Hadfield, Sir Robert Abbott

SUBJECT AREA: Metallurgy
b. 28 November 1858 Attercliffe, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
d. 30 September 1940 Kingston Hill, Surrey, England
English metallurgist and pioneer in alloy steels.
Hadfield's father, Robert, set up a steelworks in Sheffield in 1872, one of the earliest to specialize in steel castings. After his education in Sheffield, during which he showed an interest in chemistry, Hadfield entered his father's works. His first act was to set up a laboratory, where he began systematically experimenting with alloy steels in order to improve the quality of the products of the family firm. In 1883 Hadfield found that by increasing the manganese content to 12.5 per cent, with a carbon content of 1.4 per cent, the resulting alloy showed extraordinary resistance to abrasive wear even though it was quite soft. It was soon applied in railway points and crossings, crushing and grinding machinery, and wherever great resistance to wear is required. Its lack of brittleness led to its use in steel helmets during the First World War. Hadfield's manganese steel was also non-magnetic, which was later of importance in the electrical industry. Hadfield's other great invention was that of silicon steel. Again after careful and systematic laboratory work, Hadfield found that a steel containing 3–4 per cent silicon and as little as possible of other elements was highly magnetic, which was to prove important in the electrical industry (e.g. reducing the weight and bulk of electrical transformers). Hadfield took over the firm on the death of his father in 1888, but he continued to lay great stress on the need for laboratory research to improve the quality and range of products. The steel-casting side of the business led to a flourishing armaments industry, and this, together with their expertise in alloy steels, made Hadfield's one of the great names in Sheffield and British steel until, sadly, it succumbed along with so many other illustrious names during the British economic recession of 1983. Hadfield had a keen interest in metallurgical history, particularly in his characteristically thorough examination of the alloys of iron prepared by Faraday at the Royal Institution. Hadfield was an enlightened employer and was one of the first to introduce the eight-hour day.
Principal Honours and Distinctions
Knighted 1908. Baronet 1917. FRS 1909.
A list of Hadfield's published papers and other works is published with a biographical account in Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society (1940) 10.
1925, Metallurgy and Its Influence on Modern Progress.
1931, Faraday and His Metallurgical Researches.

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

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