Steel bells cast by Naylor-Vickers in Sheffield in the 19th century commonly include “E Riepe’s Patent Cast Steel” as part of the inscription. Ewald Riepe was a German chemist, living in the UK. He took out three patents in the UK related to the manufacture of steel, one of which specifically covers ‘Improvements in the Manufacture of Turret or Clock-Tower and such like bells’.
I am extremely grateful to Dr.-Ing. Heino Strobel, a retired material science engineer, for drawing to my attention a paper published in 1972 by Ulrich Troitzsch on the impact of Prussian patent provisions on the 19th century iron and steel industry. This paper uses the patents of Ewald Riepe and the relationship between Naylor-Vickers and Bochumer Verein as one of its case studies. The case study makes it clear that Naylor-Vickers and Bochumer Verein had a close collaboration in the 1850s, and that steel bells were the first product manufactured by Bochumer Verein in cast steel. The technology used by Naylor Vickers to cast steel bells was licensed from the German company. I have translated Troitzsch’s paper into English, and the section concerning Riepe and steel bells appears below.
A PhD thesis by Kenneth Barraclough, submitted in 1981 to the University of Sheffield entitled “The Development of the early Steelmaking Processes”, gives more detail on Ewald Riepe’s patents and the collaboration between Naylor Vickers and Bochumer Verein, and some information on the casting of steel bells by Naylor Vickers.
It might be thought that Ewald Riepe was the originator or inventor of the processes involved, but it becomes clear from the above documents that his role was only the securing of patents for inventions by German companies, and knowledge transfer to companies who signed licenses for the patents. Riepe was not always a reliable partner – in the words of Ulrich Troitzsch, he had a very broad conscience. He was involved in lawsuits over possible infringements of patents, and took out patents in France in his own name rather than that of his German / Prussian partners.
Both source documents make it clear that there was an extensive collaboration between Naylor-Vickers and Bochumer Verein in the 1850s, including transfers of staff between the companies, and although the processes used to cast steel bells originated in Germany, various improvements also came from Sheffield.
A couple of points on nomenclature:
- Germany didn’t exist as a unified state until 1871. However for simplicity I use Germany to refer to the area of Europe where the developments described took place
- The company founded in Bochum in 1854 was called ‘Bochumer Verein für Bergbau und Gußstahlfabrikation’, or ‘The Bochum Association for Mining and Cast Steel Production’. I refer to the company as ‘Bochumer Verein’.
Iron and steel production
To make sense of Ewald Riepe’s patents and the information presented by Ulrich Troitzsch, it will help to give a brief overview of iron and steel, and the production processes used.
Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon (and often, other elements as well), and the amount of carbon in the mix has a major effect on the properties of the material. The process of smelting iron from iron ore introduces carbon from the fuel used. Controlling the amount of carbon in the finished iron or steel is a key part of the production process. Examples of irons and steels include:
- wrought iron, which is low in carbon (<0.08%). It is rather soft but tough, malleable and ductile due to the fibrous nature of the metal and the retained slag. Wrought iron was produced by hammering the smelted metal
- cast iron, which is high in carbon (>2%). Cast iron has a relatively low melting point. It is brittle and will shatter if bent, hammered or subject to tensile stress
- various steels, which have a carbon content between wrought and cast iron. Lower carbon steels are ductile, like wrought iron, and are used for construction and load-bearing members. High carbon steels are hard and used for tools and cutlery. The lower the carbon content, the higher the melting point.
