost of steel made it almost as much out of the question as silver. The greatest need of the world was cheap steel. At this juncture an answer to the universal demand was voiced by the inventive genius of two men--William Kelly, a Pittsburgh Irish-American, and Sir Henry Bessemer, an Englishman of French descent. They devised a new way to refine iron, which has since been known as the Bessemer process. Their discovery was an entirely new idea and one which at first seemed absurd to every other steel-maker; but within a few years it was universally adopted, revolutionising the iron and steel trade, and providing the world with a cheap and abundant supply of its most useful metal. It expanded the industry with almost the suddenness of an explosion, and for the first time in the long history of steel-making the steelsmiths were fairly swept off their feet by a flood of riches. Hundreds of individuals were picked up--by merit, by luck, or by chance--and flung upon the golden thrones of an international empire of steel. Kelly's father was a well-to-do landowner in Pittsburgh, where it is said that he erected the first two brick houses in the city. At the time when William Kelly began to make iron, he was thirty-six years old--a tall, well-set-up, muscular, energetic man, with blue eyes and close-cropped beard. In inventiveness his brain ranked high; in business ability, low. He had left a commission business and become an iron maker mainly to carry out a process which he had invented, by which larger sugarkettles were to be made. The "Kelly kettles" became well known among the Southern farmers. He had married Miss Mildred A. Gracy, of Eddyville, and secured the financial backing of his wealthy father-in-law. His iron plant was a fairly good one, close to high-grade ore, and needing the work of about three hundred negro slaves. Kelly was strongly opposed to slavery, and tried to escape being a slaveholder by importing Chinese. He was the first employer in this country to make this experiment, and found it successful; but international complications prevented him from putting it into practice on a larger scale. Kelly's first aim was to make good wrought iron, for his kettles and for customers in Cincinnati. His iron was refined in what was called a "finery fire"-- a small furnace in which about fifteen hundred pounds of pig iron were placed between two layers of charcoal. The charcoal was set on fire, the blast was turned on, and more charcoal was added until the iron was thoroughly refined--a slow, old-fashioned process which used up quantities of charcoal. In a year all the wood near the furnace had been burned, and the nearest available source of supply was seven miles distant--a fact with which the unbusinesslike Kelly had not reckoned. To cart his charcoal seven miles meant bankruptcy, unless--he could invent a way to save fuel. Kelly's Epoch-making Discovery One day he was sitting in front of the "finery fire" when he suddenly sprang to his feet with a shout, and rushed to the furnace. At one edge he saw a white-hot spot in the yellow mass of molten metal. The iron at this spot was incandescent. It was almost gaseous. Yet there was no charcoal--nothing but the steady blast of air. Why didn't the air chill the metal? Every iron-maker since Tubal Cain had believed that cold air would chill hot iron. But Kelly was more than an iron-maker. He was a student of metallurgy, and he knew that carbon and oxygen had an affinity for each other. He knew what air was and what iron was, and like a flash the idea leaped into his excited brain--there is no need of charcoal. Air alone is fuel. It was as simple as breathing, and very similar, but no human mind had thought of it before. When the air is blown into the molten metal, the oxygen unites with the impurities of the iron and leaves the pure iron behind. Kelly was carried away by the magnitude of his idea. His unrestrained delight, after months of depression, amazed everyone in the little hamlet. Most of his neighbours thought him crazy. Only three listened with interest and sympathy--two English iron-workers and the village doctor. At first Kelly snapped his fingers at opposition. At his invitation a number of jesting iron-makers from western Kentucky gathered around his furnace the following week, and Kelly, caring nothing for patents, explained his idea and gave a demonstration of it. Air was blown through some melted pig iron, agitating it into a white heat, to the amazement of the brawny onlookers. A blacksmith seized a piece of the refined iron, cooled it, and with his hammer produced in twenty minutes a perfect horseshoe. He flung it at the feet of the iron men, who could not believe their eyesight, and, seizing a second scrap of the iron, made nails and fastened the shoe to the foot of a near-by horse. Pig iron, which cannot be hammered into anything, had been changed into malleable iron, or something very much like it, without the use of an ounce of fuel. Surely, the thing was too absurd. Seeing was not believing. The iron men shook their heads and went home, to boast in after years that they had seen the first public production of "Bessemer" steel in the world. Kelly called his invention the "pneumatic process," but it became locally known as "Kelly's air-boiling process. He sent his steel, or refined iron, or whatever it was, to Cincinnati, and no flaws were found in it. Bessemer had made any experiments with iron, there were steamboats on the Ohio River with boilers made of iron that had been refined by Kelly's process. Kelly's Apparent Failure But now came a form of opposition that Kelly could not defy. We want our iron made in the regular way or not at all. New mines had to be dug. Instead of making ten tons a day, he made two. He became outwardly a level-headed, practical, conservative iron-maker, and won back the confidence of his partners and customers. Then one night he took his "pneumatic process" machinery three miles back into a secluded part of the forest and set it up. Like Galileo, he said: Under such conditions progress was slow. By his first converter was built--a square, brick structure, four feet high, with a cylindrical chamber. The bottom was perforated for the blast. He would first turn on the blast, and then put in melted pig iron with a ladle. About three times out of five he succeeded. The greatest difficulty was to have the blast strong enough; otherwise the iron flowed through the air-holes and clogged them up. His second converter was made with holes in the side, and worked better. He discovered that he could do ninety minutes work in ten, and save further expense in fuel. One improvement followed another. In all, he built seven converters in his backwoods hiding-place. In Kelly was told that Henry Bessemer, an Englishman, had taken out a United States patent for the "pneumatic process. The patent office was convinced and granted him United States Patent No. Then came the panic of , and Kelly was one of the thousands who toppled over into bankruptcy. To get some ready money, he sold his patent to his father for a thousand dollars. Not long afterwards, the elder Kelly died, and willed his rights to his daughters, who were shrewd, businesslike women. They regarded their brother William as a child in financial matters, and refused to give him his patent. After several years of unjustifiable delay, they transferred it to Kelly's children.
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