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CHAPTER XIII. MY MARRIAGE - THE STEAM HAMMER.
Before I proceed to narrate the later events of my industrial life, it is necessary to mention, incidentally, an important subject. As it has been the source of my greatest happiness in life, I cannot avoid referring to it.
I may first mention that my earnest and unremitting pursuit of all subjects and occupations, such as I conceived were essential to the acquirement of a sound practical knowledge of my profession, rendered me averse to mixing much in general society. I had accordingly few opportunities of enjoying the society of young ladies. Nevertheless, occasions now and then occurred when bright beings moved before me like meteors. They left impressions on my memory, which in no small degree increased the earnestness of my exertions to press forward in my endeavours to establish myself in business, and thereby to acquire the means of forming a Home of my own.
Many circumstances, however, conspired to delay the ardently longed for condition of my means, such as should induce me to solicit some dear one to complete my existence by her sweet companionship, and enter with me into the most sacred of all the partnerships of life. In course of time I was rewarded with that success which, for the most part, ensues upon all honourable and unremitting business efforts. This cheered me on although there were still many causes for anxiety, which made me feel that I must not yet solicit some dear heart to forsake the comforts of an affluent home to share with me what I knew must for some years to come be an anxious and trying struggle for comfort and comparative independence. I had reached my thirtieth year before I could venture to think that I had securely entered upon such a course of prosperity as would justify me in taking this the most important step in life.
It may be a trite but not the less true remark that some of the most important events originate in apparently chance occurrences and circumstances, which lead up to results that materially influence and even determine the subsequent course of our lives. I had occasion to make a business journey to Sheffield on the 2d of March 1838, and also to attend to some affairs of a similar character at York. As soon as had completed my engagement at Sheffield, I had to wait for more than two dreary hours in momentary expectation of the arrival of the coach that was to take me on to York. The coach had been delayed by a deep fall of snow, and was consequently late. When it arrived, I found that there was only one outside place vacant so I mounted to my seat. It was a very dreary afternoon, and the snow was constantly falling.
As we approached Barnsley I observed, in the remaining murky light of the evening, the blaze of some ironwork furnaces near at hand. On inquiring whose works they were, I was informed that they belonged to Earl Fitzwilliam, and that they were under the management of a Mr. Hartop. The mention of this name, coupled with the sight of the ironworks, brought to my recollection a kind invitation which Mr. Hartop had given me while visiting my work-shop in Manchester to order some machine tools, that if I ever happened to be in his neighbourhood, he would be most happy to show me anything that was interesting about the ironworks and colliery machinery under his management.
I at once decided to terminate my dreary ride on the top of the coach. I descended, and, with my small valise in hand I trudged over some trackless snow-covered fields, and made my way by the shortest cut towards the blazing iron furnaces. On reaching them I was informed that Mr. Hartop had just gone to his house, which was about a mile distant. I accordingly made my way thither the best that I could through the deep snow. I met with a cordial welcome, and with the hospitable request that I should take up my quarters there for the night, and have a round of the ironworks and the machinery on the following day. I cheerfully acceded to the kind invitation. I was then introduced to his wife and daughter in a cosy room, where I spent a most pleasant evening. As Mr. Hartop was an enthusiast in all matters relating to mechanism and mechanical engineering subjects generally, we found plenty to converse about while his wife and daughter, at their needlework, listened to our discussions with earnest and intelligent attention.
On the following day I was taken a round of the iron-works, and inspected their machinery, as well as that of the collieries, in the details of which Mr. Hartop had introduced many common-sense and most effective improvements. All of these interested me, and gave me much pleasure. In the evening we resumed our "cracks" on many subjects of mutual interest. The daughter joined in our conversation with most intelligent remarks; for, although only in her twenty-first year, she had evidently made good use of her time, aided by her clear natural faculties of shrewd observation. Mr. Hartop having met with some serious reverse of fortune, owing to the very unsatisfactory conduct of a partner, had in a manner to begin business life again on his own account and although he had to reduce his domestic establishment considerably in consequence, there was in all its arrangements a degree of neatness and perfect systematic order, combined with many evidences of elegant taste and good sense which pervaded the whole, that enhanced in no small degree the attractiveness of the household. The chief of these, however, was to me their daughter Anne! I soon perceived in her, most happily and attractively combined, all the conditions that I could hope for and desire to meet with in the dear partner of my existence.
