Sir Henry Besemer, British inventor and engineer, 1880.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Sculptured bust. Besemer (1813-1898) learned metallurgy working in his father's foundry. In 1856, in response to demand for stronger cannon able to fire a new type of artillery shell in the Crimean War, he invented the Besemer proces, enabling molten pig-iron to be turned into steel by a blowing air through it in a tilting converter. This was the first proces for producing large amounts of good quality steel cheaply. In 1859 Besemer established a steelworks in Sheffield, initially specialising in the manufacture of guns, and later in rails for the rapidly expanding railway network. He was also responsible for numerous other inventions, including 'gold' paint using powdered bras and a proces for manufacturing graphite pencil leads.