People of Steel: Henry Cort

Engraving of Henry Cort. Text "Henry Cort, inventor of the puddling process and iron rolling. Began the process of refining pig iron into wrought iron. Patented grooved rollers for rolling bars and the puddling method to remove carbon from iron. Recent research casts a shadow over Cort's role in the innovation of these processes."Henry Cort

Inventor of the puddling method and iron rolling

(significant working years 1780s)

Henry Cort is given credit for discovering the puddling process for converting pig iron to wrought iron and for rollers that roll bars of iron. Cort served as a Navy pay agent until the marriage to his second wife and her inheritance of an ironworks. Cort obtained a contract from the Navy to supply iron barrel hoops using recycled iron the Navy had left from other projects. He came up short of funds and turned to Adam Jellicoe, who lent him the equivalent of nearly $14.3 million in today’s money in exchange for taking on his son, Samuel Jellicoe, as a partner. These were Navy funds that Jellicoe leveraged, setting up a future imbroglio that would shadow Cort’s late life.

Cort now had the money to finance a reverberatory furnace he would patent and the advances he would later patent as a puddling furnace with grooved rollers that allowed lowered carbon iron to be rolled into wrought iron mechanically, instead of by hand.

Henry Cort’s life took a downturn when Adam Jellicoe died, and it was determined that the money used to set up Cort’s innovations were embezzled funds. Cort did not have the money to repay the loaned funds, so the government seized his patents, licenses, and properties as repayment. He was forced into bankruptcy. The government did eventually grant him a small pension on which he was to care for his wife and 13 children.

A recent paper published in the journal History and Technology posits that Henry Cort’s inventions were, in fact, the imported works of enslaved Black metallurgists from Jamaica. The paper can be found at this link:


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