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  • 8/22/2004

William Kelly
william kelly

(August 22, 1811- February 11, 1888)

   KELLY, William, inventor, born in Pittsburg,Pennsylvania; died in Louisville, Kentucky. At an early age he evinced great fondness for mechanics by constructing a tin steam-engine and boiler. At the age of eighteen he built a propelling water-wheel, and four years later a revolving steam-engine. Subsequently he became engaged in the commission business in Pittsburg, and also owned interests in steamboats; but in 1845, his property having been destroyed by fire, he removed to Kentucky, and there engaged in the manufacture of iron. The property known as the Eddyville iron-works, including the Suwanee furnace and the Union forge, situated on the Cumberland River in Lyon County, was purchased by him in 1846, and he soon acquired a high reputation for the excellence of his products. At the Suwanee furnace nearly one half of his metal was converted into large sugar-kettles made on cast-iron elastic moulds of his own invention, which found their way to the sugar-plantations in Louisiana and Cuba, while at the Union forge he made charcoal blooms which were sent to the rolling-mills in Cincinnati.

     In 1847, owing to the great cost of fuel, he began experimenting toward decarbonizing the iron by the introduction of a current of air, thereby directly converting pig-iron into steel by means of a converter, which can still be seen at the Cambria iron-works in Johnstown, Pennsylvania Zerah Colburn, in his history of the Bessemer process of relining iron, says:" The first experiments in the conversion of melted east-iron into malleable steel, by blowing air in jets through the mass infusion, appear to have been made by William Kelly, an iron-master at the Suwanee furnaces, Lyon county, Kentucky, United States. This method, long known as "Kelly"s air-boiling process," was used for the manufacture of boiler-plates before Sir Henry Bessemer was known, and it was claimed by Mr. Kelly that Bessemer obtained his original knowledge of the process that bears his name from information that was procured through English workmen in Mr. Kelly"s employ.

     As soon as Bessemer brought out his process in England, application was at once made by Mr. Kelly for a patent in the United States, and after considerable delay, during which time the English applicant appeared in the patent-office, the commissioner decided that Mr. Kelly was the first inventor and entitled to the patent, which he at once issued to him. In 1863 a syndicate of iron-masters organized the Kelly process company, for the purpose of controlling Mr. Kelly"s patents, and at once erected experimental works at Wyandotte, Michigan (see DURFEE, WILLIAM F. and ZOHETH S.), where steel was first made under Kelly"s patents in the United States, months before the similar production under Bessereef"s patents at Troy by Alexander L. Holley (q. v.). In 1866 the interests of the several patentees were consolidated under the title of the Pneumatic steel association. Application was made at the patent-office in 1871 for the renewal of the Bessemer, Mushet, and Kelly patents, and the claims of the two former were rejected, while a renewal of seven years was granted to Mr. Kelly.

   In 1854 Mr. Kelly, finding slave labor unsatisfactory, imported through aNew York tea-house ten Chinamen to take the place of Negroes in his iron-works. This is said to have been the first introduction of that kind of labor into the United States, and it excited much comment. The experiment proved successful, and arrangements were made for the further importation of fifty Chinamen, when a difficulty between the two nations prevented their coming.

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