Traditional production processes for iron and steel include:
- cementation, involving heating low-carbon iron bars surrounded by carbon in the form of charcoal or coke in in a furnace, so that the iron absorbs carbon. The metal never melts, and after the process is complete is forged into the desired shape
- puddling, which involves heating high-carbon iron in a furnace in a strong current of air and continuously stirring it by hand as it melts so that the carbon and other impurities are burnt off. The process is labour-intensive and physically demanding. It cannot be automated because of the need to detect that the process is complete by the consistency of the iron as it is stirred. After puddling the iron must be hammered and forged to the desired shape. The quality of the steel produced depends crucially on the presence or absence of various trace elements, so that a puddling process that produced good steel using ore from one geographic region might fail with ore from another
- melting in crucibles. A mixture of new and scrap iron, including the output of cementation or puddling, which in combination has the desired proportion of carbon is melted in a furnace in pots made of clay and other similar materials. The molten steel is then cast in moulds. One crucible only held 25-50kg of metal but the content of many crucibles could be used to produce very large castings.
Only the crucible process could be used to create steel in complex shapes such as bells and the wheels of railway vehicles. The very high melting temperature of steel meant that the sand or loam moulds used for cast iron could not be used for steel. Until the developments described below, crucible steel was cast into ingots using cast-iron moulds.
All these processes were supplanted by the Bessemer process (in which air is blown through molten iron to burn off the carbon) and the Siemens open-hearth process (using a furnace able to create the very high temperatures required to fully melt and refine the steel). Only with the introduction of these processes was it possible to produce the huge quantities of steel used from the mid 19th century onwards.
Ewald Riepe’s UK patents
Ewald Riepe took out three UK patents during the course of the 1850s. The first, Patent No. 12950 granted 29 January 1850, described an improved puddling process devised by Anton Lohage, Gustav Bremme and Gustav Lehrkind in Germany. The patent was licensed to the Low Moor company in Bradford, among others, but was the subject of a legal dispute in 1854 because it did not correctly describe the process used.
The two other patents are much more relevant to the history of steel bell production and are as follows:
- Patent 1636 granted 6 January 1854 for “Improvements in the Manufacture of Turret or Clock-tower and such like Bells”
- Patent 1637 granted 9 January 1854 for “Improvements in Moulds for Steel Castings”.
Both of these patents were based on the work of Jacob Meyer and Edward Kuhne, who built a cast steel works in Bochum in 1843. The firm begun by Meyer and Kuhne was later incorporated as Bochumer Verein.
Both patents were licensed to Naylor-Vickers in Sheffield shortly after they were granted.
The specification of patent 1636 is as follows:
I compose my bells entirely of cast steel, and obtain different tones by increasing or lessening the thickness of metal, and by varying the shape and size.
In order to form the mould in which my castings are made I form the body of my moulds of the same materials as those ordinarily employed in metal castings, in loam, or of any similar suitable material, but all those parts which are to come into direct contact with the steel are formed of a fire-proof mixture, which will become spongious or porous when dry, and which will at the same time be sufficiently cohesive and plastic to enable it to be moulded into any shape required; and when in such shape to resist the pressure of the steel while being poured in, and sufficiently fire-proof to resist the heat of the metal.
The mixture I have found best to answer these requirements is composed of one part of rich fire-clay, and five parts of stuff produced by pounding and reducing to powder crucibles that have been employed for the melting of steel. In pouring the steel into the moulds for producing the bells, care must be taken to pour in a sufficient amount of metal to ensure its reaching the bottom and all parts of the mould before cooling.
The steel which I prefer to employ for the manufacture of the bells is a highly carbonised cast steel, as the sound is richer, fuller and more melodious than that produced from bells made of any other description of cast steel.
The specification of patent 1637 is the same text, but with all references to bells removed; the patent only describes the formation and facing of the moulds for cast steel.
Ulrich Troitzsch’s 1972 paper
This paper, entitled (in English translation) “The effects of the Prussian patent provisions on the iron industry in the 50s and 60s of the 19th century” doesn’t give much clue as to the interest for bell historians hidden within it. The main thesis of the paper is the effect on economic activity, in the iron and steel industries in particular, of the diversity of patent legislation in different European countries. One of the three case studies in the paper is the patents of Ewald Riepe and the collaboration and knowledge transfer between German and British companies, and specifically the collaboration between Bochumer Verein and Naylor Vickers in the 1850s and their manufacture of steel bells.
