Let’s face it: bringing up the welding facts or the history of welding at the family dinner table might bore some crowds. But, did they know that the moment any bare metals touch in outer space, they are instantly and automatically welded together in a process known as “cold welding?” Got your interest now? I bet I do!
Exploring the history of welding opens up a world of fun facts and, ahem, riveting stories. In fact, as I found out, the simple act of joining two metals together has revolutionized human advancement and continues to do so to this day. From the first small golden boxes that mesmerized the ancients, to futuristic ultrasonic welded full-bodied vehicles, humans are innately fascinated by welding.
So, if you want to entertain your dinner guests, perhaps the history of welding can be quite a compelling topic after all. I guess it depends on the crowd.
What Is Welding?
When the average Jane or Joe thinks about welding, they might picture a someone with a giant face-protecting mask sweating over hot bare metal in a dim garage. While our image of hard-working mechanics is justified, there’s a lot more to welding and than the everyday MIG and TIG welding stud.
In official words, we can refer to welding as the manufacturing and production process whereby materials are melted and fused together. Throughout the history of welding, these materials are typically metals such as steel or aluminum. However, in more recent times, welders have also achieved this with other materials such as thermoplastics or even glass.
There are a countless number of tools, machines, and techniques that exist in the world of welding. In fact, there are so many that it would be impossible to list them all here. However, we can narrow it down a bit, so without further ado, let’s dive into some of the most common examples.
Modern welding materials and processes
In today’s age, the majority of manual welding processes use a method known as arc welding. The most common type is called shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) or stick welding.
Basically, welders use a particular machine to create an electric current to strike an arc between the metal and a welding rod. In this process, welders use the rod or stick to melt it into the weld and to help fill the gap between the two materials. An alternate name for it this method is TIG welding.
On the other hand, there’s MIG welding. Instead of using refillable rods, a MIG welding machine has a continuously fed wire to act as the consumable rod, considerably speeding up work time.
TIG welders use a unique gas mixture and separate filler material to achieve a weld. Comparably, MIG welding is much faster and has been throughout the history of welding. However, we more commonly associate TIG welding with high-quality welds, particularly on thinner sheeted materials.
As you might assume, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. Welders can also use gas welding, resistance welding, solid-state welding, and even energy beam welding. However, it’s important not to get distracted with particulars while we dive into the history of welding.
The History of Welding
Exploring the fascinating roots and history of welding will arouse every metal-heads’ interests. No, I’m not talking about the headbanging variety.
Welding by the ancients
Throughout the history of welding, humans have thought up new ways to join metals together. The earliest examples in the history of welding date back almost 5000 years ago. Interestingly, these first specimens were small, decorative golden boxes. These were welded together using a technique known as pressure welding, effectively heating and hammering the join to fuse them together.
Moving forward, there are several more ancient examples, however none as remarkable or prominent as the Ancient Egyptians and Incas.
By learning to weld iron, these civilizations could now access much stronger tools and weapons. To do this, the Egyptians and Incas heated the metals and hammered them together. They both used hard rocks tied to sticks to create effective hammers. Although the civilizations achieved this by relatively rudimentary by today’s standards, the result radically transformed their societies and way of life.
Looking at the bigger picture, the manipulation of metals radically transformed an entire era. These innovations were so crucial to technological advancement that we named entire epochs in human history after them: The Bronze Age, The Iron Age, and, later, The Industrial Age.
History of welding in the Middle Ages
Most movies depicting medieval times show blacksmiths hard at work forging heavy steel weapons and armor by melting and hammering iron together. These techniques shared the same universal principles as those used by the ancient Egyptians and Mediterranean peoples. However, the medieval blacksmiths took the art to a new scale, forging thousands of higher quality products.
In hindsight, their hammering and clammering techniques might seem a little dated in comparison to modern welding applications. Nevertheless, these medieval welders and the weapons and tools they manufactured forged the future path of humanity in iron and steel.
In fact, many technological advancements in production, transport, and war relied on these primitive welding practices of heating, hammering, and cooling metals.
While techniques are indeed vastly different today, the history of welding didn’t see the dramatic leap in progress until the early 1900s.
The industrial boom
While the industrial revolution powered innovation across the world, metal construction had primarily moved on from welding. Instead, most joined metals used bolts and rivets.
It wasn’t until 1886 when an inventor by the name of Elihu Thomson created resistance welding. This was the first time that people melted joints between metals with an electrical current.
This essentially tossed rivets and bolts to the wayside. More importantly, however, the radical invention “sparked” (get it?) a new way to think about welding practices. All methods throughout the history of welding that use electrical current, gases, and consumable fillers owe thanks to Elihu.
If there’s one man us welders should thank, it’s him.
Since then, advancements in welding technology have skyrocketed – quite literally. While people used steel forging techniques for hundreds of years, it took less than a century for high-tech welding techniques to take us to the moon in metal ships fit for space. Let that settle in.
Welding and war
The timing of Elihu’s innovations effectively tied the history of welding with the war machine. Although, by the time the first world war rolled around, there were already several further breakthroughs in welding innovation.
In fact, the British made the majority of their bombs and mines by using arc welding techniques.
Meanwhile further into the first World War, nations constructed the very first wholly-welded naval ships. A particularly notable example is the Fullagar. This ship famously ran aground and stayed whole due to being completely welded together instead of using pop-rivets.
In short, welding flourished and played an enormous role in both great wars. Both sides of each poured tremendous amounts of time and money into innovating and perfecting the science and technique.
For instance, World War One introduced the use of X-Ray machines to examine the integrity of welds. As a result, welds were stronger and more reliable. This same technology is still common practice in commercial welding today.
The modern era: automation, innovation, and space exploration. Yes, wars had a tremendous impact on welding technology. Even so, the capitalist cogs dwarf these gains.
The drive for bigger, better, and stronger products at competitive prices drove industries towards more advanced welding techniques. To illustrate, manufacturers created the first plastic-bodied car using a method known as ultrasonic welding.
I know what you’re thinking, we don’t often see plastic cars on the road today. However, several industries still use ultrasonic, high-frequency waves to vibrate and heat plastics to fuse.
In terms of automation, General Motors were quick to realize the potential of automated welding practices. The Unimate was a spot-welding robot and the first industrial robot in the history of welding and manufacturing.
Although the future is trending to automated and robot welding, it certainly is a lucrative career today. Throughout the world, industries are always looking for highly competent welders.
Although it can be considered dangerous, underwater welding, or, hyperbaric welding is one of the highest paying construction jobs in the world. So if you were already thinking about it, grab a deal on some welding aprons and welding masks, and get to learning!
Welding Together a New Future
Today, more than 50 percent of all human-made products have welding at some stage of the manufacturing process. If you take a look around, how many things do you see that has metal in it? A lot, right? All those things that you’re looking at would most likely be welded.
From your laptop or smartphone that you’re using to read this, to the car you use to drive to work – they’d all be unusable without the art of welding.
In fact, some might say that it’s the technological advancements in the history of welding which took us from the stone age to the stars.
When we take a look into the future, it’s clear that welding will continue to play its part. Though processes, materials, and even the environment that we weld in might change, the art of fusing materials together will remain.
Have you got any interesting welding facts for dinner table discussions? We’d love to hear them. Feel free to leave a comment below!