The History of Industries and Toolmaking in United Kingdom


Day Two at the Birmingham Factories, The Penny Magazine, 1844

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In the last Supplement we had occasion to speak of several branches of Birmingham manufacture in which brass or copper, or some alloy intermediate between the two, is the material on which the skill of the operator is displayed.

There are many more such, differing only in minor details of working from these; but we may pass over them, and say a few words on other matters.


Wire-drawing, or the manufacture of wire from rods of iron, steel, or other metal, is extensively carried on at Birmingham, and is a process illustrating in a remarkable degree the ductility of metals.  Unless a person has actually witnessed the operations, there is some difficulty in conceiving how the transformation takes place - how the diameter of the rod lessens and the length increases.

There is no hammering or pressing or stamping, no cutting or dividing, no moulding or casting; and perhaps this is almost the only operation in the mechanical arts in which alteration of shape is produced without any one of the above agencies.

At the Wire-Works of Messrs. Carpenter and Co., to which we were favoured with access, the outline of the arrangements is such as may be here briefly described.

The factory is situated in the western part of Birmingham, and consists of several buildings, of which some are occupied by wire-drawers, and the rest in a way afterwards to be noticed.  There is considerable power required in the transformation of the iron rods into wire, and to provide this force there is a steam-engine employed.  The other apparatus will come for notice as we proceed.

As nearly all wire is made pretty much in the same manner, it will suffice to confine our attention to that made of iron.  The iron is brought to the Works in coils of rods, wrought to the state of what may perhaps be termed thick wire.

In the Supplement for February, while describing the operations at a large Iron Works, we explained how iron is brought into the form of rods and bars, by being drawn between two heavy revolving rollers while in a white-hot state.  For wirework this drawing is conducted to a greater extent than for most other purposes, until the lengthened rod is thin enough to be twisted up into a coil, and in that state to be transferred to the wire-factories.

The iron is covered with scale (the hard oxide produced by the heat necessary to roll the rods) when it comes to the Works; and to remove this scale the coils are put into large revolving cylinders containing gravel and water, the friction against which effects the desired object.

From these vessels the coils are taken to a large shop or room where the whole apparatus is contained for reducing the thickness of the metal.

Previously to describing these, it may be well to notice the successive steps whereby the present system has been brought about.

Narrow filaments of metal have probably been employed for various purposes from very early time; but Beckmann supposes that, in the first instance, the metal was beaten with a hammer into thin plates or leaves, that these leaves were afterwards divided into small slips by a pair of shears or some similar instrument, and that the slips were hammered and riled to a tolerably round form.

Respecting the subsequent change in the mode of operation Beckmann says, "As long as the work was prepared by the hammer, the artists at Nuremberg were called wire-smiths; but after the invention of the drawing-iron they were called wiredrawer and wire-millers (Drahtzieher and Drahtmuhler).

Both these appellations occur in the history of Augsburg as early as the year 1351, and in that of Nuremberg in 1369; so that, according to the best information I have been able to obtain, I must class the invention of the drawing-iron, or proper wire-drawing, among those of the fourteenth century."

As respects our own country, it is supposed that all wire was made by the hammer till about 1565, when some German wire-drawers introduced an improved method. Even after the improved plan of drawing the wire was adopted, the preparatory processes were still very defective, for the iron rods were brought to the requisite thickness by means of the hammer.

To this succeeded a plan by which the rods were drawn through a hole by sudden jerks, thereby reducing the thickness and increasing the length. Lastly came the improvement of passing the red-hot rods between grooved rollers, until such a thickness is attained as to be fit for the wire-drawer's operations; and in this state the art remains at present.

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