The original German paper includes copious footnotes and references, many to papers of the time from the Bochumer Verein company archive. For clarity I have omitted these in my translation.
Key points in the paper of interest to bell historians include:
- in Germany, the new process for cast steel was first used for the manufacture of bells, a product that was to become an important export item for Bochumer Verein for more than a hundred years
- Riepe obtained the patents for England and quickly found a company that was very interested in the invention. it was Naylor, Vickers & Co. in Sheffield, one of the most important English crucible steel producers. On January 12, 1855 a contract was signed between Riepe and the Sheffielders, by which Naylor, Vickers & Co. were authorized to exploit the mould and bell casting patents
- In this contract Ewald Riepe undertook to inform Naylor Vickers of the “practical and advantageous effects of the patented inventions which are currently being used abroad (in Bochum), including by showing it to them on the Continent. Ewald Riepe will procure a sufficient number of workers and a capable foreman and send them from the Continent to Sheffield to work at the Naylor & Vickers factory, Ewald Riepe paying the worker’s travel expenses there and back, and Naylor Vickers paying their usual fair wages”
- A partnership developed between the Bochum and Sheffield factories in both business and technical terms. When Mayer (one of the proprietors of Bochumer Verein) opened up a further area of application by inventing the full disc wheel for railway vehicles, Naylor, Vickers & Co. took the license. But there were also suggestions from Sheffield, especially of a technical nature. Jacob Meyer was often in Sheffield, and during a dispute with the commercial director of Bochumer Verein, even considered moving to Naylor, Vickers & Co.
- In 1861, the two companies split the market in the steel casting sector. Bochumer Verein was to offer its products only on the Continent, while the English company retained the monopoly in the UK and in North America.
Here is my translation of the relevant section of the paper, about a quarter of the whole:
The first example is the invention of puddled steel, which surprisingly did not succeed in England, the country of origin of the puddle process, although one could have expected further development there. Henry Cort (1740 to 1800), the inventor of the process, had probably also made attempts in this direction, but had failed, like countless ironworkers after him.
Germany, on the other hand, was more successful. In 1828, the first production of puddle steel succeeded at Harkort in Wetter, without paying any further attention to this accidental product. In 1835/36, systematic attempts were made in Carinthia, but these were unsuccessful. There is evidence that promising attempts were made in Bavaria in 1839/40 to refresh steel in the puddling furnace. It has not yet been clarified why there has been no large-scale production and why the process has not spread. On the other hand, the efforts made about 10 years later in Westphalia went well. In 1849, the engraver Gustav Bremme from Soest – a layman in the metallurgical field – tried to make wrought iron by “dosing”, i.e. by adding additives to turn it into steel. He therefore connected with the chemist Franz Anton Lohage, who at the same time was also dealing with the problem of puddling steel production. In 1849 they founded the company Lohage, Bremme & Co. in Unna and took on Gustav Lehrkind, then managing director and partner of the puddleworks Lehrkind, Falkenroth & Co. in Haspe, as a partner. Initial attempts were made at this plant, which initially failed because there were differences of opinion between Bremme and Lohage about the puddle steel process. A patent application submitted to the Technical Deputation (part of the patent application process in Prussia) was rejected because the process was said to be nothing new. So they were forced to at least have the invention protected abroad. The Westphalian Ewald Riepe, who was a chemist based in London, was accepted as a partner at Lohage, Bremme & Co. and commissioned to take out a patent in England, which took place on January 29, 1850.
In 1850, the former machine master of the Bergisch-Märkische Eisenbahn H. Fehland joined Haspe and soon led the process to production maturity. Haspe’s work received an award at the 1851 World Exhibition in London. In the years that followed, Fehland introduced puddled steel production to France, Belgium and Austria, where patents were also held. Lohage had meanwhile dropped out because there was a dispute over the question of whether the new process should take place at “cherry red heat”, as Lohage incorrectly demanded and as it had been included in the English patent, or at “white heat”. After Lohage left, Bremme had the latter process patented again in England on August 31, 1854, although some plants there were already working according to the old patent.
