Early life and career
Robert Ransome was born in Wells, Norfolk, son of Richard Ransome, a schoolmaster. His grandfather, Richard Ransome, was a miller of North Walsham, Norfolk, and an early Quaker who suffered frequent imprisonment while on preaching journeys in various parts of England, Ireland, and Holland; he died in Bristol in 1716.
On leaving school Robert was apprenticed to an ironmonger; he later started his own business in Norwich with a small brass-foundry, which afterwards expanded into an iron-foundry. He possessed inventive skill, and in 1783 took out a patent for cast iron roofing plates, and published Directions for Laying Ransome's Patent Cast-iron Coverings in 1784. On 18 March 1785 he took out a patent for tempering cast iron ploughshares by wetting the mould with salt water.
This was followed in 1803 by an important invention in connection with ploughs: the chilling of the underside of ploughshares by casting them on an iron mould, the upper part of the mould being of sand. In this manner the underside of the share was chilled and made harder than steel, while the upper part remained soft and tough. The upper part wearing away faster than the lower, a sharp cutting edge was thus maintained, and less draught required. By the use of these shares the necessity of continually laying and sharpening of wrought iron shares was avoided. This invention was at once adopted.
Ransome was joined in business by his two sons James Ransome (1782–1849) and Robert (1795–1864), and the firm, known as Ransome & Sons, was one of the earliest to build cast iron bridges, the Stoke Bridge at Ipswich being constructed by them in 1819.
He retired from business in 1825. In his retirement he learned copperplate engraving, and constructed a telescope for his own use, for which he ground the mirror himself. The later years of his life were spent in Woodbridge, Suffolk, where he died on 7 March 1830.