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British Industrial History

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George Crane

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George Crane (c1784-1846) of the Ynyscedwyn Ironworks

Born in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire.

1823 Succeeded Richard Parsons at Ynyscedywyn (Ynysgedywyn) Iron Works

1837 'APPLICATION OF STONE COAL TO THE SMELTING OF IRON ORE. —For some time past our columns have occasionally been occupied with suggestions as to the practicability of introducing that species of fuel called Anthracite, or Stone Coal, into more general use, and our readers are aware of the large portion of this description of coal which the South Wales mineral basin occupies. Some months ago we were informed that George Crane, Esq., of the Yniscedwin Iron Works, had directed his attention to the application of stone coal to the smelting of iron ore. From our knowledge of the indefatigable industry and perseverance with which this gentleman follows every pursuit in which he may be engaged, we entertain a confident, and, as the result proves, a well-grounded hope that his efforts would prove successful. For many weeks past, we have been anxiously expecting a confirmation of the very favourable reports which had reached us, of the successful progress of Mr. Crane's experiments. Undaunted the failures which had attended similar attempts, Mr. Crane, in the autumn of last year, secured a patent right, and by a method hitherto untried (viz., the application of hot blast to this fuel) he has most fully succeeded; and the peculiar adaptation of anthracite coal to the reduction of iron ore is now fully demonstrated. We are aware of the peculiar properties of anthracite coal, and that the veins with which this district abounds afford from eighty-seven to ninety-three per cent, of carbon ; it did not therefore, occasion us surprise, when we learnt that Mr. Crane anticipated that, by the successful introduction of this fuel, a description of iron would be produced, very nearly resembling in its quality that formerly obtained the use of the vegetable charcoal. In this, also, his anticipations have been fully realised, and cordially congratulate him on the result. That most important manufacture, the iron trade, has been hitherto of necessity confined to such parts of this country where bituminous coal prevails ; and a large portion of the mineral district where anthracite coal abounds, has been excluded from its advantages. Our local knowledge enables us to state, that ironstone in great abundance is found to alternate with this peculiar fuel, and the eventual effect this most important discovery must therefore be, to induce the erection of iron-works over a large extent country, from which this manufacture has hitherto been wholly excluded — Mining Journal.'[1]. Note: The credit for the success at Ynyscedwyn must be shared with David Thomas (1794-1882). Also, pioneering work had been carried out many years previously, so presumably the 1837 report concerns the successful commercial application of the process made possible by the introduction of hot blast. David Thomas emigrated to the USA to apply the process there, and Crane continued to write to Thomas with techinical and business advice during the construction of his furnace at Catasauqua [2]

1837 April 27th. Patent sealed. 'George Crane, of Yniscedywyn Iron Works, near Swansea, Iron Master, for an improvement in the manufacture of iron'

1837 July 1st. Lease for £1500 from 1 July 1837 for £655 and royalties dated 1 July 1837 from Richard Douglas Gough of Ynys-Cedwyn House, esq., to George Crane of Tycoch, iron master; Three iron furnaces called Yniscedwin [Ynys-Cedwyn] Furnaces, a house called Tycoch alias the Red House with lands belonging to it, with liberty to build another furnace; also houses and lands called Glanrhyd and The College (with the exception of one room called the Parish Schoolroom) in the parishes of Llangiwg and Ystradgynlais [3]

1838 George Crane of Yniscedywyn Iron Works, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[4]

1846 Q1. Died at Swansea Registration District

1846 January 10th. Died at Rose Hill, Mumbles, age 62.

'Death by taking the Wrong Medicine.—An inquest was held at Swansea, on Thursday, on the body of George Crane, Esq., of Rose-hill, Mumbles, who, on the preceding Friday, took by mistake a blister mixture composed of cantharides. The Cambrian, in its notice of Mr. Crane's melancholy death, says:— "This gentleman, though a native of Worcestershire, has been resident for the last twenty-two years in this neighbourhood, with the iron trade of which he was most influentially and extensively connected. By the discovery of a process of applying anthracite, or stone coal, to the smelting of iron, he has conferred an invaluable benefit upon this district, the extensive stone coal fields of which were, previous to the discovery, of comparatively little value. The circumstances attending his death are not the less melancholy than the feelings with which his loss will regarded by his connexions and friends, as well as by the great number of persons dependent upon him, and with whom his extensive avocations brought him in frequent communication. He had lately resided at Rose-hill, Mumbles, his physician having advised him to live for season in a more retired spot, where he should enjoy the benefit of the sea air, and be enabled to abstain from applying himself to business with his usual untiring assiduity." The jury returned verdict that "the deceased had come to his death by taking a poisonous mixture by mistake." [5]

'Deplorable Mistake. —The obituary of the Hereford Journal of Wednesday last contains the following painful announcement :— "Jan. 10, died, in consequence of taking by mistake a blistering liquid (liquor vesicatorius, composed of cantharides and acid fluid), at his residence, Rose Hill, Mumbles, George Crane, Esq., of the Yniscedwin Iron-works, Breconshire, in the 62nd year of his age. Mr. Crane was a native of this town, and the earlier portion of his life was devoted to commercial pursuits at Birmingham. In the year 1823 he commenced the Yniscedwin Iron-works, at that time consisting of one small blast furnace, which, by his unceasing exertions, unflinching integrity, perseverance, and talent, he has raised to its present flourishing extent. As the discoverer of one the most important, valuable, and useful inventions of modern times - the smelting of iron with anthracite—he has conferred a lasting benefit on the community. His loss will be much felt by the hundreds who were employed by him, and who looked to him as a parent." We have been informed that the fatal mistake to which the unfortunate gentleman fell a victim was committed by himself, and that he lingered in dreadful agony for three days.' [6]

