Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,199 pages of information and 245,645 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Johann Conrad Fischer

From Graces Guide

Johann Conrad Fischer (1773-1854) of Schaffhausen, Switzerland

Much of the following information comes from 'J. C. Fischer and his Diary of Industrial England 1814-51' by W. O. Henderson, and mainly concerns Fischer's contacts with British scientists, engineers and industrialists.

Johann Conrad Fischer was an industrialist and a pioneer of high quality steel development and production on the Continent. He laid the foundations of the famous firm of Georg Fischer.

He had strong links with many of Britain's leading engineers and scientists in the first half of the 19th century, and kept detailed journals of his visits to Britain [1]

His father had been a journeyman coppersmith whose work had taken him to the Royal Gun Factory at Woolwich, working under Andrew Schalch.

Johann went to school in Schaffhausen and then started an apprenticeship in his father's workshop as a coppersmith and making hand-driven fire-fighting pumps. He spent time working in Germany and then travelled to Denmark and Sweden. In 1784[2] he went to London where he worked for the famous instrument maker Samuel Rhee.

He returned home in 1795 to take over his father's business, which he went on to expand, diversifying into other lines of business. These lines included the development and production of special steels.

1802 He purchased a former mill in the Mühlental valley outside Schaffhausen, where he set up a small foundry for bells and the fire-fighting pumps.

c.1806 He was the first on the European continent to succeed in producing "crucible steel". Fischer was invited by the French Ministry of the Interior to settle in France but turned down the offer. He began creating cast steel alloys with other metals.

1807 He created a low-alloy manganese steel

1814 He created "so-called" yellow steel with copper

He took samples with him when he visited England in 1814.

His 1814 visit took him to Edward Stammers, Samuel Fenn, Holtzapffel, Peter Dollond, and James Tringham.

1819 Johann created a silver-steel alloy. He also helped set up a steel factory in La Roche near Montbéliard in the Franche-Comté and later concluded license agreements with companies in London and Liège. Since Austria was the only country with patent legislation, Fischer had almost all his inventions patented in Vienna. This explains why Austria was the first country in which Fischer expanded.

1823 He created an alloy of steel with chromium.

1825-7 He visited London twice in 1825, calling first at the workshop of Joseph Egg, where Fischer's son Conrad had completed his training. He went to see John Martineau and Henry William Smith, and discussed the manufacture under licence of Fischer's nickel steel alloy. Fischer was impressed by various products of Taylor and Martineau. John Martineau obtained permission for Fischer to visit Marc Brunel's Battersea sawmills. This was a rare privilege, and Fischer was greatly impressed by what he saw. In October 1825 he saw the Thames Tunnel under construction. He paid another visit to Marc Brunel in 1827 during a hiatus in the work, and wrote that 'British will power coupled with Brunel's own genius and determination were such that no one was deterred by this great misfortune. In June 1825 he was admitted to the Regent's Park workshops of Jacob Perkins thanks to a letter of introduction from Michael Faraday, and in December 1826 Perkins' son showed him round the Fleet Street engraving works.

In October 1827 Fischer had made some steel in Martineau's plant, and took it to be forged at the London Steelworks of Thomson and Johnson near Vauxhall Bridge.

Friendship with Benjamin Gott and Sons

Fischer developed a lasting friendship with the Benjamin Gott and his family following his first visit to Leeds in September 1814. He was astonished at the size of Gott's Park Mill and its use of the most modern plant including carding machinery, hydraulic press, and gas generating plant. In 1816 one of Gott's sons stayed with Fischer in Schaffhausen, and two of Gott’s daughters and a son visited in 1824. Fischer returned to Leeds in 1825 and stayed at Armley Hall, and saw the extensions to Park Mill, and visited Armley Mill, which was then powered by three large iron waterwheels. In 1845 Fischer was the guest of John Gott.

1827 Fischer succeeded in manufacturing malleable cast iron. His last alloy – which he called "Fischer metal" – was cast steel containing one third copper. Fischer did not live long enough to see this invention used in railway axle boxes. Except for making files, Fischer did not consider the possibility of processing the steel himself.

1827 He set up further steel foundries in Austria: at Hainfeld in 1827, Traisen in 1833, and Salzburg in 1839. He appointed his sons Georg, Berthold and Wilhelm to manage these works.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 'J. C. Fischer and his Diary of Industrial England 1814 - 1851' by W O Henderson, Frank Cass & Co., 1966
  2. The company's website says: "In 1792, he set out as a wandering journeyman, his travels taking him to Germany, Scandinavia and England."