The Complete History of Welding

Welding is one of the most critical steps in modern metal fabrication. This is common knowledge. However, most people do not know where welding originated, what was its earliest form, and how it has evolved over the years.

Although the modern form of welding that involves the welding tools that we see today was invented in the 1800s during the Industrial Revolution, the earliest type of welding dates back thousands of years. Welding existed in some form in the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Archaeologists have found small boxes of gold with joints that were pressure welded over two millennia ago. Moreover, there is proof that Ancient Egyptians knew how to weld iron together.

From these findings, it should be clear that welding is not a new practice; instead, it has existed since the Iron Age and maybe even before. However, the welding performed in those times was extremely elementary, to say the least; it involved nothing but hammering together two metal pieces under heat.

The form of welding that is widely practiced today, albeit with more modern equipment and techniques, was discovered in the 19th Century. However, the other periods in which welding was practiced has played a significant role in this discovery. Therefore, we have included them in this guide on the history of welding.

Who invented welding?

Before we start the discussion on the different periods in the history of welding, it is essential to know who invented welding. Here, we’re talking about the modern form of welding and not the welding that existed in the Middle Ages or earlier periods.

What is the modern form of welding? It is a method that involves the use of fusion processes to join pieces of plastic or metals together to create or repair metal structures. Heat is commonly used for welding the metal pieces, and welding equipment uses laser light, electric arc, or open flames to perform the fusion.

Now that you know how the modern form of welding works, we can return to our discussion on who invented welding. While many people like to credit Sir Humphry Davy with the discovery of modern welding, no one person can be credited with the invention of welding.

However, the earliest inroads towards the modern form of welding were made at the turn of the 19th Century when Sir Davy utilized a battery to produce an electric arc between two carbon electrodes for the very first time. This was in the year 1800. Thirty-six years later, acetylene was discovered by Edmund Davy. However, it took another 45 years for the modern form of welding to be invented.

What happened during these 45 years? August De Meritens joined together lead plates using arc heat. This was followed by Nikolai Benardos, a Russian student of De Meritens, patenting an electric arc welding method involving carbon rods. Welding processes developed very rapidly after this. 

How metal electrodes could be used for welding was discovered by Nikolai Slavynov. Additionally, an American engineer C.L Coffin came up with an arc welding that involved the use of a coated metal electrode; this set the stage for the discovery of shielded metal arc welding. This is how the modern form of welding came to be.

How has the modern form of welding changed over the years?

Before we dive into the history of welding, it is essential to discuss how the modern form welding, which was discovered in the 19th Century, has changed over the years. In the last 200 years or more, the techniques and equipment used to perform welding have changed over and over again, for the better. This evolution process has helped the welding process to become faster and more accurate.

At this time, we have highly sophisticated welding processes such as robotic welding; this is a method that can weld metal more accurately and quickly than any human welder who performs the task manually. Not only that, this modern form of welding minimizes or even eliminates the risks to humans by welding. The welding process is only going to get better and more sophisticated in the future.

However, this all started with the discovery of acetylene at the start of the 19th Century; this made it possible to perform welding with a controllable source of welding. However, it was during the beginning of the 20th Century that modern welding truly started to take shape; this was a time when electricity began to become widely available.

During World War I and II, Innovation in welding methods and technology started to happen since the military needed it rapidly. It was only after the Second World War that welding was used to join metals in essential structures such as ships.

The 1950s or the period immediately after the Second World War was all about the Co2 Welding process and its rapidly increasing popularity. However, many of the key developments in modern welding took place in the 1960s. Some of these developments or advancements included Electroslag, Innershield, and Dualshield welding. Another critical discovery during this decade was Plasma arc welding.

Although it was a comparatively low-key period in the history of modern welding, the year 1970 was when many new soldering techniques were introduced; the methods were intended to provide support to electronic miniaturization. They included infrared, hot gas, and vapor phase.

The latest phase of modern welding began in 1991 when TWI introduced Friction Stir Welding. However, the crucial next discovery in welding was made eight years later; the discovery was a method that significantly increased the penetration of flux into a weld. A year later, magnetic pulse welding was introduced.