Following George Crane's death, the business was carried on, apparently with little enthusiasm, by Patrick Moir Crane

Obituary, by Solomon W. Roberts

A three page obituary was published in the Journal of the Franklin Institute in 1846 [7]. From this we learn that he was 'for fifteen years was engaged in the hardware business in Birmingham, from which he retired about the year 1820, with no intention of again engaging in business; but, becoming tired of an idle life, he visited Wales in 1823, and commenced making iron at the Yniscedwin works, which then consisted of one small blast furnace.'...... 'When Mr. Crane took charge of them, and for a long time after, the smelting of the iron ore found in the vicinity was carried on with coke made from bituminous coal; but, as an extensive field of anthracite coal existed in the neighbourhood, which was considered useless for smelting purposes, his attention was early turned to the importance of bringing that fuel into use; and at different periods, during fourteen years, he had, at a large outlay, tried a variety of plans to effect the object.

'Though repeatedly baffled he still persevered, and his efforts at length were crowned with complete success. Finding that the use of this hard and refractory fuel caused his furnace to chill, he resolved to try the effect of heating the blast to a temperature sufficient to melt lead, upon the plan so successfully introduced by Mr. Nielson, for increasing the yield of furnaces worked with bituminous coal. - Having made the necessary preparations, he began the experiment with the hot-blast on the 7th of February, 1837, in a furnace forty one feet high and eleven feet in diameter at the boshes. From that date until the 12th of March the furnace was worked with roasted anthracite as the only fuel, and thenceforward exclusively with raw anthracite as it came from the mine without any preliminary preparation. In all respects Mr. Crane's success was complete; his furnace worked well, the yield was better than with coke, and the iron was of superior quality. He felt that the problem to which so many experimenters had turned their attention, both in Europe and America, and to which he had devoted so much of his time, was triumphantly solved. He had accomplished the object on an extensive working scale, with continued and increasing success; and from this period dates the establishment of a new and important manufacture, from which the iron trade, both of Great Britain and the United States, is now deriving great advantages. The writer of this notice, who was at that time sojourning among the iron works in Wales, visited Mr. Crane's establishment in May, 1837, for the purpose of seeing the process and of satisfying himself that the materials used were similar to those which exist so abundantly in Pennsylvania. Finding that the great object was accomplished, and that the results were highly gratifying, he communicated the fact to his friends in Philadelphia, by whom it was shortly after made public through the newspapers. At that time there was no blast furnace in Pennsylvania working with anthracite coal; their number in the State is now twenty-seven, and there are several in New Jersey......

'......At the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Liverpool, in September, 1837, [see Ynyscedwyn Ironworks] Mr. Crane attended and presented a paper descriptive of his process, which is printed in the sixth volume of the proceedings of that association. He had secured a patent in Great Britain and had applied for one in the United States, the issue of which was for some time delayed, owing to obstacles which grew out of the premature publication of his process. ..... His patent was infringed, and lie became involved in a tedious and expensive litigation which some of his friends feared might end in his ruin. At length, however, the question as to the validity of his British patent was decided in his favour, and thenceforward it became a source of much profit to him. He extended his works at Yniscedwin by the erection of several additional furnaces, and his concerns became highly prosperous. The validity of his patent in the United States has not been tested, although his process is extensively used. He consulted the writer of this notice as to the expediency of entering into litigation on the subject in this country; who in reply compared the case of Mr. Crane to that of Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin, the value of whose invention to the public made it the source of such vexation to the patentee. Mr. Crane is undoubtedly entitled to the honor of being the first to establish the smelting of iron with anthracite coal. At the time he succeeded, the business did not exist, and ever since it has gone on increasing. In testimony of this, the important works of the Lehigh Crane Iron Company have been named after him, which were erected and are carried on under the able superintendence of Mr. David Thomas, who was sent out from Wales by Mr. Crane for that purpose.

'Having lived long enough to see the object on which his heart was set completely accomplished, Mr. Crane died suddenly from the effects of a painful accident. Being somewhat indisposed, he had received two small bottles containing medical prescriptions, one intended to be used internally and the other as a liniment; and, by mistake, on the night of the 8th of January last, he accidentally took the contents of the wrong bottle, which produced inflammation ofthe stomach and carried him off hi two days, notwithstanding the best medical aid. He was a man of great excellence and purity of character, warmly attached to the Episcopal church, but liberal to those of different opinions. He was a friend to the poor and active in visiting and relieving the sick. He always provided for the widows and orphans of his workmen, and saw that their orphan children were educated. His active exertions to promote the general welfare and the moral and religious improvement of those in his service, furnish a bright example for the imitation of other iron-masters. He died unmarried, but hundreds who were employed by him lament his loss as that of a father. He felt a lively interest in the preservation of peaceful relations between Great Britain and the United States, and took great pleasure in hearing of American prosperity. We have reason to trust that his spirit has passed from works unto rewards in a better and more enduring country. Philadelphia, March 4th, 1846.'

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Birmingham Journal, 6th May 1837
  2. [1] The Lemelson Center website - David Thomas webpage
  3. Swansea Council
  4. 1838 Institution of Civil Engineers
  5. London Daily News, 26th January 1846
  6. Worcestershire Chronicle, 28 January 1846
  7. [2] The Darlington Digital Library: 'Obituary of the late George Crane, Esq., the founder of the Anthracite Iron manufacture'. By Solomon W. Roberts, Civil Engineer, in the Journal of the Franklin Institute