The first welded ship was the MS Carolinian that was built in 1930, just less than a century ago. But the first sign of welding in human history dates back to several millennia. Modern welding tools that we see today were invented in the 19th century.
But archaeologists have found pressure-welded gold boxes that are about two thousand years old. Some believe the first welding took place in Ancient Egypt in 4000 B.C. How did welding evolve from ancient times to the modern age? Let’s take a look back at the history of welding.
What is Welding?
Welding nowadays is commonly used to join metals or thermoplastics through a process called fusion. Metal parts are heated to the melting temperature so that they fuse together and form a strong bond between parts. This is done by using a variety of energy sources.
Gas flame welding or electric arc welding are commonly being used for years while laser welding or ultrasound welding are still developing their effectiveness. Even robots are being used to weld in places that are tough for humans to access. From ancient times, new methods of welding are being invented and improved.
Who Invented Modern Welding?
There is no certain name in the history who welded for the first time in human history. But modern welding took place in the early 19th century when Sir Humphry Davy produced electric arc using battery and carbon electrodes. But this wasn’t a continuous arc.
Edmund Davy invented acetylene in 1836 but humans need to wait for another 64 years until the first blowtorch was invented to use acetylene to weld metal. After a Russian scientist created a continuous electric arc, the first electric arc welding took place in the late 19th century.
The first fusion welding was documented in 1881; 45 years later, acetylene was invented. It was done by August De Meritens, who welded lead plates for battery using carbon electrodes. Oxyacetylene was first applied in welding in the early 20th century, and this is where modern welding started taking shape.
Breakdown of Welding History
So that you understand the propagation of development in welding, we will go all the way back to ancient times and show you how welding evolved over time to take the shape it has today. We will divide the history into distinct periods so that you know where welding took leaps. Here you go.
Most Ancient Welding: B.C. Period
How did welding start and progress during this period? This is the timeline of welding history in the B.C period.
This was the time when welding is believed to start in Ancient Egypt. The first metal that was hammered and welded is copper. Due to the flexibility of copper, it was the ideal metal back then to be bent and welded. At the end of this era, Tin was discovered and started being used commonly.
The use of bronze is considered to start in this era. The human civilization that started with copper, made its way through exploring bronze, silver, gold, and iron. In this period, humans first pressure-welded small gold boxes.
People were also able to shape metal into weapons, utensils, and jewelry in this era. Sumerian people used the hard soldering process to make swords, and Ancient Egyptians used pressure welding during this timeframe.
The use of cobalt to paint glass also started in this era by Persians.
Mercury was discovered around this time. Iron smelting also occurred then, but it became more common later in around 1200 B.C. There has been a sign of using metal soldering by Egyptians in 1330 B.C. They used solder and blowpipe to solder metal, and the sign of their works was found in the Mask of Tut-Ench-Amun.
By this time, humans started working with irons. They also started using furnaces to bend metals to prepare spearheads and swords. Catalan furnace was commonly used at that time.
Egyptians started manufacturing iron tools in around 900 B.C. Babylonians also started making weapons with iron at the same age.
Middle Age Welding: From A.D. Period to Middle Age
In middle age, there has been some notable progress in welding. What happened next? Read to know.
In this era, a Roman author called Pliny documented the process of gold brazing. It took place in 60 A.D. In 310 A.D., major progress came in when an iron pillar was made by welding iron billets in Delhi, India. Iron billets were forge-welded, and the pillar was about 25 feet tall and weighed about 6 tons. Similar structures were built in Rome, Scandinavia, and England between 300 and 400 A.D.
The venture of the Chinese of turning wrought iron into steel happened in 589 A.D. during the Sui Dynasty. Japanese also started making weapons like Samurai swords around that time. They used welding and molding to make such weapons.
This was the era when a monk called Theophilus wrote the process of fusing flux to braze silver. He also mentioned the application of Potassium Tarpate and Sodium Chloride at that time. Zinc was discovered later in 1375 A.D.
Forge was the welding base in this phase of welding history. Pounding hot metals until they bond was the most common welding process around this time. But this started to change in the next few centuries.
