Nasmyth steam hammer, c 1850.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The steam hammer was a tool for shaping large pieces of wrought iron. By 1839, when James Nasmyth (1808-1890), engineer and inventor, devised the steam hammer, the increasing scale of 19th century engineering was outstripping available forging techniques. The tool was a direct response to these new demands and one intended application was forging the huge paddle shaft planned for Brunel's steamship 'Great Britain'. Although the Great Britain was altered during building to use screw propulsion rather than paddles, the hammer was completed in 1843 and found a wide range of uses.