100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Blast Furnace
Year of Invention: 1350

What Is It? A furnace capable of blasting a stream of hot air through burning
metal ore to improve the purity of the finished metal.

Who Invented It? Monks at the Rievaulz Abbey (in Yorkshire, England)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

The blast furnace turned iron into the greatest construction material on Earth. Iron instantly became the favored medium for the construction of bridges, towers, and buildings. The Industrial Revolution was built on iron. Iron withstood both tension (pulling) and compressive (pushing) loads. It was strong and easy to work. The availability of masses of cheap iron changed the way weapons (canon barrels) and construction were thought of. Iron changed the landscape of cities and war. Giant iron blast furnaces belching flame and shimmering heat provided the iron to build the Industrial Revolution.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

Blacksmiths using small, fireplace-sized hearths traditionally created any metal pieces that were needed. But their coal and wood fires didn’t burn hot enough to fully melt iron ore, so blacksmiths used hand-powered bellows to force air through the fire to make it hotter. Raw metal ore was crushed and melted in small batches, then poured into stone molds. After reheating it in the glowing coals of the fire, blacksmiths pounded the softened metal into shape with hammers and grinders.

These craftsman’s skills worked well on small pieces of iron or other metal. But construction beams and girders could not be created this way, and so construction engineers relied on concrete, wood, and stone.


How Was the Blast Furnace Invented?

In the Middle Ages, European monasteries were the major economic enterprises and centers of wealth as well as of learning. Cistercian monks at the Rievaulz Monastery in North Yorkshire, England, were typical. The monks owned 1,400 sheep, grain fields, gardens, beehives, orchards, hop presses, herds of pigs and cattle, vast land holdings, and a

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