Welding in 16th and 17th Centuries
The first major progress of welding in the 16th century took place in 1540. This year, De la Pirotechnia was authored by Vannoccio Biringuccio where he described forging operation. His theories helped Renaissance craftsmen master the skills of forging.
The first cast-iron cannon was made in 1545. Parson Levett, a priest at Buxted, is known as the founder of cannon. This was a giant leap in using the welding process for making weapons.
In the same century, Benvenuto Cellini, a well-known goldsmith from Italy wrote about how to braze a silver or copper alloy through the soldering process. The term ‘weld’ was first used in 1599.
Development of Welding in 18th Century
A number of small but important developments happened in the history of welding in this century. Blast furnaces were used in this century for the first time. The progress of welding was slow but persistent to take it to the era of the industrial revolution.
Instances were in Ecuador that Indians during the pre-Columbian era used platinum in 1735. After 16 years, a Swedish chemist called Axel Cronstedt made pure nickel in 1751. Another 15 years later, a big invention in the history of welding happened.
English physicist and Chemist Henry Cavendish stated the properties of Hydrogen Gas. After few more years, Oxygen was discovered in 1774. Shortly after the invention of Oxygen, A French scientist called Lavoisier established oxygen cutting principles that have been developed over time.
Evolution of Welding in 19th Century
The 19th century was the time when welding started taking its modern shape. With a lot of inventions and developments, welding progressed faster in this century.
At the beginning of this century, Sir Humphry Davy made an electric arc using batteries and carbon electrodes.
Allesandro Volta made a breakthrough by discovering the voltaic cell at the beginning of this century. There wasn’t much development in these three decades but sponge platinum was welded through cold-pressing in 1828.
A major development in the history of welding is the invention of acetylene. Edmund Davy invented acetylene in 1836, as you might already know. But this wasn’t effective until the beginning of the 20th century as there wasn’t any blowtorch to use acetylene for welding.
After two years of this invention, Eugene Desbassayrs de Richemont got a patent for fusion welding. Soon, Michael Faraday discovered the voltage generation process in 1839 that helped to weld a lot afterward.
Another crucial development in welding took place in 1846 when James Nasmyth discovered an interesting thing. He showed that if welding surfaces are prepared with a bit of convex, the bond becomes much stronger than usual forge welding.
By the mid-19th century, several different types of electricity generators were made. Scientists like Oersted, Ampere, Faraday, Wheatstone, etc. played vital roles in making of these tools that were commonly used afterward.
James Joule discovered the resistance welding process in 1856 when he used internal resistance and electric current to produce heat and weld a bundle of wires. Electric welding was developed by Wilde in 1860 but he got to patent it five years later in the year 1865.
Friederich Wohler applied calcium carbide in 1862 to produce acetylene gas and it showed new hope in welding.
A different type of invention – the gasoline-powered torch came in 1876 which was developed by Otto Bernz Company. As we have already mentioned earlier, the fusion welding process was first recorded in 1881.
He used carbon electrodes in this process but the welding process advanced as two scientists, C. L. Coffin and Nikolai Slavyanov separately invented metal electrodes. In this case, carbon electrodes were coated with metal. But pure metal electrodes were invented by N.G. Slavianoff in 1888. Around the same time, two disciples of Auguste de Meritens won a patent for welding using carbon electrodes and an electrical power source.
In between 1889 and 1892, American scientist C. L. Coffin received four patents for flash-butt welding, spot welding, and bare metal electrode arc welding. He is considered the welding pioneer in the US.
Blowtorch was first used in 1890, and acetylene production started commercially in 1892. Famous scientist Henry LeChatelier discovered the combined ignition of oxygen and acetylene in 1895. Oxyacetylene we use today came from this invention. Copper electrodes were invented in the late 19th century.
Ultimate Progress of Welding: 20th Century
This was the time when welding started to get its final touch of development. All the major developments in the history of welding happened in this century. Let us introduce you to the most crucial events.
At the very beginning of the 20th century, commercial oxyacetylene torches were developed and came into the market. Soon after making welding torches, Thermite Welding, and oxyfuel welding, two different processes of welding became popular.
