Welding is a vitally important job that has most certainly seen its share of changes over the course of time. In this brief article, we will be delving into the birth of welding in order to better understand its fascinating and unique history.
The 19th Century
Countless developments throughout the 19th century led to the development of welding. For example, in 1800, the successful production of an arc between two carbon electrodes via a battery was completed by Sir Humphry Davy. By the middle of the 19th century, the electric generator had been developed and arc lighting would become more and more popular. By 1836 Humphry’s younger cousin Edmund Davy accidentally discovered acetylene by way of creating potassium chloride, which would react with water and then release acetylene. These two discoveries produced the required components for the development of modern welding. By the latter part of the 1800s, gas cutting and welding were invented.
In 1881, Auguste De Meritens, who worked in France’s Cabot Laboratory, utilized heat from an arc in order to combine lead plates for storage batteries. Interestingly, it was his understudy, Nikolai N. Benardos of Russia who was the first to patent. Benardos, along with a fellow Russian named Stanislaus Olszewski, obtained their patents in both Great Britain (1885) and American (1887). These patents also showed an early electrode holder, which was the start of carbon arc welding, which grew in popularity into the turn of the century.
The first patent in the United States for the process of arc welding using metal electrodes was awarded to a man named C.L. Coffin (Detroit, Michigan) in 1890. This process is also noted to be the first sign of metal being melted from an electrode and carried over the arc to be deposited in filler metal in a joint in order to create the weld. This same year, N.G. Slavianoff of Russia also pressed the same idea of being able to transfer metal over an arc, but instead to cast the metal in a mold as well.
The Twentieth Century
The twentieth century saw numberous changes in welding. In Great Britain, Strohmenger (a coated metal electrode that used a lime and clay coating to stabilize the arc) was introduced into the welding market in 1900. Then, between 1907 and 1914, a Swedish man named Oscar Kjellberg invented a coated electrode. The stick electrodes were crafted by taking short lengths of bare iron wire and then dipping them into thick mixtures of silicates and carbonates and then letting the coating dry. With patents dating back to 1885 to 1900, a man named Elihu Thompson was the first to invent resistance welding. The processes of resistance welding would continue to evolve over the years and included flash butt welding, spot welding, projection welding, and seam welding. And in 1903, a man named Hans Goldschmidt (from Germany) invented thermite welding, which was the first type of weld used on railroad rails.
The first World War brought about an overwhelming demand for military production and welding was essential. Welding companies began popping up throughout Europe and America to begin manufacturing electrodes and welding machines in order to keep up with demand. Following the war, under the direction of Comfort Avery Adams, twenty members of the “Wartime Welding Committee of the Emergency Fleet Corporation” developed the “American Welding Society,” a nonprofit organization that was dedicated to advancing the welding industry.
The 1920s saw some notable advancements in the field of welding, one of which was the introduction and implementation of automatic welding. Automatic welding was a combination of arc voltage and bare electrode wires. The method was first utilized to construct motor shafts and crane wheels that showed wear. The automobile industry would also go on to use it in order to generate housings for rear axles. In 1927, welding electrodes were introduced, this method used heavy-coated rods, which were both made and utilized by the A.O. Smith Company. And by 1929, extruded electrode rods were assembled and sold to the public for the first time.
A few other critical advancements in welding took place during the 1920s, including the founding of the “Institute of Welding Engineers,” construction for the first welded railroad bridge was completed, and research on X-rays to test welds.
In 1930, stud welding was created by the New York Navy Yard, with the intention of fixing wood decking over surfaces that were made of metal; this method was largely used by the shipbuilding and construction industries. At this same time, the National Tube Company had developed the process of submerged arc welding, which was the process of automatic welding in order to create longitudinal seams in a pipe, which was invented specially for a pipe mill in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. In 1930, Robinoff would go on to patent the method and later sell it to Linde Air Products Company; it was here that the method would get its name “Unionmelt welding.” Eventually, more advanced submerged arc welding methods would replace the stud welding method in the shipbuilding industry, and would end up being a crucial factor in shipyards. The process remains popular to this day.
A man named C.L Coffin came up with one of the most important processes of welding, called the gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) method, which he patented back in 1890. This method allowed for welding in non-oxidizing gas atmospheres. Later in the decade, H.M. Hobart altered the method by using helium as a shielding gas, and later still, P.K Devers would swap helium for argon to use the GTAW method. Up until the 40s, this was the method that was most commonly used to weld stainless steel, magnesium, and aluminum. By 1941, Russell P. Meredith, who worked with Northrup Aircraft, would perfect and patent the method, naming it "Heliarc welding.”
GTAW would become the root of gas metal arc welding (GMAW) by 1948. Progress was supported via the Air Reduction Company and completed at the Battelle Memorial Institute. Analogous to other processes of GTAW, gas-shielded arcs were used to create the processes of GMAW. However, the tungsten electrode was switched out for an electrode wire, which was fed continuously. Smaller diameter wires and constant-voltage power source were a few of the most notable changes that added better usability to the GMAW process. GMAW would first be introduced as a method of welding non-ferrous metals, but soon people would begin to try the GMAW on steel because of its increased rate of deposition.
In 1953, two men named Lyubavski and Novoshilov would create the process of CO2 welding, and this would become the preferred method for steel welding (largely because of the affordability of it). CO2 welding involved utilizing welding along with consumable electrodes in CO2 gas atmospheres. In spite of having to use equipment that was designed for the inert gas metal arc, the process of CO2 welding could be used to economically weld steel. Welding become more popular almost as soon as this process was introduced. Shortly there after, smaller diameter electrode wires were introduced to the market, making it significantly easier to weld thinner materials. With power supplies becoming more and more cost effective, welding found wider usage.
The 1960s saw significant advancements in the welding industry, including improvements on Dualshield, Electroslag, and Innershield welding, as well as the invention of Plasma Arc welding. This method was utilized to be able to perform metal spraying. This decade also saw the introduction of electron beam welding, which was developed in France and used in the United States aircraft manufacturing industry (and is still used to this day).
In 1960, another method was also introduced, and that method was explosive welding. By the year of 1962, the Mercury Space capsule was welded by an American manufacturing company, Sciaky. And in 1963, even more developments took place in weld testing, including the Fusewelder Torch and the Varestraint Test. Between ‘65 and ‘67, the increased use of the CO2 laser to weld and cut was seen, and Gravity welding began in the United Kingdom during this time as well. And by 1969, a spacecraft called the SOYUZ-6, was welded in space by the Russians.
The ’60s truly were an era of remarkably significant advancements and developments of the welding process and industry in its entirety. However, those advancements simply could not have occurred had it not been for the legwork of so many inventors and manufacturers that took place prior to that decade. The changes to the welding industry over the years have been crucial to the development of modern day welding as we know it.