Henry Cort

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Henry Cort
HenryCort.jpg
Henry Cort
Born ?1741
Lancaster, Lancashire, England
Died Friday 23 May 1800
Nationality English
Occupation Inventor, pioneer in the iron industry
Known for Inventions relating to puddling and rolling in the manufacture of iron.
Children Richard Cort

Henry Cort (?1741 – 23 May 1800) was an English ironmaster. During the Industrial Revolution in England, Cort began refining iron from pig iron to wrought iron (or bar iron) using innovative production systems. In 1783 he patented the puddling process for refining iron ore. The Henry Cort Community College bears his name and is located in the town of Fareham, in the south of Hampshire, England.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Little is known of Cort's early life other than that he was possibly born in Lancaster, England although his parents are unknown.[1] Although his date of birth is traditionally given as 1740, evidence from the time of his first marriage to Elizabeth Brown in 1764 suggests that he was born in April or May 1741.[2] By 1765, Cort had become a Royal Navy pay agent, charged with tasks including the collection of pensions owed to the survivors of naval officers from an office in Surrey Street off the Strand in London. At that time, despite Abraham Darby's improvements in the smelting of iron using coke instead of charcoal as blast furnace fuel, the resultant product was unsuitable as a feedstock for the finery forges used to produce wrought iron.[3] As a result bar iron had to be imported from Russia at considerable expense.[4]

In 1768, Cort married Elizabeth Heysham, the daughter of a Staffordshire solicitor and steward of the Duke of Portland.[1] whose uncle William Attwick although a successful London attorney had inherited the family ironmongery business in Gosport which supplied the navy with mooring chains and other naval stores made of iron.[5]

Partnership with Samuel Jellicoe[edit]

In 1779, the Royal Navy's Victualling Commissioners agreed with Cort, who had taken over Attwick's business, to re roll iron hoops for their barrels T. This led to Cort investinged a large amount in a new rolling mill at Fontley to increase production of bar iron.[6] Short of funds, he turned to Adam Jellicoe, at that time chief clerk in the pay branch of the Royal Navy, who agreed to finance Cort to the amount of nearly £30 000 on the security of the assignment of Cort's patents/ As part of the arrangement Jellicoe's son Adam became a partner in the Fontley Works. The deal was later to have unfortunate repercussions for Cort[7]

Rolling mill and puddling furnace[edit]

Schematic drawing of a puddling furnace

Cort developed his ideas at the Fontley Works resulting in a 1783 patent for a grooved rolling mill and a 1784 patent for his balling or puddling furnace, which allowed for the manufacture of crude, standardised shapes made of wrought iron. His work built on the existing ideas of the Cranege brothers and their reverberatory furnace (where heat is applied from above, rather than through the use of forced air from below) and Peter Onions' puddling process where iron is stirred to separate out impurities and extract the higher quality wrought iron. The furnace effectively lowered the carbon content of the cast iron charge through oxidation while the "puddler" extracted a mass of iron from the furnace using an iron "rabbling bar". The extracted ball of metal was then processed into a "shingle" by a shingling hammer, after which it was rolled in the rolling mill.

Death of Adam Jellicoe[edit]

When Adam Jellicoe died suddenly on 30 August 1789, it became apparent that the £27,000 lent to Cort had come from public funds belonging to the Royal Navy. As a result the Crown seized the two patents Jellicoe had pledged as security, which were subsequently valued at only £100. Cort was held responsible for Jellicoe's debt and declared bankrupt.[6] The Crown gave Samuel Jellicoe possession of the works at Fontley where he " remained ... undisturbed for long years afterwards" and made no attempt to realise patent dues from ironmasters, as the system did not work with the grey iron produced in the Midlands and South Wales.[8]

Patents and royalties[edit]

The importance of Cort's improvements to the process of iron making were recognised as early as 1786 by Lord Sheffield who regarded them along with James Watt's work on the steam engine as more important than the loss of America.[9] In 1787, Cort came to an agreement with South Wales ironmaster Richard Crawshay whereby all iron manufactured according to the former's patents would result in a royalty of 10 shillings per ton.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Cort's marriage to Elizabeth Heysham produced 13 children.[11] His business ventures did not bring him wealth, even though vast numbers of the puddling furnaces that he developed were eventually used (reportedly 8,200 by 1820), they used a modified version of his process and thus avoided payment of royalties. He was later awarded a government pension, but died a ruined man, and was buried in the churchyard of St John-at-Hampstead, London.

Legacy[edit]

Fifty years after Cort's death, The Times of London lauded him as "the father of the iron trade".[12] His son, Richard Cort, became a cashier for the British Iron Company in 1825 – 6 and subsequently wrote several pamphlets severely critical of the management of the company. He also attacked a number of early railway companies.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Espinasse (1877), p. 225
  2. ^ Evans, Chris (2006). "Cort, Henry (1741?–1800)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 5 August 2010. 
  3. ^ Rosen (2010), p. 328
  4. ^ Smiles (2010), p.109
  5. ^ Pam Moore. "History of Henry Cort". Fareham Borough Council. Retrieved 6 June 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Philip Eley. "The Gosport Iron Foundry and Henry Cort". Hampshire County Council. Retrieved 6 June 2012. 
  7. ^ Espinasse (1877), p. 229.
  8. ^ Espinasse (1877), p 234
  9. ^ Matschoss, Conrad (June 1970). Great Engineers. Books for Libraries; Reprint edition. p. 110. ISBN 978-0836918373. 
  10. ^ Espinasse (1877), p. 233
  11. ^ Espinasse (1877), p.225
  12. ^ The Times, editorial, 29 July 1856, cited from Rosen (2010), p. 328

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Dickinson, H. W. Henry Cort's Bicentenary, in The Newcomen Society, Transactions 1940–41, volume XXI, 1943.
  • Mott, R. A. (ed. P. Singer), Henry Cort: the Great Finer, The Metals Society, London 1983)
  • Webster, Thomas The Case of Henry Cort and his Inventions in the Manufacture of British Iron, Mechanics' Magazine, 1859

External links[edit]