In the first decade, resistance spot welding machines were made in 1906. Oscar Kjellberg got the patent license for arc welding or shielded metal, which is still used in some cases, in 1907. Bernardor got a patent for the Electroslag procedure. Before this, welding thicker plates in one go was quite impossible.
In 1911, the first pipeline was welded using oxyacetylene. The first-ever commercial welding devices came in 1912. In the same year, the first automobile body was fabricated through spot welding, and it was a breakthrough in the industry.
Though AC welding was discovered in 1919, it wasn’t popular because of the unstable arc. Oxyfuel welding was much popular at that time. Superpowers felt the need to discover newer welding processes to make ships and other military tools because old methods weren’t secure enough.
Welded objects often got cracked and weren’t that reliable until the 1920s.
This was the time for some giant leaps in the history of welding. Automatic welding was invented in 1920. X-ray was also used for the first time to check the quality of the welding.
The first welded building was built in 1924. The first welded railroad bridge was made in 1928. It was used to transport large generators. Alternating Current welding started to get popularity in the early 1930s. Before this time, welding was done by batteries. Submerged arc welding was developed in 1930.
E.G. Budd welded stainless steel for the first time in 1931. Westinghouse, who made the first welded railroad bridge, first invented a controller to control resistance welding. Miller Electric made the first AC welding machine in 1936.
Gravity welding was introduced in 1938, and Germans started using welding to make larger ships. A big leap in aviation welding came in 1939 with the use of aluminum. Arc welding with Gas tungsten was patented in 1942. By this time, the Dip soldering process was also developed.
Arc welding with gas metal was invented in 1943. A large number of ships were built around 1945 that used welding instead of riveting. The process of shielded metal arc welding gone through development during the 1950s.
Shielded metal arc welding got much popularity during this time. Consumable electrodes and CO2 atmosphere were used in this process. Miller Electric introduced a machine that was used to weld by controlled AC waves.
This was used for ultimate precision in welding. So, this was a common welding method on aircraft and missiles. A.J. Stohr introduced Electric beam welding at this time.
In 1951, the introduction of DryRod Electrode helped control the moisture level of electrodes. A new process called flux-cored welding was launched in 1954. A big move in 1957 was the invention of plasma welding. It was patented under the National Cylinder Gas Company.
In 1956, Russians developed the friction welding system. Electroslag welding and electron beam welding was developed in 1958, which helped welding penetrate narrow spaces.
The base of laser welding was established in this decade, with the laser being introduced in 1960. Mercury space capsule was built by welding titanium sheets with the help of filler metal.
The Fuse-welder torch was introduced in 1963. Before this, a testing process to determine the feasibility of welding different materials called the Varestraint Test was introduced. Two years later, a CO2 laser was used for the first time to weld metal. In 1969, Russians used welding in space for the first time to manage SOYUZ-6.
Several new technologies for soldering were introduced in the early 1970s.
Modern Era of Welding
This is the era when welding got its most recent look. A lot of new technologies were developed that helped automate the welding process in different industries. Automobile, shipbuilding, space, and nuclear industries started to use newer methods of welding to produce more effective results.
Robots started taking responsibility away from humans in this time. More sophisticated equipment and computers were integrated with robots to make welding more efficient and safer for humans.
In 1991, a new welding system named Fiction stir was introduced. By the need of the 20th century, developed a method to increase the amount of flux that helped the welded material keep safe from oxidation.
In the first decade of the 21st century, welding took several different leaps like X-ray welding, Diode laser, and magnetic pulse. These were introduced in the early 2000s. In the years 2008 and 2013, two major developments took place that introduced gas metal and laser arc welding.
Welding in the Future
As of now, many industries are using automated welding processes. But still, there are combinations of robots and humans in many sectors where it will turn into a completely automated system in the near future.
New materials will be designed to improve the quality and strength of the welding. Space industries will use welding materials and processes that improve the durability and monitor the performance of the welding.
The history of welding came to date through numerous stages to match the requirement of every era. This still-developing process will take our civilization to places we have never imagined to go. Today, as we make every single weld we make, we humbly remember those great names and builders who made it possible for us to achieve something in minutes that couldn’t be achieved in days.