Riley, James

SUBJECT AREA: Metallurgy
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b. 1840 Halifax, England
d. 15 July 1910 Harrogate, England
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English steelmaker who promoted the manufacture of low-carbon bulk steel by the open-hearth process for tin plate and shipbuilding; pioneer of nickel steels.
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After working as a millwright in Halifax, Riley found employment at the Ormesby Ironworks in Middlesbrough until, in 1869, he became manager of the Askam Ironworks in Cumberland. Three years later, in 1872, he was appointed Blast-furnace Manager at the pioneering Siemens Steel Company's works at Landore, near Swansea in South Wales. Using Spanish ore, he produced the manganese-rich iron (spiegeleisen) required as an additive to make satisfactory steel. Riley was promoted in 1874 to be General Manager at Landore, and he worked with William Siemens to develop the use of the latter's regenerative furnace for the production of open-hearth steel. He persuaded Welsh makers of tin plate to use sheets rolled from lowcarbon (mild) steel instead of from charcoal iron and, partly by publishing some test results, he was instrumental in influencing the Admiralty to build two naval vessels of mild steel, the Mercury and the Iris.
In 1878 Riley moved north on his appointment as General Manager of the Steel Company of Scotland, a firm closely associated with Charles Tennant that was formed in 1872 to make steel by the Siemens process. Already by 1878, fourteen Siemens melting furnaces had been erected, and in that year 42,000 long tons of ingots were produced at the company's Hallside (Newton) Works, situated 8 km (5 miles) south-east of Glasgow. Under Riley's leadership, steelmaking in open-hearth furnaces was initiated at a second plant situated at Blochairn. Plates and sections for all aspects of shipbuilding, including boilers, formed the main products; the company also supplied the greater part of the steel for the Forth (Railway) Bridge. Riley was associated with technical modifications which improved the performance of steelmaking furnaces using Siemens's principles. He built a gasfired cupola for melting pig-iron, and constructed the first British "universal" plate mill using three-high rolls (Lauth mill).
At the request of French interests, Riley investigated the properties of steels containing various proportions of nickel; the report that he read before the Iron and Steel Institute in 1889 successfully brought to the notice of potential users the greatly enhanced strength that nickel could impart and its ability to yield alloys possessing substantially lower corrodibility.
The Steel Company of Scotland paid dividends in the years to 1890, but then came a lean period. In 1895, at the age of 54, Riley moved once more to another employer, becoming General Manager of the Glasgow Iron and Steel Company, which had just laid out a new steelmaking plant at Wishaw, 25 km (15 miles) south-east of Glasgow, where it already had blast furnaces. Still the technical innovator, in 1900 Riley presented an account of his experiences in introducing molten blast-furnace metal as feed for the open-hearth steel furnaces. In the early 1890s it was largely through Riley's efforts that a West of Scotland Board of Conciliation and Arbitration for the Manufactured Steel Trade came into being; he was its first Chairman and then its President.
In 1899 James Riley resigned from his Scottish employment to move back to his native Yorkshire, where he became his own master by acquiring the small Richmond Ironworks situated at Stockton-on-Tees. Although Riley's 1900 account to the Iron and Steel Institute was the last of the many of which he was author, he continued to contribute to the discussion of papers written by others.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
President, West of Scotland Iron and Steel Institute 1893–5. Vice-President, Iron and Steel Institute, 1893–1910. Iron and Steel Institute (London) Bessemer Gold Medal 1887.
Bibliography
1876, "On steel for shipbuilding as supplied to the Royal Navy", Transactions of the Institute of Naval Architects 17:135–55.
1884, "On recent improvements in the method of manufacture of open-hearth steel", Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute 2:43–52 plus plates 27–31.
1887, "Some investigations as to the effects of different methods of treatment of mild steel in the manufacture of plates", Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute 1:121–30 (plus sheets II and III and plates XI and XII).
27 February 1888, "Improvements in basichearth steel making furnaces", British patent no. 2,896.
27 February 1888, "Improvements in regenerative furnaces for steel-making and analogous operations", British patent no. 2,899.
1889, "Alloys of nickel and steel", Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute 1:45–55.
Further Reading
A.Slaven, 1986, "James Riley", in Dictionary of Scottish Business Biography 1860–1960, Volume 1: The Staple Industries (ed. A.Slaven and S. Checkland), Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 136–8.
"Men you know", The Bailie (Glasgow) 23 January 1884, series no. 588 (a brief biography, with portrait).
J.C.Carr and W.Taplin, 1962, History of the British Steel Industry, Harvard University Press (contains an excellent summary of salient events).
JKA

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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