As I had soon to proceed on my journey, I took the opportunity of telling her what I felt and thought, and so ardently desired in regard to our future intercourse. What little I did was to this great purpose; and, so far as I could judge, all that I said was received in the best spirit that I could desire. I then communicated my hopes and wishes to the parents. I explained to them my circumstances, which happily were then beginning to assume an encouraging prospect, and realising, in a substantial form, a return for the earnest exertions which I had made towards establishing a home of my own. They expressed their concurrence in the kindest manner and it was arranged that if business continued to progress as favourably as I hoped, our union should take place in about two years from that time.
Everything went on hopefully and prosperously. The two years that intervened looked very long in some respects, and very short in others for I was always fully occupied, and labour shortens time. At length the two years came to an end. My betrothed and myself continued of the same mind. The happy "chance" event of our meeting on the evening of the 2d of March 1838 culminated in our marriage at the village church of Wentworth on the 16th of June 1840 — a day of happy memory! From that day to this the course of our united hearts and lives has continued to run on with steady uninterrupted harmony and mutual happiness. Forty-two years of our married life finds us the same affectionate and devoted "cronies" that we were at the beginning; and there is every prospect that, under God's blessing, we shall continue to be so to the end.
I was present at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, on the 15th of September 1830. Every one knows the success of the undertaking. Railways became the rage. They were projected in every possible direction; and when made, locomotives were required to work them. When George Stephenson was engaged in building his first locomotive at Killingworth, he was greatly hampered not only by the want of handy mechanics, but by the want of efficient tools. But he did the best that he could. His genius overcame difficulties. It was immensely to his credit that he should have so successfully completed his engines for the Stockton and Darlington, and afterwards for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
Only a few years had passed, and self-acting tools were now enabled to complete, with precision and uniformity, machines that before had been deemed almost impracticable. In proportion to the rapid extension of railways the demand for locomotives became very great. As our machine tools were peculiarly adapted for turning out a large amount of first class work, we directed our attention to this class of business. In the course of about ten years after the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, we executed considerable orders for locomotives for the London and Southampton, the Manchester and Leeds, and the Gloucester railway companies.
The Great Western Railway Company invited us to tender for twenty of their very ponderous engines. They proposed a very tempting condition of the contract. It was, that if, after a month's trial of the locomotives, their working proved satisfactory, a premium of £100 was to be added to the price of each engine and tender. The locomotives were made and delivered; they ran the stipulated number of test miles between London and Bristol in a perfectly satisfactory manner; and we not only received the premium, but, what was much more encouraging, we received a special letter from the Board of Directors, stating their entire satisfaction with the performance of our engines, and desiring us to refer other contractors to them with respect to the excellence of our workmanship. This testimonial was altogether spontaneous, and proved extremely valuable in other quarters.
I may mention that, in order to effect the prompt and perfect execution of this order, I contrived several special machine tools, which assisted us most materially. These tools for the most part rendered us more independent of mere manual strength and dexterity, while at the same time they increased the accuracy and perfection of the work. They afterwards assisted us in the means of perfecting the production of other classes of work. At the same time they had the important effect of diminishing the cost of production, as was made sufficiently apparent by the balance-sheet prepared at the end of each year.
My connection with the Great Western Company shortly led to a most important event in connection with my own personal history. It appears that the Great Western steam-ship had been very successful in her voyages between Bristol and New York; so much so, indeed, that the directors of the Company ordered the construction of another vessel of much greater magnitude the Great Britain. Mr. Francis Humphries, their engineer, came to Patricroft to consult with me as to the machine tools, of unusual size and power, which were required for the construction of the immense engines of the proposed ship, which were to be made on the vertical trunk principle. Very complete works were erected at Bristol for the accommodation of the requisite machinery. The tools were made according to Mr. Humphries's order they were delivered and fitted to his entire approval, and the construction of the gigantic engines was soon in full progress.
