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British Industrial History

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Robert Hadfield

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1912. Sir Robert Abbott Hadfield, Bart. (1858-1940).

Sir Robert Abbott Hadfield, Bart. (1858-1940)

son of Robert Hadfield (1830-1888), born in Attercliffe

1914 President of the Faraday Society.[1]

1926 Formally opened the new Engineering and Metallurgical Research Laboratories at University of Sheffield

1939/40 Obituary [2]

Robert Hadfield was born in 1858 and received his technical education at Sheffield Collegiate School and Firth College.

He received his practical training as a metallurgist in his father's works, the Hadfield Steel Foundry Co, and after subsequently occupying various positions of responsibility he took over complete control of the works on the death of his father in 1888.

In 1913 the Company assumed its present title of Hadfields Ltd., at which time Sir Robert was Chairman and Managing Director.

He retained this position up to the time of his death, which took place on 30th September, 1940, at the age of 81.

Sir Robert was responsible for many researches and discoveries in the field of metallurgy and was the author of numerous books and papers; in fact, it is said that he contributed over 200 papers to scientific societies on metallurgical subjects.

1888 Read a paper on Some Novel Properties of Iron and Manganese to the Institution of Civil Engineers. [3]

He was created a knight in 1908 and a baronet in 1917. He was also the possessor of many academic honours and was awarded numerous medals. His fame was world-wide and he was a Commander of the Legion of Honour.

He was elected a Member of the Institution of Automobile Engineers in 1918.

1926 Open the new Engineering and Metalurgical Research Laboratories at the University of Sheffield

1941 Obituary [4]

Sir ROBERT ABBOTT HADFIELD, Bart., D.Sc., D.Met., F.R.S., was one of the most eminent metallurgists of all time. In the course of his long life he achieved a reputation that is likely to remain unique not only because of his discoveries and researches into the metallurgy of steel, but also because of his ready insight into their commercial possibilities, and his ability to make his scientific achievements benefit the community. Few steelmakers have ever wielded so great an influence, for he used the position which he attained by his own talents to direct and inspire a prodigious amount of highly important research into metallurgical matters; he himself recorded, in 1925, that during the preceding forty years no less than 3,000 steels had been made and tested under his supervision. Undoubtedly the two most far-reaching discoveries associated with his name are manganese steel, on which he carried out his first experiments in 1882, and low-hysteresis silicon steel, which he investigated during the closing years of the nineteenth century.

Sir Robert was born in Sheffield in 1858 and received his education at Sheffield Collegiate School and Firth College. In 1876 he entered the Hecla works of Messrs. The Hadfield Steel Foundry Company, at Attercliffe, which had been established by his father four years previously. His practical training continued until 1882. He also developed his taste for experimental metallurgy in a laboratory which his father provided for him. About this time he began his investigations into iron-manganese alloys which led to his most important discovery, manganese steel. He also found how to heat-treat this alloy to bring out its characteristics to the best advantage, and was quick to see its possibilities as a commercial steel. The same series of experiments foreshadowed his later work on silicon steel, which became of such great importance in its electrical applications.

On the death of his father in 1888 Sir Robert assumed the entire control of the works; and in the same year the firm was incorporated as a limited liability company, with Sir Robert as chairman and managing director. He retained this position with the company for the rest of his life. New and much larger works, known as the East Hecla works, were laid down at Tinsley under his direction in 1897; and the original works at Attercliffe were largely converted into chemical and physical laboratories. Throughout his life Sir Robert, in addition to the management of his firm, maintained a constant and active interest in every kind of research connected with steel and was himself concerned with a large number of important investigations. He was a keen supporter and a valued member of many of the technical institutions, before whom most of his findings were presented in the form of papers and from whom he received a multitude of medals and other distinctions.

Sir Robert joined the Institution in 1888. For a period extending over many years the Institution has been indebted to him in several ways. He was an active member of the Alloys Research Committee and a joint author of the Seventh Report, published in 1905. He also contributed a special paper as a sequel to the Committee's Report entitled "Addendum on Alloys of Iron and Molybdenum", published in 1915. In the same year the London Graduates' Association had the privilege of hearing Sir Robert lecture on "The History of the Metallurgy of Iron and Steel". He was always interested in obtaining and applying information on the testing of hardness of metals by various methods, and contributed a note on the subject jointly with Mr. S. A. Main which was published in the Proceedings for 1919. He served on the Hardness Tests Research Committee from its inception in 1914 and did much to stimulate experimental research in this field by means of prizes which he placed in the gift of the Institution.

In 1908 he was elected a Member of Council and in this capacity he served until 1916, when he was made a Vice-President. He held this office as an active Member of the Council until 1923, when, by a special motion of the Council he was made a perpetual Past-Vice-President, and was in fact the last surviving of the five Past Vice-Presidents to be so elected. He had been an Honorary Member since 1927, and his actual membership therefore covered a period of no less than 52 years. In addition he was a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and a Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers. He was also a past-president of the Iron and Steel Institute, the Faraday Society, the Sheffield Metallurgical Society, the Sheffield Society of Engineers and Metallurgists, the Society of British Gas Industries, and the British Commercial Gas Association. In addition he was either a member or honorary member of a vast number of other technical societies in Great Britain, and on the Continent and in the U.S.A. Probably no other metallurgist has received so many honours.

