Champion, William

SUBJECT AREA: Metallurgy
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b. 1710 Bristol, England
d. 1789 England
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English metallurgist, the first to produce metallic zinc in England on an industrial scale.
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William, the youngest of the three sons of Nehemiah Champion, stemmed from a West Country Quaker family long associated with the metal trades. His grandfather, also called Nehemiah, had been one of Abraham Darby's close Quaker friends when the brassworks at Baptist Mills was being established in 1702 and 1703. Nehemiah II took over the management of these works soon after Darby went to Coalbrookdale, and in 1719, as one of a group of Bristol copper smelters, he negotiated an agreement with Lord Falmouth to develop copper mines in the Redruth area in Cornwall. In 1723 he was granted a patent for a cementation brass-making process using finely granulated copper rather than the broken fragments of massive copper hitherto employed.
In 1730 he returned to Bristol after a tour of European metallurgical centres, and he began to develop an industrial process for the manufacture of pure zinc ingots in England. Metallic zinc or spelter was then imported at great expense from the Far East, largely for the manufacture of copper alloys of golden colour used for cheap jewellery. The process William developed, after six years of experimentation, reduced zinc oxide with charcoal at temperatures well above the boiling point of zinc. The zinc vapour obtained was condensed rapidly to prevent reoxidation and finally collected under water. This process, patented in 1738, was operated in secret until 1766 when Watson described it in his Chemical Essays. After encountering much opposition from the Bristol merchants and zinc importers, William decided to establish his own integrated brassworks at Warmley, five meals east of Bristol. The Warmley plant began to produce in 1748 and expanded rapidly. By 1767, when Warmley employed about 2,000 men, women and children, more capital was needed, requiring a Royal Charter of Incorporation. A consortium of Champion's competitors opposed this and secured its refusal. After this defeat William lost the confidence of his fellow directors, who dismissed him. He was declared bankrupt in 1769 and his works were sold to the British Brass Company, which never operated Warmley at full capacity, although it produced zinc on that site until 1784.
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Bibliography
1723, British patent no. 454 (cementation brass-making process).
1738, British patent no. 564 (zinc ingot production process).
1767, British patent no. 867 (brass manufacture wing zinc blende).
Further Reading
J.Day, 1973, Bristol Brass: The History of the Industry, Newton Abbot: David \& Charles.
A.Raistrick, 1970, Dynasty of Ironfounders: The Darbys and Coalbrookdale, Newton Abbot: David \& Charles.
J.R.Harris, 1964, The Copper King, Liverpool University Press.
ASD

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

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