An unexpected difficulty, however, was encountered with respect to the enormous wrought-iron intermediate paddle-shaft. It was required to be of a size and diameter the like of which had never been forged. Mr. Humphries applied to the largest firms throughout the country for tenders of the price at which they would execute this important part of the work, but to his surprise and dismay he found that not one of them would undertake so large a forging. In this dilemma he wrote a letter to me, which I received on the 24th of November 1839, informing me of the unlooked-for difficulty. "I find," he said, "that there is not a forge hammer in England or Scotland powerful enough to forge the intermediate paddle-shaft of the engines for the Great Britain! What am I to do? Do you think I might dare to use cast-iron?"
This letter immediately set me a-thinking. How was it that the existing hammers were incapable of forging a wrought-iron shaft of thirty inches diameter? Simply because of their want of compass, of range and fall, as well as of their want of power of blow. A few moments' rapid thought satisfied me that it was by our rigidly adhering to the old traditional form of a smith's hand hammer — of which the forge and tilt hammer, although driven by water or steam power, were mere enlarged modifications — that the difficulty had arisen; as, whenever the largest forge hammer was tilted up to its full height, its range was so small that when a piece of work of considerable size was placed on the anvil, the hammer became "gagged;" so that, when the forging required the most powerful blow, it received next to no blow at all, as the clear space for the fall of the hammer was almost entirely occupied by the work on the anvil.
The obvious remedy was to contrive some method by which a ponderous block of iron should be lifted to a sufficient height above the object on which it was desired to strike a blow, and then to let the block full down upon the forging, guiding it in its descent by such simple means as should give the required precision in the percussive action of the falling mass. Following up this idea, I got out my "Scheme Book," on the pages of which I generally thought out, with the aid of pen and pencil, such mechanical adaptations as I had conceived in my mind, and was thereby enabled to render them visible. I then rapidly sketched out my Steam Hammer, having it all clearly before me in my mind's eye. In little more than half an hour after receiving Mr. Humphries's letter narrating his unlooked-for difficulty, I had the whole contrivance, in all its executant details, before me in a page of my Scheme Book, a reduced photographed copy of which I append to this description. The date of this first drawing was the 24th November, 1839.
My Steam Hammer, as thus first sketched, consisted of, first, a massive anvil on which to rest the work; second, a block of iron constituting the hammer or blow-giving portion; and, third, an inverted steam cylinder to whose piston-rod the hammer-block was attached. All that was then required to produce a most effective hammer was simply to admit steam of sufficient pressure into the cylinder, so as to act on the under-side of the piston, and thus to raise the hammer-block attached to the end of the piston-rod. By a very simple arrangement of a slide valve, under the control of an attendant, the steam was allowed to escape, and thus permit the massive block of iron rapidly to descend by its own gravity upon the work then upon the anvil.
Thus, by the more or less rapid manner in which the attendant allowed the steam to enter or escape from the cylinder, any required number or any intensity of blows could be delivered. Their succession might be modified in an instant. The hammer might be arrested and suspended according to the requirements of the work. The workman might thus, as it were, think, in blows. He might deal them out on to the ponderous glowing mass, and mould or knead it into the desired form as if it were a lump of clay or pat it with gentle taps according to his will, or at the desire of the forgeman.
Rude and rapidly sketched out as it was, this, my first delineation of the steam hammer, will be found to comprise all the essential elements of the invention. Every detail of the drawing retains to this day the form and arrangement which I gave to it forty-three years ago. I believed that the steam hammer would prove practically successful; and I looked forward to its general employment in the forging of heavy masses of iron. It is no small gratification to me now, when I look over my rude and hasty first sketch, to find that I hit the mark so exactly, not only in the general structure but in the details; and that the invention as I then conceived it and put it into shape, still retains its form and arrangements intact in the thousands of steam hammers that are now doing good service in the mechanical arts throughout the civilised world.
But to return to my correspondence with the Great Western Company. I wrote at once to Mr. Humphries, and sent him a sketch of my proposed steam hammer. I told him that I felt assured he would now be able to overcome his difficulty, and that the paddle-shaft of the Great Britain might now be forged. Mr. Humphries was delighted with my design. He submitted it to Mr. Brunel, engineer-in-chief of the steamship; to Mr. Guppy, the managing director; and to other persons interested in the undertaking, by all of whom it was heartily approved. I accordingly gave the Company permission to communicate my design to such forge proprietors as might feel disposed to erect the steam hammer, the only condition that I made being, that in the event of its being adopted I was to be allowed to supply it in accordance with my design.
