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The History of Welding: From the early days to present

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I was working on my son in laws trailer with my grandson when he brought up a good question, “How did someone come up with the idea to make welding machines?” And what were some of the earliest ones? This made me curious too so I decided to look into it further.

Nikolai Benardos and Stanislaw Olszewski developed the first arc welder, in 1881. In 1926 H.M. Hobart and P.K. Devers used gas supplied around the arc and also showed welding with the electrode being fed as a wire through the nozzle. This was the forerunner of the gas metal arc welding process.

Perhaps, the history of welding is not one of those things you’d readily want to bother yourself with searching online. Even if an academic term paper compels you to find out the events and stories that birthed the history of welding, how much research would you be willing to put into it?

Picture of a man using a flu-cored welder

We’ve saved you time by putting together in this post all the relevant information and details you may not be willing to invest your energy navigating from one site to another in search of.

The post is structured in an easy-to-follow manner. From ancient times, we take you through the various events that make up the history of welding up to modern times. Our final lap probes into what welding has become in our contemporary 21st century.

This will be one of the most fascinating reads you’ve come across. Whether it is for your leisure, or serious research, curiosity, and academic enterprise, you shouldn’t miss a line.

History of welding: The beginning

The ancient period comes with a lot of predominantly crude technologies. It is not unconventional; therefore, to say that the history and development of welding can be traced to ancient times. Historians say that the earliest forms of welding emerged from the Bronze Age.

According to the account, technicians as far back as 1000 B.C. pressure welded lap joints together to make small gold circular boxes. The Iron Age saw welding professionals in Egypt and across the eastern Mediterranean engage in a lot of welding activities.

During these times, the people welded iron together, making out of these many tools. There was an improvement over what existed in the Bronze and Iron Ages during the Dark or Middle Ages.

As a development over the existing model, the art of blacksmithing was developed and introduced, leading to the manufacture of various items from iron through hammering.  During all of these periods, there was no term technically known as ‘welding’, and all kinds of similar art were not developed adequately into an appreciable technology.

Carbon Arc Welding and 19th Century Technology

As a precursor to what apparently provoked the scientific art of welding into a fascinating industry, the early 19th century ushered in a lot of inventions. British chemist and inventor Sir Humphry Davy was the first to make an arc out of two carbon electrodes in 1800.

Meanwhile, Irish inventor Edmund Davy had discovered acetylene in 1836 before the discovery of electric generators and arc lightning in the mid-19th century.

However, the real art of welding became popular when scientists started and developed the art of gas welding and cutting. It was around this period that carbon arc welding and resistance welding became popular among artists.

Towards the end of the 19th century, circa 1881, French scientist Auguste De Meritens with his Russian understudy Nikolai Benardos in the Cabot Laboratory in France, worked on using the heat generated from an arc to weld lead plates together and produce storage batteries.

Although Benardos was granted a patent for the success, the outcome was credited to the duo. Through Bernados and fellow Russian Stanislaus Olszewski, carbon arc welding became popular in the 20th century.

Securing British and American patents in 1885 and 1887, respectively, alongside Olszewski, Bernados’s efforts marked the beginning of carbon arc welding.

From Metal Electrode to Resistance Welding Processes (1890-1920)

A lot of advancements happened between 1890 and 1920 in the welding technology industry. In the early years, a Detroit inventor, C.L. Coffin, secured the American patent for pioneering the discovery of arc welding with the use of a metal electrode.

The process of using a metal electrode to weld of metals across the arc marked the beginning of a process that would later dominate the industry for more than three decades before a new invention would surface. Coffin’s idea was similar to what N.G. Slavianoff would later modify with his method of casting metal in across an arc in a mold.

In the wake of the 20th century, Strohmenger built on Coffin and Slavianoff’s invention through his coated metal electrode process of welding. Although the metal coating system worked with a thin coating of clay or lime, it proves to be effective as a more stable arc than the metal electrode.

Seven years after Strohmenger’s discovery, Oscar Kjellberg, a Swede, came up with the idea that was a hybrid of Coffin-Slavianoff and Strohmenger’s. Kjellberg’s coated electrode adopted a method of immersing in mixtures of carbonate and silicates short lengths of bare iron wire. The result is allowed to get dehydrated.

Later, several other welding processes were developed. One that stood out at the beginning of the 20th century was the resistance welding method which was advanced by the English-born American engineer and inventor Elihu Thompson. His resistance welding methods gave birth to several other methods, including projection welding, seam welding, flash butt welding, and spot welding.

