People of Steel: Robert Mushet

Robert Mushet

(significant working years– late-1850s through early-1880s)

First commercial steel alloy

Robert Forester Mushet made several contributions to the iron and steel industry by perfecting steel alloys. The son of an ironmaster, Mushet established the metallurgical approach to steel manufacturing. Mushet’s contributions to the industry propped the Bessemer process by making the steel output of better quality. Bessemer made it fast; Mushet made it better.

In the late 1840s, Robert Mushet was given a piece of spiegeleisen from Rhennish Prussia, which initiated his research into ferro manganese. By 1856, he found, and patented, that the addition of manganese in the steel allowed it to be rolled and forged while hot. Mushet continued his work and patented the invention of tungsten, titanium, and chromium alloys. In 1868, tungsten alloy became the first commercial steel alloy. Tungsten’s addition to steel allowed steel to air-harden, rather than be water-quenched and work-hardened.

Mushet also invented the “dozzle” which was a super-heated clay cone, filled with molten steel and inserted in the ingot mold to remedy the problem of hollow cavities forming in the center of molded steel. Dozzles, now called hot tops or feeder heads, are still in use today in steel molding.

Mushet’s business partners allowed the patents to lapse by failing to pay the stamp duty on them, and others, specifically Henry Bessemer, took advantage to produce better steel and increase their wealth. Muchet went into insolvency while Bessemer became increasingly wealthy from the discoveries. Eventually, Bessemer paid Mushet a lump sum and settled an annuity on Mushet after Mushet’s 16-year-old daughter traveled to London to confront Bessemer about using Mushet’s discoveries. It is assumed that Bessmer did it to avoid legal entanglement.

In all, Mushet held 20 patents in his lifetime. His inventions are still used in steelmaking today.