Welding can trace its historic development back to ancient times. The earliest examples come from the Bronze Age. Small gold circular boxes were made by pressure welding lap joints together. It is estimated that these boxes were made more than 2000 years ago. During the Iron Age the Egyptians and people in the eastern Mediterranean area learned to weld pieces of iron together. Many tools were found which were made approximately 1000 B.C.
During the Middle Ages, the art of blacksmithing was developed and many items of iron were produced which were welded by hammering. It was not until the 19th century that welding, as we know it today was invented.
Edmund Davy of England is credited with the discovery of acetylene in 1836. The production of an arc between two carbon electrodes using a battery is credited to Sir Humphry Davy in 1800. In the mid-nineteenth century, the electric generator was invented and arc lighting became popular. During the late 1800s, gas welding and cutting was developed. Arc welding with the carbon arc and metal arc was developed and resistance welding became a practical joining process.
Auguste De Meritens, working in the Cabot Laboratory in France, used the heat of an arc for joining lead plates for storage batteries in the year 1881. It was his pupil, a Russian, Nikolai N. Benardos, working in the French laboratory, who was granted a patent for welding. He, with a fellow Russian, Stanislaus Olszewski, secured a British patent in 1885 and an American patent in 1887. The patents show an early electrode holder. This was the beginning of carbon arc welding. Bernardos’ efforts were restricted to carbon arc welding, although he was able to weld iron as well as lead. Carbon arc welding became popular during the late 1890s and early 1900s.
In 1890, C.L. Coffin of Detroit was awarded the first U.S. patent for an arc welding process using a metal electrode. This was the first record of the metal melted from the electrode carried across the arc to deposit filler metal in the joint to make a weld. About the same time, N.G. Slavianoff, a Russian, presented the same idea of transferring metal across an arc, but to cast metal in a mold.
Approximately 1900, Strohmenger introduced a coated metal electrode in Great Britain. There was a thin coating of clay or lime, but it provided a more stable arc. Oscar Kjellberg of Sweden invented a covered or coated electrode during the period of 1907 to 1914. Stick electrodes were produced by dipping short lengths of bare iron wire in thick mixtures of carbonates and silicates, and allowing the coating to dry.
Meanwhile, resistance welding processes were developed, including spot welding, seam welding, projection welding and flash butt welding. Elihu Thompson originated resistance welding. His patents were dated 1885-1900. In 1903, a German named Goldschmidt invented thermite welding that was first used to weld railroad rails.
Gas welding and cutting were perfected during this period as well. The production of oxygen and later the liquefying of air, along with the introduction of a blow pipe or torch in 1887, helped the development of both welding and cutting. Before 1900, hydrogen and coal gas were used with oxygen. However, in about 1900 a torch suitable for use with low-pressure acetylene was developed.
World War I brought a tremendous demand for armament production and welding was pressed into service. Many companies sprang up in America and in Europe to manufacture welding machines and electrodes to meet the requirements.