Although Lohage’s view did not meet the technical requirements, he did contribute to the spread of the puddled steel process. Since Bremme’s method was spread in Prussia by experts from the Haspe factory and also had the upper hand in Western Europe, Lohage initially sought his field of activity in an easterly direction. According to his own statement, he introduced the puddled steel process in Russia and at the Einsiedel works in Saxony in the years 1851-1853. It is not known whether he stuck to his method or applied Bremme’s. In 1855 he offered to Bochumer Verein to introduce puddled steel production for 3,000 thalers, that is, to build the plant according to his own designs and to train the workers. Bochumer Verein refused on the grounds that at that time they had no intention of producing puddled steel themselves. However, a decision must have been made soon afterwards, as can be inferred from a contemporary article. After that, after registering Bremme’s second patent in 1854, Ewald Riepe sold the old patent from 1850 in London, which was based on Lohage’s ideas, to a certain F. J. Klein for 115 pounds, who then allegedly resold it to Jacob Mayer from Bochumer Verein. As can be seen, the dissemination of technical innovations sometimes proceeded in a rather complicated way.
Another invention is linked to Bochumer Verein and its predecessor, the company Mayer & Kühne, the distribution of which was also related to the Prussian patent issue. At the end of the 1840s, Jacob Mayer (1813-1875) succeeded in inventing cast steel. From now on crucible steel could be cast in the same way as cast iron, and forging became superfluous. However, the real secret of this invention did not concern the steel, but the moulding compound, the composition of which Mayer developed together with the master moulders Mathias and Johann Brandenburg (father and son), who came from the Eifel. In 1855, Mayer explained in more detail in a patent application which properties the mould had to have so that crucible steel could be cast in it:
- it must allow the casting to contract unhindered,
- be so porous that any gases that may still develop can escape and
- still be so strong that it can withstand the pressure of the inflowing and turbulent cast steel, finally
- be highly fireproof. Then a device through which an even stronger inflow of the cast steel into the mould is brought about than is possible by simply pouring out the crucible.
Casting was first used in the manufacture of steel bells, a product that was to become an important export item for Bochumer Verein for more than a hundred years. On December 16, 1851, Jacob Mayer submitted a patent application in this direction to the Prussian Ministry of Commerce, which was rejected. According to the Ministry, “the choice of a material that has not been customary since then but is known per se (steel instead of bronze, the original) cannot be the subject of a patent according to the existing principles”. In order to prove the opposite, Mayer submitted a new application on June 28, 1852, but with the difference that this time he wanted to protect the composition of the moulding compound and the entire casting process. But these as well as later submissions were unsuccessful, so that Mayer was only able to protect his process by keeping it extremely secret, which he was able to do until the early 1860s, when Alfred Krupp, who had fought mould casting for a long time, took up with it himself, probably with the help of a worker enlisted from Bochumer Verein.
