Gibbons, John

SUBJECT AREA: Metallurgy
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fl. 1800–50 Staffordshire, England
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English ironmaster who introduced the round hearth in the blastfurnace.
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Gibbons was an ironmaster in the Black Country, South Staffordshire, in charge of six blast furnaces owned by the family business. Until Gibbons's innovation in 1832, small changes in the form of the furnace had at times been made, but no one had seriously questioned the square shape of the hearth. Gibbons noticed that a new furnace often worked poorly by improved as time went on. When it was "blown out", i.e. taken out of commission, he found that the corners of the hearth had been rounded off and the sides gouged out, so that it was roughly circular in shape. Gibbons wisely decided to build a blast furnace with a round hearth alongside an existing one with a traditionally shaped hearth and work them in exactly the same conditions. The old furnace produced 75 tons of iron in a week, about normal for the time, while the new one produced 100 tons. Further improvements followed and in 1838 a fellow ironmaster in the same district, T. Oakes, considerably enlarged the furnace, its height attaining no less than 60ft (18m). As a result, output soared to over 200 tons a week. Most other ironmasters adopted the new form with enthusiasm and it proved to be the basis for the modern blast furnace. Gibbons made another interesting innovation: he began charging his furnace with the "rubbish", slag or cinder, from earlier ironmaking operations. It contained a significant amount of iron and was cheaper to obtain than iron ore, as it was just lying around in heaps. Some ironmasters scorned to use other people's throw-outs, but Gibbons sensibly saw it as a cheap source of iron; it was a useful source for some years during the nineteenth century but its use died out when the heaps were used up. Gibbons published an account of his improvements in ironmaking in a pamphlet entitled Practical Remarks on the Construction of the Staffordshire Blast Furnace.
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Bibliography
1839, Practical Remarks on the Construction of the Staffordshire Blast Furnace, Birmingham; reprinted 1844.
Further Reading
J.Percy, 1864, Metallurgy. Iron and Steel, London, p. 476. W.K.V.Gale, 1969, Iron and Steel, London: Longmans, pp. 44–6.
LRD

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

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