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Robert Hadfield (1830-1888)

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Robert Hadfield (1831-1888) of the Hadfield Steel Foundry Co

c.1831 Born in Sheffield, son of Joseph Hadfield 47, grocer[1]

At age 14 was apprenticed to a manufacturer of crucible steel files in Sheffield, possibly J. Sorby and Co or Robert Sorby and Sons

1851 Scythesmith

c.1856 after 11 years with Sorby he started crucible steel making and steel wire drawing on his own account which afterwards became a partnership, Hadfield, Shipman and Co of Attercliffe

1857 Married Marianne Abbott in Sheffield

1861 Assistant overseer and collector, 29, living in Atterclife and Darnall, with Marianne Hadfield 29, Robert A Hadfield 2[2]

1866 The partnership was dissolved.

Started Hecla Works

1871 retired steel manufacturer, 40, living in Ecclesall Bierlow, with Marianne Hadfield 42, Robt Allott Hadfield 12, Florence Mary Hadfield 7, Edith Lizzie Hadfield 3[3]

1881 Steel Manufacturer Employing 180 Men 10 Boys[4]

1888 Died in Ecclesall Bierlow[5]


1888 Obituary [6]

ROBERT HADFIELD was born in 1830, and received his education in Sheffield.

In early life, while acting as assistant overseer and collector of rates at Attercliffe, he took a keen interest in steel manufacture, and all the time he could spare was devoted to studying- the intricacies of this subject.

In 1865 he was engaged in the manufacture of steel and wire, which was carried on successfully for some years, but he then retired.

Shortly afterwards however he acquired the models and patterns of the Kelham Works, and started afresh at the Continental Works, Attercliffe, where such success attended his efforts that it soon became necessary to seek larger premises. He therefore commenced the erection of works specially suited for his requirements in Newhall Road, Attercliffe; these works were enlarged from time to time, and are now known as the Heck Steel Casting Works of the Hadfield Steel Foundry Company, giving employment to from 400 to 500 men, as compared with 20 or 30 when they were first started.

In maturing these works and in developing the manufacture and application of steel he found ample scope for his inventive skill and untiring energy, introducing rapid processes of steel-making, which comprised all that he regarded as the best features of the Bessemer and Siemens-Martin and other processes. From steel of his production were made tools with the finest cutting edge, and steel castings of all descriptions and weights. Large supplies of shot and shell were made from cast steel of such extraordinary toughness and power of resistance, that the shells would pass unharmed through steel faced plates.

After being in failing health for some time, he died on 20th March 1888, at his residence, Broomhill, Sheffield, at the age of fifty-seven.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1879.


1888 Obituary [7]

ROBERT HADFIELD, of the Hecla Works, Sheffield, was born in that town in 1831, and died at his residence, Broomhill, 19th March 1888.

Mr. Hadfield's was a career that illustrated the possibilities of success which attend steady industry in the cultivation of a special branch of business. Although, as a lad, he was apprenticed to the well-known firm of Messrs. Robert Sorby & Sons; he left that house to secure for a time what seemed to be an easier and possibly more independent position outside the trade. He found, however, that his thoughts and his ultimate interests were more closely allied to the great staple of his native town than to any other vocation, and finding himself master of a small capital, he commenced business as a steel and wire manufacturer in 1865. It was his own business at first entirely.

A few years after he sold his interest in this business, and started as a manufacturer of steel castings in Bessemer Road, Attercliffe. Here Mr. Hadfield had to make a choice of a specialite. The heavy trades were already pretty well taken up by such firms as Sir J. Brown & Co., Messrs. Vickers & Sons, Messrs. C. Cammell & Co., and others. The lighter cutlery trade also appeared to be pretty well occupied. After thinking the matter well over, Mr. Hadfield threw in his lot with the development of steel castings, more particularly in the form of hydraulic press cylinders up to 25 feet long, general, railway machinery, and other steel castings, also small wheels and axles for colliery and kindred applications.

Commencing in 1868 with only some 60 employees, Mr. Hadfield found his business grow, until, at the time of his death, twenty years later, he employed 500. This success was, no doubt, mainly due to the late Mr. Hadfield's initiative and industry; but he was always the first to acknowledge that it owed very much to the assistance which he received from his son, Mr. H. A. Hadfield, the present head of the firm, from his managers, and from his workmen. So far, indeed, did he appreciate the services of others that he now and again offered them such substantial recognition as a cheque for £1000.

In order that the firm should be able to meet every possible requirement in the way of steel castings, not only as regards size and form, but also as regards the physical and mechanical qualities of the metal, Mr. Hadfield set on foot a number of original investigations into the properties of different alloys of iron and steel, the latest outcome of which has been the two admirable papers contributed by his son and co-worker to the last volume of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and specially referred to by the President of this Institute in his address of May last. The most remarkable fact elicited in this investigation appears to be that while a low percentage of manganese - say 2.5 to 7.5 per cent - causes steel to be as brittle as glass, and to break with less than one-third of the force required to break cast iron, a steel bar, containing from 17 to 20 per cent. of manganese, will carry three times the load of a cast iron bar. In the latter case, however, the metal is so hard that it is very difficult to machine, and hence its application to every-day purposes on a large scale is problematical.

The Hecla Works, under the late Mr. Hadfield's direction, have produced over two millions of cast steel wheels and axles, and these leading products of the establishment have been for some time turned out at the rate of some 2000 per week. The amount of industry, business acumen, and skilful adaptation of means to ends required to bring about these results in so short a period, and in the face of what, at the outset at all events, appeared to be a rooted distrust of steel on the part of many principal engineers, is sufficiently obvious. One of the latest directions in which Mr. Hadfield's energy found expression was in the effort to provide a material that would answer for shells, and he had made many experiments to this end. Ultimately, lie obtained from the Admiralty and War Departments permission to try his shells against those of foreign origin, with results which are stated to have been most satisfactory. In fact, in his forged steel projectiles he has so far never had a single failure.

Mr. Hadfield was elected a member of the Institute in 1874. He was a regular attender at the meetings of the Institute, both London and provincial, but he never took part in any discussions, even on subjects on which he was well qualified to speak, excepting in 1877, when he made some remarks on the production of solid steel castings. He was, indeed, one of the most retiring and unobtrusive of men, a man of such natural modesty that his face and figure were unknown to very many who were well acquainted with his work.


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Sources of Information

  • Mechanical engineer records