As much as Mayer had to be careful to protect the manufacturing secrecy in his own country, he was also interested in making additional profits by issuing licenses, especially since the European market was big enough for such a special product. Like Lohage and Bremme, he therefore had to endeavour to obtain patents for his invention in the industrialized countries, which could then be exploited by interested companies. Whether it is a coincidence or personal connections played a role, Jacob Mayer in any case transferred the right to the already mentioned chemist Ewald Riepe, under whose name two patents on steel bells (Turret or Clock-Tower Bells) and moulds (Moulds for Steel Casting) were taken out, and to find a suitable licensee. The two patents, dated July 9, 1853 and approved January 6 and 9, 1854, were published as British Patents Nos. 1636 and 1637, which is why Riepe, as with the puddled steel patent, was for a long time considered the actual inventor. It went without saying that this transfer of rights to an intermediary required legal protection, especially since Riepe, as was to be shown, had a very broad conscience on this point in particular. On May 11, 1853, the firm of Mayer & Kühne in Bochum and Riepe, who were at that time in the process of introducing the puddled steel process at the Low Moor ironworks in Yorkshire, concluded an agreement which clearly defined the rights and obligations of both parties. After that, Riepe was informed of the two processes for which he was to take out patents for 14 years in England and, if possible, also in Scotland, within 3 months. In the event of a possible refusal, Riepe must remain silent about his knowledge. Furthermore, Riepe was obliged to take care of the exploitation of the patents, “whether through the granting of a license or through the sale of the patents or in some other way”, although the prior consent of Mayer & Kühne must be obtained. The company, on the other hand, was willing to help set up production when the patents were acquired by an English company. The annual patent tax was to be paid by Riepe. One section of the contract was of decisive importance, in which it was stipulated: “The patents recorded in the name of Hn E. Riepe with the comment by communication (by notification) are the joint property of the contracting parties”, with Mayer & Kühne holding 5/12 and Riepe holding 7/12. Any profits should be shared accordingly.
As mentioned above, Riepe obtained the patents for England and quickly found a company that was very interested in the invention. It was Naylor, Vickers & Co. in Sheffield, one of the most important English crucible steel producers. On January 12, 1855, a contract was signed between Riepe and the Sheffielders, by which Naylor, Vickers & Co. were authorized to exploit the mould casting and bell casting patents.
Since knowledge of the patent specifications was not sufficient for a successful start of the production process, the contract stipulated, in a similar way to the contracts already discussed between Bessemer and the Prussian companies:
“And the said Ewald Riepe further hereby undertakes to take the necessary measures to inform the said Naylor and Vickers of the practical and advantageous effect of the mentioned patented inventions, which are currently being used abroad (namely in Bochum), and convince them by personally explaining to them the procedure observed and showing it to them on the Continent. And further… Ewald Riepe will procure a sufficient number of workers and a capable foreman and send them from the Continent to Sheffield to work in the Naylor & Vickers factory to direct the execution of said invention, Ewald Riepe paying the workers’ travel expenses there and back, and Naylor and Vickers paying their usual fair wages.”
In addition, the partners of Naylor, Vickers & Co. undertook to inspect the production process in Bochum personally or through a representative. After these contracts, nothing would have stood in the way of smooth cooperation if legal difficulties had not suddenly arisen between Riepe and the people in Bochum. In 1854, the Mayer & Kühne company was converted into the joint-stock company Bochumer Verein für Bergbau und Gußstahlfabrikation (Bochum Association for Mining and Cast Steel Production). Although it was stipulated that all rights, including patents, would be transferred to the new company, Riepe stubbornly refused to acknowledge this. Moreover, in France he had taken out patents in his name without notifying the Bochumers. There is extensive material on the quarrels with Riepe, which lasted through the rest of the 1850s. Finally, an amicable agreement was reached and the agreement was contractually secured. However, when Riepe died in 1860, there were difficulties with the heirs again, since Riepe had not paid the patent tax on time for a certain patent in England, so that the claim expired and the invention was also exploited by an English company.
In spite of these disagreements, which basically only touched on the relationship between Bochumer Verein and Riepe, a gratifying partnership developed between the Bochum factory and the Sheffield factory in both business and technical terms. When Mayer opened up a further area of application for moulding by inventing the full disc wheel (wheel and tyre in one piece), Naylor, Vickers & Co. took the license. The same applied to the production of several solid disc wheels from a single casting. But there were also suggestions from Sheffield, especially of a technical nature. Jacob Mayer was often in Sheffield, and at times he even considered switching to Naylor, Vickers & Co. when the disputes over competence with Louis Baare, the commercial director of Bochumer Verein seemed to have no end.
