When you watch any movie that includes large armies squaring off against one another with swords and spears, you see a very good representation of perhaps one of the earliest forms of welding. With that in mind, it is interesting to notice how far welding has come as many years of innovation have turned it into a truly essential industrial process.
In ancient (and not-so-ancient) times, blacksmiths would stoke an open flame to the point where it would soften even some of the hardest metals. Known as “forge welding,” this allowed blacksmiths to hammer the material into the shape that they needed. It also allowed them to join multiple pieces of metal. While this is drastically different from modern welding, it gives us a good indication of the direction that metal fabrication would soon head in.
Around 1881, however, the first real welding tool was created by Nikolai Benardos. Benardos’s invention was the carbon arc welder. While the carbon arc welding method wasn’t the very first method, it did happen to be the first practical and commercially viable method.
This method formed an arc between a carbon electrode and the work piece. If extra metal was needed, a metal rod was added to the arc welder. Even today, Benardos can be seen on Russian stamps, credited as “the father of welding”. For many years after his initial invention, the carbon arc welder was continually improved upon, with the core technology introduced by Benardos remaining the same.
After Benardos’s invention and during World War I, welding became a critical tool in shipbuilding. In fact, welding eventually replaced riveted steel, allowing English shipyards to churn out more ships faster and more reliably. Similarly in America, the navy welcomed welding with open arms due to the level of speed, precision, and efficiency that welding brought to the shipbuilding process. In fact, welding technology was particularly embraced after a German Attack in the New York Harbor at the very beginning of the war. Because of arc welding, the ships were able to be repaired much faster than if other standard methods were used.
Following World War I and during the 1920’s, welding continued to be built upon. For instance, the automatic welder was introduced – which incorporated an electrode wire that was continuously fed through the tool. At the same time, scientists also worked to improve the quality of welds through the use of various forms of shielding from oxygen and nitrogen. Following these innovations, the technology continued to flourish with frequent updates and improvements ranging from underwater welding technology in the 1930’s to plasma arc welding in the late 50’s. In every case, these innovations improved the capabilities of the technology, expanding their uses and expanding what was possible for manufacturers and fabricators around the world.
Think about the planes, boats, automobiles, and buildings you may find yourself in from time to time in your life. They’ve all benefited from welding. Whether the machine that created them was made possible due to advanced welding or they were actually pieced together with the process – it is abundantly clear that Nikolai Benardos’s legacy will continue to live on for centuries to come.