In the same year, we also witnessed, for the first time, metal composite being welded with an X-ray. Laser-arc-hybrid welding was discovered eight years later. In 2013, we saw the development of Gas Metal Arc Welding-Brazing and the use of laser technology and a lap joint in aluminum and low-carbon steel welding. This is how modern forms of welding changed over the years.

History of welding timeline

Now that you have an idea of who invented modern welding and how it has changed over the years, we can get to the history of the welding timeline; this is the complete history of welding dating back to the period Before Christ (B.C.). It covers all the periods from that until 2013; it also provides a glimpse into the future of welding. Without wasting any further time, let’s start with the history of the welding timeline.

Welding in the period B.C.

It was during this period that metal was hammered and bent for the very first time; the metal that was subjected to the earliest form of welding is thought to be copper. Many historians believe that welding started in Ancient Egypt in the year 4000 B.C.. Initially, welding was performed only on copper; however, the process progressed over the years, and ultimately iron, gold, silver, and bronze started being welded as well.

Tin was discovered in 3500 B.C., and work on bronze began between 3000 and 2000 B.C.. This was also the time when the pressure welded small boxes of gold with joints that we mentioned earlier were discovered. Additionally, metal was shaped into weapons, utensils, and jewelry during this period.

In 3000 B.C., hard soldering was used by Sumerians to produce swords. During the same period, the heat generated from charcoal was used by the Ancient Egyptians to convert iron ore into sponge iron. It was also the first time that pressure welding was used.

In 2250 B.C., Persians used Cobalt to color glass. In 1500 B.C., mercury was discovered, and the first instances of iron smelting occurred. In 1330 B.C., a blowpipe and solder were used by Ancient Egyptians to perform metal soldering. More than 300 years later, in 1000 B.C., work on iron began; this was a time when furnaces were used to bend the metal to produce spearheads and swords.

During the same time, lapped joints were hammered in Ireland to fabricate gold boxes. Between 900 and 850 B.C., the Egyptians started to manufacture tools made out of iron. The popularity of iron grew slowing during this period as people become more and more familiar with copper and bronze and their usefulness. In the same period, the Babylonians started to fabricate weapons made out of iron.

Welding in the A.D. period and the Middle Ages

The first recorded period during which the process of the gold brazing was practiced is 60 A.D.. This was recorded as a Roman Author Pliny who lived during the early Roman Empire; he documents the process by describing how salts worked as a flux and how the difficult of brazing determined the color of the metal.

The next significant development in welding during the A.D. period occurred in 310 A.D. when an iron pillar in India was constructed using welding. The pillar weighed over five metric tons. Additionally, there are structures in Rome, Scandinavia, and England that were constructed using welding somewhere between 300 and 400 A.D.

In 589 A.D., wrought iron was converted into steel for the first time during the period of the Sui Dynasty by the Chinese. During the same period, Samurai swords were fabricated by the Japanese using a welding and molding process.

In 1000 A.D., Theophilus The Monk wrote a manuscript that described the process of mixing flux to braze silver. In 1375, the metal Zinc was discovered. From the 5th to the 14th Century, better known as the Middle Ages, forge welding was the basis for all the developments and discoveries made in welding. However, the thing started to change after this period.

Welding during the 14th through 17th centuries

The history of welding during this period begins in 1540; this was year Italian metallurgist Vannoccio Biringuccio released De la pirotechnia. This book described the forging operation. In the same year, the process was mastered by Renaissance craftsmen, and this propelled the continued growth of welding in the centuries that followed.

Another critical year during this period for welding was 1568; this was the year during which an Italian goldsmith Benventuto Cellini detailed how a soldering process could be used to braze an ally made out of silver or copper. The term weld was used for the first time in 1599, and in the 17th Century, cast iron cannot be produced for the very first time.

The year 1800

There were significant developments in welding during the 19th Century. An important discovery in welding was made during this period; the discovery was the use of acetylene or open flames. What was this an important discovery? Because it enabled the fabrication of intricate tools and equipment made from metal.