Rising from WWI and launching into WWII

In 1903, the thermite welding process was invented by Goldschmidt, a German inventor whose method was first used in welding railroad rails. It was around this period that gas welding became a popular welding process. This led to the production of oxygen and liquefied air. Along the line, scientists introduced the torch system (which came as a replacement for the mixture of hydrogen and coal with air). Hence the new idea was used to advance welding and cutting. The torch system was preferred because of its use of low-pressure acetylene.

Events during and after the First World War changed the narrative as demands for new forms of technology became pressing in the scientific space. There was an aggressive hunger for more advanced welding and allied processes. In response, C.J. Holslag introduced in 1919 the alternating current. This was developed later into the automatic welding by P.O Nobel. Nobel’s method of using bare (as against coated) electrode wire overshadowed Holslag’s invention for its versatility in the automobile industry. It was used to produce worn motor shafts, worn crane wheels, as well as rear axle shelters.

The 1920s were a period of great technological revolutions in this industry with much of inventions and research gearing towards the shielding techniques. There was a concentration on the mixture of applied gas (oxygen and nitrogen) melted into weld metal to produce brittle and porous welds. The works of the duo of Alexander and Langmuir resulted in the adoption of carbon and tungsten electrodes, using hydrogen as a welding atmosphere. Meanwhile, atomic hydrogen never gained prominence, even though it was used for welding steels.

The periods prior to the Second World War saw a lot of scientists and scientific communities in the welding industry come up with new ideas. New York Navy Yard first developed a welding process called the “stud welding”. The idea was purposely designed to attach wood decking over a metal surface. This was largely used by construction industries such as shipbuilding. The introduction of this process quickly raised the bar for the automatic process that was becoming popular post WWI.

Under the smothered arc welding method, developed by the National Tube Company, longitudinal seams were made in the pipe. Patent of the submerged arc welding which became the most effective welding process after WWI was given to Robinoff (although it was later sold to Linde Air Products Company). The method was used during the defense buildup in 1938.

Coffin’s idea was further expanded by H.M Hobart and then P.K Devers, with the introduction of the gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) which used non-oxidizing air atmosphere. While Hobart used helium, Devers preferred argon, and both processes for shielding were very effective in welding magnesium, stainless, and aluminum. Meredith, through his Heliarc welding, perfected this system, making the GTAW the most potent welding methods around that time.

The gas metal arc welding (GMAW) came to replace the existing GTAW with a unique feature that utilized gas metal in place of the tungsten electrode. Nonferrous metals could now be welded seamlessly. The GMAW method was widely adopted for its reliance on constant power source and use of small-diameter electrode wires.

However, in the 1950s and 60s, there were a lot of new inventions, including Lyubavskii and Novoshilov’s CO2 welding process. It became popular for its deployment of equipment that could be used both for inert gas metal arc welding and steel welding. It also required fairly high currents with large electrode wires. Meanwhile, the process still used the small diameter electrode wires. To further sustain this new welding process and reduce the external gas requirements, scientists developed the inside-outside electrode.

The period between 1950 and 1960 saw the introduction of the electroslag welding process by the duo Soviet companies of Paton Institute Laboratory in Ukraine and Welding Research Laboratory in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. They both built on the earlier works of K. Hopkins, who had secured a patent in 1940. The system’s first success was the fabrication of the welded diesel engine blocks. Subsequently, it was used for welding thick materials, using a consumable guide tube.

There was the introduction of the vertical welding method called ‘Electrogas’ that competed vigorously with and adopted some mechanism of the existing electroslag. It used flux-cored electrode wire with a gas shield that was supplied from the outside. While electroslag welded thick materials, electrogas was able to weld thin materials.

Then came the plasma arc welding invented by Gage in 1957. This new process employs the use of arc through an orifice, creating a high-temperature arc plasma than the tungsten arc. Unlike the elctroslag and electrogas, the plasma arc method is used to spray, gouge and cut metals.

21st Century Welding Processes: Friction and Laser welding

The 21st century came with a lot of advancement, and friction welding was one of those innovations in the industry. Developed in the Soviet Union, frictional welding is the first welding art that adopts rotational speed and upset pressure, providing friction heat. The process has proven to be a great source of heat. Hence, it is used for cutting metals and non-metals.

Another method developed in recent time is the laser welding, developed originally as a communications device from the Bell Telephone Laboratories.

Final Wrap

This history of welding is the history of science and technology and The Welding Pro has everything you need for a good weld.

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