The History of the Welding Industry
Welding joins two pieces of material together through high energy. Usually, an extra material is used to join the two pieces, or bases, together. The extra material is often added to make the weld stronger than the base metals so the weld will hold. Find out how the history of welding started, and how types of welding have changed over the centuries.
The Bronze and Iron Ages (3000 BC – 700 AD)
Welding began simply as forging, any way of forcing two metals or materials together in a solid state. The earliest examples of welding come from the prehistoric Bronze and Iron Ages, during which people heavily used bronze, iron, and steel to create tools and, eventually, structures. Forge welding was often used to make the cutting edges of anything made out of steel stronger. Common ways of forging metals together are by heating, hammering, and/or pressing surfaces together, which are all still done today.
The Rise and Fall of the Blacksmith (1500s – 1800s)
Blacksmithing, one of the types of welding, involves hammering, bending, and cutting the metal. While blacksmiths existed in the prehistoric era, they became even more mainstream in the Medieval period, when every town would have its own blacksmith.
Before the industrial revolution, when modern welding methods were invented, blacksmiths were commonly considered the experts for creating and fixing any broken tools or hardware. Blacksmiths are known for heating metal in fire fueled by charcoal (and later, but not as preferably, coal) to make or repair the following items:
- Metal appliances
- Metal tools
- Decorative metalwork
Blacksmithing still exists as a career, but the 1800s saw the invention of electrically-generated heat that made welding a less labor-intensive process.
Electric Arc Welding (1800 – Present)
According to History.com, blacksmithing has been replaced by electric arc welding, which involves conducting electricity through a piece of metal to create an arc of electricity near the welding surface. The electrical arc heats the surface, making it possible to weld. While Sir Humphry Davy discovered the first electrical arc in 1800, strong resistance to this new type of welding lasted a century.
As the industrial revolution continued, construction became a main resistor of using welding. History.com notes that because they used rivets to fasten materials together, construction companies did not consider welding a necessity. In the 1900s, architects and engineers began to realize the limitations placed on structures that solely used rivets. By creating stronger, continuously welded steel beams, welders could free up space by simplifying the structure of the building. Lincoln Electric, with an architectural firm, erected “the first commercial building wholly constructed from arc-welded steel” in 1928: the Upper Carnegie Building in Cleveland.
Now, welders can even create continuous beams with curves and unique angles, making the once difficult task of connecting structural pieces simple.
From welding iron to stone using a fire and pressure, to using electrical arcs to create stronger skyskrapers, welding has come a long way. Today, individuals in the welding field are often known as combination welders. Combination welding includes the following areas:
- Blueprint reading and creation
- Maintenance and repair techniques
- Simple to complex levels of arc welding
With a rich history in methods and uses, the welding trade continues to flourish as a viable modern career option.
*Apex Technical School and its instructors are licensed by the New York State Education Department.