In 1836, acetylene was discovered by Englishman Edmund Davy, and soon, it started to be utilized in the welding industry. Sir Humphrey Davy invented a battery-operated tool capable of producing an electric arc between electrodes made from carbon in 1800. The tool invented by Sir Davy was used widely to weld metals.

The Year 1880

Auguste De Meritens, a French scientist, successfully used arc-generated heat to join together lead plates in 1881. In the same year, Nokolai N. Benardos, a Russian scientist, along with fellow scientist Stanislaus Olszewski, invented an electrode holder which they patented in both the U.K. and the U.S.

They year 1890

At this time, carbon arc welding was the most popular and widely used method for welding. However, American engineer C.L Coffin discovered the metal electrode arc welding method in 1890 and patented it. In the same year, Russian scientist N.G. Slavianoff used the same way as Coffin to cast metals in molds.

The year 1900

Strohmenger introduced a coated metal electrode in 1990. A lime coating added stability to the arc. In the same year, several other welding processes were also developed; these included spot welding, projection welding, seam welding, and flash butt welding. Also, it was during the same time that stick electrodes became a popular tool for welding.

The year 1919

Comfort Avery Adams established the American Welding Society after the end of the First World War. The purpose of establishing the AWS was to encourage the further development of the welding processes. This first part of significant discovery related to welding in the post-WWI era was the invention of the alternating current in 1919. However, this invention wasn’t utilized by the welding industry until the 1930s.

The 1920s

There were some significant developments in welding during this period, the most notable of them being the introduction of automatic welding. A method that combined bare electrode wires with arc voltage, automated welding was initially used to construct worn crane wheels and motor shafts. Later, the automobile industry used it to produce housings for the rear axle.

In addition to the above, many welding electrodes were developed during the 1920s. This included heavy-coated rods developed and used by the A.O. Smith Company in 1927. Extruded electrode rods were manufactured and sold to the public for the first time in 1929.

Some of the other critical discoveries in welding during the 1920s included the establishment of the Institute of Welding Engineers. The test welding performed using argon and helium as a shielding gas, research on the use of X-rays to test welds, and the construction of the first welded railroad bridge.

The 1930s

In the year 1930, stud welding was developed by the New York Navy Yard. The primary purpose of this was to fix wood decking over a surface made out of metal. Two industries where this welding process was widely used were construction and shipbuilding.

During the same period, submerged arc welding process was also developed by the National Tube Company; this was an automatic welding process that was designed specifically for a pipe mill based in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Creating longitudinal seams in the pipe was the purpose of developing this welding process.

In 1930, Robinoff patented the process and sold it later to Linde Air Products Company; this was where the process got the name ‘Unionmelt welding.’ The more advanced submerged arc welding process soon replaced the stud welding process in the shipbuilding sector; the process turned out to be extremely productive in shipyards. The process remains popular even today.

The 1940s

An idea by C.L Coffin is what gave birth to the Gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) method, patented by Coffin in 1890. The GTAW method enables welding in a non-oxidizing gas atmosphere. In the late 1920s, the H.M. Hobart refine the concept by using helium as a shielding gas. Later, P.K Devers replaced helium with argon as the shielding gas to perform GTAW.

Until the 1940s, this was the method used to weld aluminum, stainless steel, and magnesium. In 1941, Meredith perfected the process and named it Heliarc welding. Later, Linde Air Products company patented the process under its name and then used it to develop the water-cooled torch.

One of the most critical welding processes, GTAW served as the basis for the development of the gas metal arc welding (GMAW) process in 1948; the development was sponsored by the Air Reduction Company and carried out at Battelle Memorial Institute.

Just like in the GTAW process, the gas-shielded arc was utilized to develop the GMAW process; the only difference was that the tungsten electrode was replaced by an electrode wire that was continuously fed. The constant-voltage power source and the small-diameter wires were some fundamental changes that added usability to the process.

Earlier, H.E. Kennedy had patented this principle. GMAW was initially introduced as a way to weld non-ferrous metals. However, people soon started trying the process on steel as well due to its high rate of deposition.

