Bickford, William

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b. 1774 Devonshire, England
d. 1834 Tuckingmill, Cornwall, England
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English leather merchant, inventor of the safety fuse.
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Having tried in vain to make his living as a currier in Truro, Cornwall, he set up as a leather merchant in Tuckingmill and became aware of the high casualty rates suffered by local tin-miners in shot-firing accidents. He therefore started attempts to discover a safe means of igniting charges, and came up with a form of safety fuse that made the operation of blasting much less hazardous. It was patented in 1831 and consisted of a cable of jute and string containing a thin core of powder; it provided a dependable means for conveying the flame to the charge so that the danger of hang fires was almost eliminated. Its accurate and consistent timing allowed the firing of several holes at a time without the fusing of the last being destroyed by the blast from the first. By 1840, a gutta-percha fuse had been developed which could be used in wet conditions and was an improvement until the use of dynamite for shot-firing.
Accounts of the invention, after it had been described in the Report from the Select Committee on Accidents in Mines (1835, London) were widespread in various foreign mining journals, and in the 1840s factories were set up in different mining areas on the European continent, in America and in Australia. Bickford himself founded a firm at Tuckingmill in the year that he came up with his invention which was later controlled by his descendants until it finally merged with Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) after the First World War.
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Further Reading
F.Heise, 1904, Sprengstoffe und Zündung der Sprengschüsse, Berlin (provides a detailed description of the development).
W.J.Reader, 1970, Imperial Chemical Industries. A History, Vol. I, London: Oxford University Press (throws light on the tight international connections of Bickford's firm with Nobel industries).
WK

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

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