Free Science Studies: Henry Bessemer and Steel

Henry Bessemer was an English engineer and inventor who is best known for the development of a cost effective process for manufacturing steel.

“Henry Bessemer and the Making of Steel”

  • Map the following (you’ll find mapping resources below):
  • Learn more about the element iron (Fe) at
  • View a list of iron ore production by country at
  • Explain what iron ore is and how it is made into useful objects (pg. 162).
  • View Bronze Age artifacts from Romania.
  • Create a timeline showing the improvements in iron smelting before the time of the blast furnace (see resources below).
  • View the large bellows protruding from an iron forge in Iowa.
  • View a model of one of the earliest known blast furnaces.
  • Explain why people were concerned about using wood to fuel the blast furnaces and what other options were discovered.
  • View coal cooking ovens at Cokedale, Colorado, that supplied the steel mills in Pueblo.
  • Make a flip book showing the three important features of blast furnaces at the time of the writing, along with their descriptions.
  • Explain the problems with pig iron.
  • Learn more about antimony (Sb) at … and why it might make one sick!
  • Tell in your own words what the author means when he says Bessemer, “merely had wide-open eyes, and did the thing before him which seemed worth doing” (pg. 168).
  • Narrate the story of Bessemer’s stamp die for the government (pg. 170).
  • Explain the importance of Bessemer’s bronze powder production (pgs. 172–175).
  • Use this graphic organizer download at Pearson’s Learning to create a chart showing the step-by-step process used to turn pig iron into steel before Bessemer’s invention (Steps-in-a-Process Chart #8).
  • View the inside of a puddling furnace.
  • State the principle that Bessemer used to make steel from pig iron (bottom pg. 176).  (If air is forced into molten pig iron when under great heat, the iron will be changed into steel.)
  • Bessemer took this principle further by asking what question (top of pg. 177)?
  • View a photo of the Bessemer Converter.
  • Explain the problem that led to the initial failure of Bessemer’s invention (top of pg. 181).
  • View a photo of a pig iron smelter in Chicago.
  • View a photo of the largest iron pit mine in the world.
  • More about Henry Bessemer and steel from the Book of Knowledge:   

Iron is an element, and it very rarely occurs by itself in nature. It is very plentiful throughout the world, however, in various compounds known as iron ores. They are oxides of iron.

When heated in furnaces with quantities of coke and limestone, the iron oxide is reduced (the oxygen removed) and molten iron metal is produced. This then combines with a small amount of the coke (carbon) to form pig iron…. But this pig iron has too much carbon and too many impurities. To change it into steel, the basic principle is simply to remove all the carbon and then to put back the proper quantity; or else to remove just enough carbon to leave the correct percentage present. The quantity of carbon is the important factor. When specially treated, as in the Bessemer process, the carbon and impurities are removed in a converter, and then the proper amount of carbon is added again. This product is steel. Other substances, such as manganese or chromium, may be added to produce a special type steel.

One method of removing and adding substances to the molten pig iron is the Bessemer process. The inventor developed a furnace through which it was possible to force steam or a blast of air. This system, he found, made it possible to cleanse molten pig iron of its impurities, converting it to a high-grade steel.”

Some Other Famous Inventors” from The Book of Knowledge

Further Investigation

Henry Bessemer
Brief biography at MIT.

Henry Bessemer
Brief biography at

Henry Bessemer
Slightly more detail at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Henry Bessemer
Very helpful timeline with illustrations at

Hope Iron Furnace
Information about and photos of a charcoal iron furnace from the 1800s at

The Extraction of Iron
Chemical explanation of the process for older students.


The Pennsylvania Iron Industry
Interactive site at telling the history of steel in America. Follow the links at the bottom to read all three chapters plus introduction.

How Steel is Made
Animated chart at the American Iron and Steel Institute showing the process.

Iron Ore Processing for the Blast Furnace
Great handout with many diagrams suitable for notebook.

Multimedia Presentations
Introductory video and tour audio of the Saugus Ironworks at the National Park Service.

Hill Annex Mine State Park
Panoramic photo of one of the biggest iron mines at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Interactive Timeline Maker
Use this interactive at to create a timeline showing the improvements in iron smelting before the time of the blast furnace.


Sir Henry Bessemer: An Autobiography
Probably too detailed for most, but an interesting and easy read nonetheless.

The Manufacture of Iron by Frederick Overman
Interesting and well-illustrated public domain work.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

Saugus Iron Works
Lesson plan at the National Park Service with readings, questions, and activities.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

Map of the United Kingdom
PAT Map for locating Charlton.

Elements Notebooking Page
Printable from to record what you learn about iron (scroll down).

Iron Furnace
Diagram for notebook at the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Blast Furnace
Diagram for notebook at Michigan State University. Also see part 2.

Bessemer Converter
Diagram for notebook.

Bessemer Converter
Labeled diagram for notebook.

Henry Bessemer & Steel Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.

Enjoy the entire series:
Free Science Studies: Great Inventors & Their Inventions
Free Science Studies: Great Inventors & Their Inventions

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