The 1950s

In 1953, Novoshilov and Lyubavski popularized the Co2 welding process, and it became the preferred method for welding steels; this was mainly due to the affordability of the process. This welding process basically involved using welding with consumable electrodes in a CO2 gas atmosphere.

Despite using equipment designed for the inert gas metal arc, the Co2 welding process could be used to economically weld steels. This helped the welding process to become popular almost immediately after it was introduced.

A hot arc is an arc used in the Co2 process, and the larger electrode wires require relatively high currents. Not too long after, we witnessed the launch of smaller-diameter electrode wires. This made it more convenient to weld thin materials. With the introduction of these electrode wires and power supplies that were increasingly refined, the popularity of the process shot up significantly.

In late 1958 and early 1959, Micro-wire or dip transfer welding, the short-circuit arc variation of GMAW was developed. What was the purpose of this variation? It allowed welding to performed on thin materials in all positions; soon, it became one of the most popular varieties of the gas metal arc welding (GMAW) process.

The 1960s

Some significant advancements occurred in the welding industry in the 1960s. Some of these developments or improvements included Electroslag, Innershield, and Dualshield welding. During the same period, Robert M. Gage invented plasma arc welding. The method was used to perform metal spraying. The 1960s was also the era in which the French developed electron beam welding; the U.S. aircraft manufacturing industry still uses this welding method.

A significant development in the welding industry that occurred during the 1960s was the invention of the laser. A few years later, laser beam welding was introduced; it proved extremely useful in welding, especially automated and high-speed welding. However, there are some significant disadvantages associated with this method, which is the reason it isn’t welding used today; the difficulties included the high cost of equipment and limited applications.

In 1960, another welding process was also introduced, and that process was explosive welding. In 1962, Mercury Space capsule was weld by Sciaky, an American manufacturing company. In 1963, there were some significant developments in weld testing, including the Varestraint Test and the Fusewelder Torch.

Between 1965 and 1967, there was increased use of Co2 laser to cut and weld. Additionally, Gravity welding started in the United Kingdom (U.K.) during this time. In 1969, the SOYUZ-6, a spacecraft, was weld in space by the Russians. Finally, many new soldering techniques were introduced in the year 1970; the purpose of these techniques was to ensure support for electronic miniaturization, and they included infrared, hot gas, and vapor phase.

The Modern or Latest Era of Welding

This period starts in 1991 and lasts till 2013. Many of the welding processes used today, which are over 90, were discovered to altered to their current state during this era. Some of the most significant developments to take place in the latest era of welding are on-board computers, robotic welding, multiple gas mixes, and highly sophisticated electrodes.

The first significant development in this era of welding was the introduction of TWI by Friction Stir Welding in 1991. In 1999, the next considerable discovery in welding was made; it was a method that increased the penetration of flux into a weld by as much as 300%. 

In 2000, magnetic pulse welding was introduced. The metal composite was also welded with an X-ray for the first time in the same year. In 2008, Laser-arc-hybrid welding was discovered. Finally, in 2013, the development of Gas Metal Arc Welding-Brazing took place; this was a process that welds the steel used in automobiles. Finally, we witnessed the use of laser technology and a lap joint in aluminum and low-carbon steel welding for the first time in the same year.

What is the future of welding?

Having gone through all the different eras of welding to date, we are now in a position to predict what the future of welding may look like. Firstly, we expect the welding operations to integrate intro process control mechanisms and agile manufacturing fully. Also, as welding is increasingly integrated into the manufacturing design and aligned with information systems, we expect the process of welding to become more automated.

In addition to the above, we expect materials that are designed-to-be-welded to be an essential requirement in the manufacturing of future products; these materials are likely to include high-strength and smart materials with embedded computer chips that monitor the lifecycle performance of the weldment. In the future, these materials could create many new opportunities for the welding industry.

In the future, welding modeling will become a crucial part of the process that looks to integrated welding across the entire manufacturing Lifecycle. Lastly, energy requirements for welding will reduce significantly with the development of these smart materials, which will help to lower the costs of welding.