The History of Welding: An Overview
Modern metal fabrication has come a long way, with one of the top fabrication methods being welding. When you first step into the world of welding, you’ll soon discover there’s a lot to learn.
Besides the various welding methods, equipment, and other essentials, you should consider learning the history of welding. An overview of welding’s development over many, many years will explain the intriguing stories behind many industry methods we still use today. Homework isn’t exactly a beloved activity, but this history lesson is worth taking if you plan on making a hobby or career out of welding.
The earliest examples of welding date back to around 4000-3000 BC., right before the dawn of the Bronze Age, thanks to the Egyptians. That said, the Egyptians’ welding methods were very different from ours today. Obviously, they did not have the torches, electrodes, and protective gear we have today. Instead, welding began as a method of combining metals by heating and hammering them. In some ways, it was closer to metal forming (a modern fabrication method) than it was welding. Commonly welded metals during this time include copper, iron, and gold.
The original welding techniques continued for many, many years. Not until the 1800s did major welding innovations occur. In 1800, Sir Humphry Davey became the inventor of the electric arc. Davey’s ability to create an arc between two carbon electrodes with a battery truly marked a major turning point in the welding industry.
Another crucial event in modern welding’s origin arrived in 1836 when Edmund Davy discovered acetylene. This discovery laid the groundwork for oxyacetylene cutting and welding, which isn’t as popular in modern welding techniques but was very prominent back in the day. That said, acetylene did not become practical for welding purposes until the early 1900s when a suitable blowtorch was finally built.
Our next stop is 1881—Auguste de Meritens successfully fuses two lead battery plates with a carbon electrode. Two of Meritens’ students, Nikolai Benardos and Stanislaw Olszewski, continued researching this process until successfully creating carbon arc welding, which was a prominent method in the 1890s. In 1885, after several years of experiments and research, Benardos and Olszewski officially secured a patent for their process of severing, punching holes into and fusing metals with carbon rods.
Around 1889-1890, American engineer C.L Coffin secured a patent for an arc welding technique utilizing a metal electrode, only a couple of years after a similar development was coincidentally discovered by Nikolai Slavyanov in Russia. As you can see, advancements in welding were happening at a fairly quick pace near the end of the 1800s. As you’ll soon learn, that pace only picked up at the turn of the century.
Despite being around for so many years, welding didn’t really hit its prime until the 1900s. Through this period, the welding industry saw incredible innovations that are still consistently used by welders today. In fact, right at the beginning of the century, this industry saw major improvements to electrodes.
The Early 1900s
Around 1900, in Great Britain, A. P. Strohmenger created another component that will sound familiar to a modern welder—a coated metal electrode. Strohmenger specifically used coatings made from lime and clay to create a more stable welding arc.
As more developments in welding technology occurred during the early 1900s, World War I saw a major shift in welding’s popularity. The Americans, British and German forces all sought the assistance of available welding methods for successfully constructing ships, aircraft, and other essential supplies.
Once WWI came to a close in 1919, Comfort Avery Adams officially founded the American Welding Society with the goal of advancing welding techniques. In that same year, C.J. Holslag invented the alternating current, another piece of technology we still frequently use in today’s welding processes.
1920—innovations in welding continued, including the creation of automatic welding. P.O. Nobel is the inventor of automatic welding, which was the first use of continuously fed wire electrodes. At the time, this welding method was being primarily used for repairing worn metal components.
Another idea that came to fruition during this period was using shielding gases to create suitable welding atmospheres. Welding experts were running into problems with porosity and brittleness in their workpieces, so scientists began working hard to develop a solution. It turns out that the oxygen and nitrogen in the air were the problems. As a response to this new discovery, shielding gases such as argon, helium, and hydrogen became essential for creating welding atmospheres.
The welding industry continued thriving for decades until the 40s arrived and introduced us to two methods that will sound familiar to any welder—GTAW and GMAW.
Gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) is one of the most frequently used types of welding around. Since GTAW (aka TIG welding) is so prominent today, it may surprise you to learn that 2021 marks 80 years since Russel Meredith invented this process, the patent for which Meredith received in 1942.
The process has its roots in C.L Coffin’s research in the 1890s, but it was Meredith who perfected GTAW, dubbing it “Heliarc” welding. TIG welding might not be the easiest method in the industry to learn, but even today welders can use TIG to complete clean, high-quality welds for a bevy of industries.
In 1948, gas metal arc welding (GMAW) was finally perfected at the Battelle Memorial Institute with the assistance of the Air Reduction Company. The purpose of this research was to create a means of welding nonferrous metals successfully. As a result, we have another immensely popular welding method today—MIG welding. This process is quick and very easy for beginners to learn. Nowadays, MIG is the first welding method many industry newcomers use to hone their skills before advancing to TIG and other effective techniques.
As you can see, there’s a lot to unpack when discussing the history of welding. An overview like the one above is important for welders to understand. Shielding gases and arc welding didn’t just appear out of thin air; they’re results of many years of refining and perfecting the science behind fusing two metals. Thanks to those years of innovation, we can utilize modern technology such as multi process welding machines for creating perfect welds every day.