But the paddle-shaft of the Great Britain was never forged. About that time the substitution of the Screw for the paddle-wheel as a means of propulsion was attracting much attention. The performances of the Archimedes, contrived by Mr. Francis P. Smith, were so satisfactory that Mr. Brunel, after he had made an excursion in that vessel, recommended the directors to adopt the new propelling power. After much discussion, they yielded to his strongly-urged advice. The consequence was, that the great engines which Mr. Humphries had so elaborately designed, and which were far advanced in construction, were given up, to his inexpressible regret and mortification, as he had pinned his highest hopes as a practical engineer on the results of their performance. And, to crown his distress, he was ordered to produce fresh designs of engines specially suited for screw propulsion. Mr. Humphries was a man of the most sensitive and sanguine constitution of mind. The labour and the anxiety which he had already undergone, and perhaps the disappointment of his hopes, proved too much for him and a brain fever carried him off after a few days' illness. There was thus, for a time, an end of the steam hammer required for forging the paddle-shaft of the Great Britain.
Very bad times for the iron trade, and for all mechanical undertakings, set in about this time. A wide-spread depression affected all conditions of industry. Although I wrote to the heads of all the great firms, urging the importance of my invention, and forwarding designs of my steam hammer, I was unable to obtain a single order. It is true, they cordially approved of my plan, and were greatly struck by its simplicity, unity, and apparent power. But the substance of their replies was, that they had not sufficient orders to keep the forge hammers they already possessed in work. They promised, however, that in the event of trade recovering from its depression, they would probably adopt the new power. 
In the meantime my invention was taken up in an entirely new and unexpected quarter. I had for some years been supplying foreign customers with self-acting machine tools. The principals of continental manufacturing establishments were accustomed to make frequent visits to England for the purpose of purchasing various machine tools required for the production of the ponderous as well as the lighter parts of their machinery. We gave our foreign visitors every facility and opportunity for seeing our own tools at work, and they were often so much pleased that, when they came to order one special tool, they ended by ordering many, the machine tools in full activity thus acting as their most effective advertisements. 
In like manner I freely opened my Scheme Book to any foreign visitors. There I let them see the mechanical thoughts that were passing through my mind, reduced to pen and ink drawings. I did not hesitate to advocate the advantage of my steam hammer over every other method of forging heavy masses of iron; and I pointed out the drawing in my Scheme Book in confirmation of my views. The book was kept in the office to be handy for such occasions and in many cases it was the means of suggesting ideas of machine tools to our customers, and thus led to orders which might not have been obtained without this effective method of prompting them. Amongst our foreign visitors was M. Schneider, proprietor of the great ironworks at Creuzot, in France. We had supplied him with various machine tools, and he was so pleased with their action that the next time he came to England he called at our office at Patricroft. M. Bourdon, his mechanical manager, accompanied him. I happened to be absent on a journey at the time but my partner, Mr. Gaskell, was present. After showing them over the works, as an act of courtesy he brought them my Scheme Book and allowed them to examine it. He pointed out the drawing of my Steam Hammer, and told them the purpose for which it was intended. They were impressed with its simplicity and apparent practical utility, — so much so, that M. Bourdon took careful notes and sketches of the constructive details of the hammer.
I was informed on my return of the visit of MM. Schneider and Bourdon, but the circumstance of their having inspected the designs in my Scheme Book, and especially my original design of the steam hammer, was regarded by my partner as too ordinary and trivial an incident of their visit to be mentioned to me. The exhibition of my mechanical designs to visitors at the Foundry was a matter of almost daily occurrence. I was, therefore, in entire ignorance of the fact that these foreign visitors had taken with them to France a copy of the plan and details of my steam hammer.
It was not until my visit to France in April 1842 that the upshot of their visit was brought under my notice in an extraordinary manner. I was requested by M. Bouchier, Minister of Marine, to visit the French dockyards and arsenals for the purpose of conferring with the director of each with reference to the supply of various machine tools for the proper equipment of the marine engine factories in connection with the Royal Dockyards. In order to render this journey more effective and instructive, I visited most of the French engineering establishments which had been supplied with machine tools by our firm. Amongst these was of course the famous firm of Schneider, whose works at Creuzot lay not far out of the way of my return journey.  I accordingly made my way thither, and found M. Bourdon at his post, though M. Schneider was absent.
M. Bourdon received me with much cordiality. As he spoke English with fluency I was fortunate in finding him present, in order to show me over the works; on entering which, one of the things that particularly struck me was the excellence of a large wrought-iron marine engine single crank, forged with a remarkable degree of exactness in its general form. I observed also that the large eye of the crank had been punched and drifted with extraordinary smoothness and truth. I inquired of M. Bourdon "how that crank had been forged?" His immediate reply was, "It was forged by your steam, hammer!"
Great was my surprise and pleasure at hearing this statement. I asked him how he had come to be acquainted with my steam hammer? He then narrated the circumstance of his visit to the Bridgewater Foundry during my absence. He told me of my partner having exhibited to him the original design, and how much he was struck by its simplicity and probable efficiency; that he had taken careful notes and sketches on the spot; that among the first things he did after his return to Creuzot was to put in hand the necessary work for the erection of a steam hammer and that the results had in all respects realised the high expectations he had formed of it.
M. Bourdon conducted me to the forge department of the works, that I might, as he said, "see my own child;" and there it was, in truth — a thumping child of my brain. Until then it had only existed in my Scheme Book; and yet it had often and often been before my mind's eye in full action. On inspecting the steam hammer I found that Bourdon had omitted some important details, which had led to a few mishaps, especially with respect to the frequent breaking of the piston-rod at its junction with the hammer block. He had effected this, in the usual way, by means of a cutter wedge through the rod; but he told me that it often broke through the severe jar during the action of the hammer. I sketched for him, then and there, in full size on a board, the elastic packing under the end of the piston-rod, which acted, as I told him, like the cartilage between the bones of the vertebra, preventing the destructive effects of violent jars. I also communicated to him a few other important details, which he had missed in his hasty inspection of my design. Indeed, I felt great pleasure in doing so, as I found Bourdon to be a most intelligent mechanic, and thoroughly able to appreciate the practical value of the information I communicated to him. He expressed his obligation to me in the warmest terms, and the alterations which he shortly afterwards effected in the steam hammer, in accordance with my plans, enabled it to accomplish everything that he could desire.
I had not yet taken out a patent for the Steam Hammer. The reason was this. The cost of a patent, at the time I invented it, was little short of £500, all expenses included. My partner was unwilling to lay out so large a sum upon an invention for which there seemed to be so little demand at that time and I myself had the whole of my capital embarked in the concern. Besides, the general depression still continued in the iron trade; and we had use for every farthing of money we possessed. I had been warned of the risk I ran by freely exhibiting my original design, as well as by sending drawings of it to those who I thought were most likely to bring the invention into use. But nothing had as yet been done in England. It was left for France, as I have described, to embody my invention in an actual steam hammer.
I now became alarmed, and feared lest I should lose the benefits of my invention. As my partner declined to help me, I applied to my brother-in-law, William Bennett. He was a practical engineer, and had expressed himself as highly satisfied with its value. He had also many times cautioned me against "publishing" its advantages so widely, without having first protected it by a patent. He was therefore quite ready to come to my assistance. He helped me with the necessary money, and the invention was placed in a position of safety so far as my interests were concerned. In return for his kindness I stipulated that the reimbursement of his loan should be a first charge upon any profits arising from the manufacture of the steam hammer; and also that he should have a share in the profits during the period of the patent rights. Mr. Bennett lived for many years, rejoicing in the results of his kindness to me in the time of my difficulty. I may add that the patent was secured in June 1842, or less than two months after my return from France.
Soon after this, the iron trade recovered from its depression. The tide of financial prosperity of the Bridgewater Foundry soon set in, and my partner's sanguine confidence in my ability to raise it to the condition of a thriving and prosperous concern was justified in a most substantial manner. In order to make the most effective demonstration of the powers and capabilities of my steam hammer, I constructed one of 30 cwt. of hammer block, with a clear four feet range of fall. I soon had it set to work and its energetic services helped us greatly in our smith and forge work. It was admired by all observers.
People came from a distance to see it. Mechanics and iron-founders wondered at the new power which had been born. The precision and beauty of its action seemed marvellous. The attendant could, by means of the steam slide-valve lever in his hand, transmit his will to the action of the hammer, and thus think in blows. The machine combined great power with gentleness. The hammer could be made to give so gentle a blow as to crack the end of an egg placed in a wine glass on the anvil whilst the next blow would shake the parish,  or be instantly arrested in its descent midway.
Hand-gear was the original system introduced in working the hammer. A method of self-acting was afterwards added. In 1843, I admitted steam above the piston, to aid gravitation. This was an important improvement. The self-acting arrangement was eventually done away with, and hand-gear again became all but universal. Sir John Anderson, in his admirable Report on the Vienna Exhibition of 1873, says: "The most remarkable features of the Nasmyth hammers were the almost entire abandonment of the old self-acting motion of the early hammers and the substitution of new devices, and in the use of hand-gear only in all attempts to show off the working. There is no real saving, as a general rule, by the self-acting arrangement, because one attendant is required in either case, and on the other hand there is frequently a positive loss in the effect of the blow. By hand-working, with steam on top of piston, the full force can be more readily maintained until the blow is fully delivered it is thus more of a 'dead blow' than was formerly the case with the other system."
There was no want of orders when the valuable qualities of the steam hammer came to be seen and experienced. The first order came from Rushton and Eckersley of Bolton, who, by the way, had seen the first copy of my original design a few years before. The steam hammer I made for them was more powerful than my own. The hammer block was of five tons weight, and had a clear fall of five feet. It gave every satisfaction, and the fame of its performances went abroad amongst the ironworkers. The Lowmoor Ironworks Company followed suit with an order for one of the same size and power; and another came from Hawkes and Co of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
One of the most important uses of the steam hammer was in forging anchors. Under the old system, anchors — upon the soundness of which the safety of ships so often depends — were forged upon the "bit by bit" system. The various pieces of an anchor were welded together, but at the parts where the different pieces of iron were welded together, flaws often occurred; the parts would break off — blades from the stock, or flukes from the blades - and leave the vessel, which relied upon the security of its anchor, to the risk of the winds and the waves. By means of the steam hammer these risks were averted. The slag was driven out during the hammering process. The anchor was sound throughout because it was welded as a whole.
Those who are technically acquainted with smith work as it used to be practised, by what I term the "bit by bit" system — that is, of building up from many separate parts of iron, afterwards welded together into the required form can appreciate the vast practical value of the Die method brought into general use by the controllable but immense power of the steam hammer. At a very early period of my employment of the steam hammer, I introduced the system of stamping masses of welding hot iron as if it had been clay, and forcing it into suitable moulds or dies placed upon the anvil. This practice had been in use on a small scale in the Birmingham gun trade. The ironwork of fire-arms was thus stamped into exact form. But, until we possessed the wide range and perfectly controllable powers of the steam hammer, the stamping system was confined to comparatively small portions of forge work. The new power enabled the die and stamp system to be applied to the largest class of forge work and another era in the working of ponderous masses of smith and forge work commenced, and has rapidly extended until the present time. Without entering into further details, the steam hammer has advanced the mechanical arts, especially with relation to machinery of the larger class, to an extent that is of incalculable importance.
Soon after my steam hammer had exhibited its merits as a powerful and docile agent in percussive force, and shown its applicability to some of the most important branches of iron manufacture, I had the opportunity of securing a patent for it in the United States. This was through the kind agency of my excellent friend and solicitor, the late George Humphries of Manchester. Mr. Humphries was a native of Philadelphia, and the intimate friend of Samuel Vaughan Merrick, founder of the eminent engineering firm of that city. Through his instrumentality I forwarded to Mr. Merrick all the requisite documents to enable a patent to be secured at the United States Patent Office at Washington. I transferred the patent to Mr. Merrick in order that it might be worked to our mutual advantage. My invention was thus introduced into America under the most favourable auspices. The steam hammer soon found its way into the principal ironworks of the country. The admirable straightforward manner in which our American agent conducted the business from first to last will ever command my grateful remembrance.