Despite all the cooperation, both sides naturally tried to protect their commercial advantage. Numerous correspondences bear witness to this. For example, in 1861 the two companies split the market in the steel casting sector. Bochumer Verein undertook to offer its products only on the continent, while the English retained the monopoly on the islands and in North America.
The collaboration between the two companies ended in the mid-1860s, or rather, it then slowly fell asleep. Steel castings were now so widespread that secrecy was out of the question, especially since the patents had by then expired. The Sheffielders themselves had gained enough experience with the moulding process to be able to pursue its further development on their own.
Kenneth Barraclough’s 1981 thesis
This thesis was presented to the University of Sheffield in May 1981. It is a comprehensive history and description of the production processes used in the steel industry. In the introduction the author says ‘it was a discussion with Miss Mary Walton, then Local Studies Librarian in Sheffield, that provided the impetus to start serious work on the project; I well remember her telling me, “It’s up to someone from the steelworks, like yourself, to get on with it before it is too late”.’
Reading the thesis gave me the background needed to understand Ulrich Troitzsch’s paper and Ewald Riepe’s patents. However, its contents are of limited interest to bell historians. Key excerpts include, on page 292, in a section covering ingot size for crucible steel casting:
“Within the larger works, however, much more complicated operations were carried out. As it so happened, the earliest example of multiple pouring on a large scale in this country refers to the production of a casting rather than an ingot. This was at the Millsands works of Naylor, Vickers and Company in 1860. The casting involved was a steel bell, destined for the Fire Station in San Francisco; its finished weight was 5824 lb. and required the contents of 105 crucibles for its production. (This information is taken from the Illustrated London News article of 7 January 1860, p12 and the footnote continues: The casting was perfectly sound, stood 5’3″ high and had a diameter of 6’2″ at the mouth.”)
I have a recording of this bell, which is now at St Ignatius’ church, San Francisco.
On page 369, reference is made to a paper presented in 1858 by Mr Vickers of Naylor Vickers and Company, in which he says “. . . the puddled steel manufactured by the Low Moor Company has not come into much use, owing to the high price they had put on it.” This is an oblique reference to Ewald Riepe’s first UK patent.
In his paper, Mr Vickers goes on to say “Cast steel made from puddled steel is more malleable than the generality of English iron converted into steel and is well adapted for shafts, spindles and other portions of machinery. I have also used it extensively for cast steel bells.”
On page 577 there is a description of the founding of Bochumer Verein by Jacob Meyer: ” . . . Mayer, taking other partners in 1854 and founding Bochumer Verein, specialised in castings, having developed a moulding technique suited to the requirements for dealing with crucible steel. The first castings seem to have been steel bells; later the requirements of the expanding railroad industry, both as castings and forgings, took a large part of their output and, here again, they came into competition with Krupp. One of Bochumer Verein’s particular specialities was the provision of forged axles, fitted with cast steel wheel centres and rolled seamless tyres, all in crucible steel.”
I am very grateful to Dr.-Ing. Heino Strobel for drawing Ulrich Troitzsch’s paper to my attention, and for pointing out various areas where I had mis-understood Riepe’s patents and the relationship between Naylor Vickers and Bochumer Verein.
I am also grateful to Kenneth Barraclough for his comprehensive and informative thesis.
Finally, I must thank David Cawley for his article ‘Colonel Tom and his Cast Steel Bells’ published in The Ringing World 2000 pp. 1259-1263 which was the first historical review of Naylor-Vickers’ bellfounding published in the UK
Kenneth Charles Barraclough, The Development of the Early Steelmaking Processes – An Essay in the History of Technology, PhD Thesis, Sheffield University, May 1981
Ulrich Troitzsch, Die Auswirkungen der Preußischen Patentbestimmungen auf die
Eisenindustrie in den 50er und 60er Jahren des 19. Jahrhunderts, Tradition (Bd. 17, 1972, Nr. 5/6: 292-313)