He was created a Knight in 1908 and a baronet in 1917. In 1909 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and he was also the recipient of honorary degrees at the Universities of Oxford, Leeds, and Sheffield. He was Master Cutler of Sheffield during 1899-1900, and later became a Freeman of the city, and of the City of London. Moreover, he was an Officer of the Legion of Honour, and was raised to the rank of Commandeur in 1937; he also received the Japanese Order of the Sacred Treasure, and the Italian Order of the Crown of Italy. In later life he took a great interest in the metallurgical work of Faraday; he made a collection of the alloys with which Faraday experimented, and wrote a book entitled "Faraday and his Metallurgical Researches". His most important book, however, was "Metallurgy and its Influence on Modern Progress", published in 1925.

Sir Robert continued to take an active part in the direction of his firm, and maintained his untiring interest in metallurgical research, until his death, which occurred at Kenry House, Kingston Hill, Surrey, on 30th September 1940.

1940 Obituary [5]

Sir Robert Hadfield, chairman of Hadfields, Ltd., a man distinguished both as a scientific worker and a business man, died at his home at Kingston Hill, Surrey, on September 30, 1940, in his 82nd year.

To succeeding generations throughout the world Hadfield will always be remembered for his discovery of manganese steel and of silicon steel, a piece of research work carried out in his early twenties and responsible for great developments in the industrial uses and applications of steel.

His scientific work did not, however, end here; his work on alloy steels continued, and during forty years he made and tested over 3,000 different specimens. Hadfield also investigated the properties of steel castings, and with the introduction of improved methods of casting, together with a variety of special steels, he developed the firm of Hadfields, Ltd., until it grew to be one of the largest steel-producing firms in the country. Hard-working, painstaking, tireless, Sir Robert was for many years undisputed leader of the iron and steel industry.

Hadfield was born in 1854 at Attercliffe, Sheffield, and was educated at the Sheffield Collegiate School. His father was director of a small steelworks, and the boy was encouraged to experiment with metals at an early age. He showed his keenness and determination at the age of 16 when he refused the offer of a university career and started work with Messrs. Jonas Meyer and Colver.

Later in the same year Hadfield entered his father's laboratory and began the re- search which eventually led to his two famous discoveries. The first patent for manganese steel was taken out in 1883. This alloy steel was found to possess two peculiar properties; it became very tough on quenching, and it was practically non-magnetic and a very poor conductor of heat and electricity. It proved invaluable as a consequence of its high resistance to wear.

In 1884 the first silicon steel was produced. It was used largely for tool steel, and later, on account of its high tensile strength, for shipbuilding and structural purposes. Later, in 1902, Hadfield discovered the remarkable electrical and magnetic properties of this alloy, which resulted in the production of the low-hysteresis steel that is used extensively in electrical apparatus.

On the death of his father in 1888, Hadfield was appointed chairman and managing director of the firm, which now became a limited company. The business expanded rapidly under his chairmanship; he devoted himself whole-heartedly to the work and to the welfare of his employees, and was one of the first men to institute an eight-hour working day.

During the war of 1914-1918 Hadfield put all the resources of his firm at the disposal of his country; the war material produced by the company during this time amounted to a value of about £36,000,000. He also founded and entirely supported a military hospital, organized by Lady Hadfield, at Wimereux, near Boulogne, and subscribed generously to various war charities. Few metallurgists have received as many honours as were awarded to Sir Robert Hadfield.

In 1899 he received the George Stephenson Gold Modal from the Institution of Civil Engineers and in 1902 the Howard Quinquennial Prize. In 1904 he was elected President of the Iron and Steel Institute and awarded the Bessemer Gold Medal. He was knighted in 1908 and created a baronet in 1917 in recognition of his services during the war. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and received honorary degrees from the universities of Oxford, Sheffield, and Leeds.

Hadfield was also elected an honorary member of many foreign scientific institutions and was a Commander of the Legion of Honour and of the Order of the Crown of Italy. Among other distinctions he was awarded the John Fritz Gold Medal by the United States, the Albert Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Arts, and the Trasenter Medal by the Association des Ingenieurs of Liege. Hadfield contributed more than 200 papers, mostly on alloy steels, to various scientific societies, and was the author of two books on metallurgy. The second of these, "Faraday and his Metallurgical Researches," represented the results of an extensive research as a result of which Hadfield paid tribute to Michael Faraday as a pioneer of alloy steels.

A citizen of Sheffield, he did much to develop metallurgical research work at the university. For this and other services he was awarded the Freedom of the City in 1939. He was a staunch Liberal, and worked hard for the well-being of his fellow men, but his many activities would not admit of his standing for Parliament. Nevertheless, his energies were always directed to the advancement of humanity, and throughout his life he remained a hard and tireless worker. He was a great Englishman and a great gentleman.

Sir Robert Hadfield was an Original Member of the Institute of Metals, and served as a Member of Council from 1916 to 1921.

1940 Obituary [6]

1940 Obituary [7]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1914/06/26
  2. 1939/40 Institution of Automobile Engineers: Obituaries‎
  3. The Engineer 1888/03/16
  4. 1941 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  5. 1940 Institute of Metals: Obituaries
  6. The Engineer 1940 Jul-Dec: Index
  7. 1940 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries