Development of the process
Research into the smelting of iron using anthracite coal began in the 1820s. Initial experiments, most notably by Gueymard and Robin at Vizille in 1827, attempted to gradually substitute anthracite for other fuels, such as coke or charcoal, but all failed due to the use of cold blast techniques, which generated insufficient heat to keep the anthracite in combustion. In the United States, where the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company (LC&N) had begun shipping anthracite to Philadelphia in 1820, there was great interest in exploiting the great anthracite deposits of Schuylkill County for ironmaking. The Franklin Institute, in 1830, offered a gold medal to the manufacturer of the greatest quantity of anthracite iron, and Nicholas Biddle and his associates offered a prize of $5,000 to the first individual to smelt a certain quantity of iron ore within a given time, using anthracite. The Lehigh Coal and Navigation also offered free water power and discount rates on coal and shipping to encourage the development of the process.
The key breakthrough occurred in 1829, when James Beaumont Neilson patented the hot blast, which he had conceived in an attempt to improve the efficiency of conventionally fueled furnaces. The first person to employ the hot blast technique to anthracite smelting was Dr. Frederick W. Gesenhainer, who filed for a patent on the process in 1831 and received it in 1833. In 1836, he tried smelting anthracite iron on a practical scale at his property, Valley Furnace, near Pottsville, Pennsylvania. He produced a small quantity of iron, but due to mechanical breakdowns, could not keep the furnace in operation for more than two months. While distinguished visitors, including Governor Joseph Ritner, acknowledged his success, he sold out his share in Valley Furnace and went to New York City.
Research was proceeding along parallel lines across the Atlantic. George Crane, owner, and David Thomas, supterintendent of the Yniscedwyn Iron Works, had themselves conceived of the idea of using hot blast to smelt anthracite. Thomas was sent to Scotland to examine Neilson's installation and reproduced it at Yniscedwyn. Crane filed for a British patent on smelting iron with anthracite and hot blast in 1836, and received it in 1837. By the time the patent was sealed, Yniscedwyn was producing about 35 tons of iron using anthracite only as a fuel.
Inspired both by Geisenhainer and Crane (whose success was closely followed by the LC&N), experiments in the US continued. Baughman, Guiteau and Company used an old furnace near Mauch Chunk to produce some anthracite iron during late 1837. They built another experimental furnace nearby, which was worked for about two months during fall and winter 1838 and for some time in 1839, but mechanical deficiencies led them to abandon the furnace at the end of 1839. In the meantime, Pioneer Furnace, in Pottsville, was blown in using anthracite fuel in 1839. It was built by William Lyman obtained the aid of a Welsh emigrant, Benjamin Perry, who was familiar with Neilson's process and the Yniscedwyn works, for the blowing-in. The furnace ran for three months on anthracite alone and fulfilled the conditions to win the $5,000 prize. In the design of Pioneer Furnace, Lyman had also been assisted by David Thomas, who had arrived in the United States in May 1839. Thomas was engaged by the LC&N to set up the Lehigh Crane Iron Company and its first furnace at Catasauqua, which went into blast in 1840, along with five other anthracite furnaces. This marked the commercial establishment of anthracite iron production in the United States.
The opening of bituminous coal deposits suitable for coking in the western part of the Allegheny Plateau resulted in the gradual displacement of anthracite as a fuel. The production of coke-fired furnaces overtook that of anthracite-fired furnaces in 1875, and the last anthracite furnaces in the US, the former Lock Ridge Iron Company, converted to coke in 1914.
- Bartholomew & Metz, pp. 14–15
- Korson, p. 104
- Bartholomew & Metz, p. 16
- Bartholomew & Metz, p. 17
- Korson, p. 106
- Bartholomew & Metz, pp. 17–18
- Bartholomew & Metz, p. 19
- Gordon, pp. 155–156
- Korson, p. 107
- Gordon, p. 156
- Gordon p. 156
- Bartholomew & Metz, pp. 31–32
- Bartholomew & Metz, pp. 32–33
- Gordon, pp. 156–157
- Gordon, p. 158
- Bartholomew & Metz, p. 79
- Bartholomew, Craig L.; Metz, Lance E. (1988). Bartholomew, Ann (ed.), ed. The Anthracite Industry of the Lehigh Valley. Center for Canal History and Technology. ISBN 0-930973-08-9.
- Korson, George (1960). Black Rock: Mining Folklore of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press.
- Gordon, Robert B. (1996). American Iron 1607–1900. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-6816-5.