First U.S. Bessemer Steel Rails
The first Bessemer steel rails ever made in this country were rolled at
the North Chicago rolling mill on th 24th of May, 1865, from ingots
made at the experimental steel works at Wyandotte under the supervision
of William F. Durfee, superintendent. The rolls with which the steel
rails were rolled at the North Chicago rolling mill had been in use for
rolling iron rails. The steel rails came out sound and well-shaped.
Several of these rails were laid in the track of one of the railroads
running out of Chicago and were still in use in 1875. The American Iron
and Steel Association was in session in Chicago at the time, and
several of its members witnessed the rolling of the rails.
The following letter from Mr. O. W. Potter, of Chicago, long president
of the North Chicago Rolling Mill Company, written to Mr. William F.
Durfee in 1865, two days after the rolling of the first American steel
rails in that city, is of historical value and worthy of preservation.
MY DEAR DURFEE:
The meeting of the iron and steel men adjourned yesterday to meet in
Cleveland the fourth Wednesday in August. I regret very much you could
not have been here, particularly to see how well your steel behaved,
and you must allow me to congratulate you upon its entire success, and
I assure you I was but too proud for your sake that everything we
had to do with it proved very successful. The hammer was altogether too
light of course, and it took more time that it otherwise would to draw
the ingot down, yet all the pieces worked beautifully, and we have made
six good rails from the ingots sent over, and not one bad one in any
respect. The piece you sent over forged is now lying in state
at the Tremont House, and is a really beautiful rail, and has been
presented to the Sanitary Fair by Captain Ward. We rolled three
rails on Wednesday and three on Thursday. At the first rolling only
your cousin and George Fritz were present; at the rolling yesterday
were Senator Howe, of Wisconsin; B.F. Jones, of Pittsburgh; R.H.
Lamborn, of Philadelphia; Mr. Phillips, of Cincinnati; Mr. Kennedy, of
Cincinnati; Mr. May, of Milwaukee, and three ladies; Mr. Scofield, of
Milwaukee; Mr. Fritz, of Johnstown; and Mr. Thomas, of Indianapolis,
with four strangers. Everything went so well I really wanted you to see
some of the good of your labors for so long a time and under such
trying circumstances. You have done what you set out to do, and done it
well, and I am glad to congratulate and rejoice with you, for I can
appreciate your difficulties, and wanted you to hear some of the
praises bestowed upon your labors as you richly deserve. I know this
would make no sort of difference to you, yet we all have vanity enough
(especially in such cases as this) to feel gratified at any little
compliments we know we are entitled to, but I will not tire you with
any more, as your cousin [the late Z.S. Durfee] can tell you all and
more than I can write, but with kindest regards allow me to remain
Yours Most Obt.
OFFICE OF THE CHICAGO ROLLING MILL, CHICAGO, MAY 26, 1865
The first steel rails ever rolled in the United States upon order, in
the way of regular business, were rolled by the Cambria Iron Company,
at Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in August, 1867, from ingots made at the
works of the Pennsylvania Steel Company near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania;
and by the Spuyten Duyvil Rolling Mill Company, at Spuyten Duyvil, New
York, early in September of that year, from ingots made at the Bessemer
steel works at Troy, New York, then owned by Winslow &
Excerpt from: History of the Manufacture of Iron in All Ages: and particularly in the United States, b The American Iron and Steel Association (1892) Chapter XLVI, "The Bessemer Process in the United States," pages 412-413. (source) Digitized by Google
The first Bessemer steel rails made in America were rolled at the North
Chicago Rolling Mill on the 24th of May, 1865, from hammered blooms
made at the Wyandotte Rolling Mill from ingots of steel made at
experimental steel works at Wyandotte, Mich. The experimental steel
works at Wyandotte were erected in 1864, and were the first works
started in this country for conducting the pneumatic or Bessemer
process. The rolls upon which the blooms were rolled at the North
Chicago Rolling Mill were those which had been in use for rolling iron
rails, and, though the reduction was much too rapid for steel, the
rails came out sound and well shaped. The first steel rails rolled in
the United States upon order, in the way of regular business, were
rolled by the Cambria Iron Company at Johnstown, Pa., in August, 18671,
from ingots made at the works of the Pennsylvania Steel Company, at
Harrisburg, Pa. Rails were rolled by the Spuyten Duyvil Rolling Mill
Company, at Spuyten Duyvil, N.Y., early in September of that year, from
ingots made at the Bessemer Steel Works, at Troy, N.Y., then owned by
Messers. Winslow & Griswold, but these were on experimental
orders, and not regular ones from any railway company2.
Headed Rail, Buffalo, Corning & N.Y. R. R., 1857.
The early steel rails were rolled in
mills which had been designed for iron rails. These were generally
pear-headed in [p.103]
order to prevent the side of the head from breaking down, and were
therefore not adapted to fishing. The connections at the joints were
very unsatisfactory, the design preventing the fish plate, or joint,
from supporting the head3.
1. See paper on the Development
of the American Rail and Track by J. Elfreth Watkins, Trans. Am. Soc. of Civil Engrs.,
April, 1890, Vol. XXII, p.228.
2. Private communication from Mr. Robt. W. Hunt.
3. The fish plate joint was composed of two straps of iron bolted to
the rail. In the English rails two keys of iron were driven between the
chairs and the rail and were called "fishes." The term evidently being
derived from that used by sailors in "fishing" a joint.
Excerpt from Railway
Maintenance Engineering: With Notes on Construction, by
William Hamilton Sellew, Publ. D. Van Nostrand Company (1915),
pages 102-3. Image is Figure 46 from page 104. (source) Digitized by Google
- Today in Science History event description for date of rolling the first Bessemer steel rails in the U.S. on 24 May 1865.