My Steam Hammer as thus first sketched, consisted of, first, a massive anvil on which to rest the work; second, a block of iron constituting the hammer or blow-giving portion; and, third, an inverted steam cylinder to whose piston-rod the hammer-block was attached. All that was then required to produce a most effective hammer was simply to admit steam of sufficient pressure into the cylinder, so as to act on the under-side of the piston, and thus to raise the hammer-block attached to the end of the piston rod. By a very simple arrangement of a slide valve, under the control of all attendant, the steam was allowed to escape and thus permit the massive block of iron rapidly to descend by its own gravity upon the work then upon the anvil.
Thus, by the more or less rapid manner in which the attendant allowed the steam to enter or escape from the cylinder, any required number or any intensity of blows could be delivered. Their succession might be modified in an instant. The hammer might be arrested and suspended according to the requirements of the work. The workman might thus, as it were, think in blows. He might deal them out on to the ponderous glowing mass, and mould or knead it into the desired form as if it were a lump of clay; or pat it with gentle taps according to his will, or at the desire of the forgeman.
Rude and rapidly sketched out as it was, this, my first delineation of the steam hammer, will be found to comprise all the essential elements of the invention. Every detail of the drawing retains to this day the form and arrangement which I gave to it forty-three years ago. I believed that the steam hammer would prove practically successful; and I looked forward to its general employment in the forging of heavy masses of iron. It is no small gratification to me now, when I look over my rude and hasty first sketch, to find that I hit the mark so exactly, not only in the general structure but in the details; and that the invention as I then conceived it and put it into shape, still retains its form and arrangements intact in the thousands of steam hammers that are now doing good service in the mechanical arts throughout the civilised world.
But to return to my correspondence with the Great Western Steamship Company. I wrote at once to Mr. Humphries, and sent him a sketch of my proposed steam hammer. I told him that I felt assured he would now be able to overcome his difficulty, and that the paddle-shaft of the Great Britain might now be forged. Mr. Humphries was delighted with my design. He submitted it to Mr. Brunel, engineer-in-chief of the steamship: to Mr. Guppy, the managing director; and to other persons interested in the undertaking,--by all of whom it was heartily approved. I accordingly gave the Company permission to communicate my design to such forge proprietors as might feel disposed to erect the steam hammer, the only condition that I made being, that in the event of its being adopted I was to be allowed to supply it in accordance with my design.
But the paddle-shaft of the Great Britain was never forged. About that time the substitution of the Screw for the paddle-wheel as a means of propulsion was attracting much attention. The performances of the Archimedes, as arranged by Mr. Francis P. Smith, were so satisfactory that Mr. Brunel, after he had made an excursion in that vessel, recommended the directors to adopt the new propelling power. After much discussion, they yielded to his strongly-urged advice. The consequence was, that the great engines which Mr. Humphries had so elaborately designed, and which were far advanced in construction, were given up, to his inexpressible regret and mortification, as he had pinned his highest hopes as a practical engineer on the results of their performance. And, to crown his distress, he was ordered to produce fresh designs of engines specially suited for screw propulsion. Mr. Humphries was a man of the most sensitive and sanguine constitution of mind. The labour and the anxiety which he had already undergone, and perhaps the disappointment of his hopes, proved too much for him; and a brain fever carried him off after a few days' illness. There was thus, for a time, an end of the steam hammer required for forging the paddle-shaft of the Great Britain.
Very bad times for the iron-trade, and for all mechanical undertakings, set in about this time. A wide-spread depression affected all conditions of industry Although I wrote to the heads of all the great firms, urging the importance of my invention, and forwarding designs of my steam hammer, I was unable to obtain a single order. It is true, they cordially approved of my plan, and were greatly struck by its simplicity, unity, and apparent power.* [footnote... Among the heads of firms who sent me cordial congratulations on my design, were Benjamin Hick, of the Soho Ironworks, Bolton, a man, whose judgment in all matters connected with engineering and mechanical construction was held in the very highest regard; Messrs. Rushton and Eckersley, Bolton Ironworks; Messrs. Howard and Ravenhill, Rotherhithe Ironworks, London; Messrs. Hawkes, Crashaw, and Company, Newcastle-upon-Tyne; George Thorneycroft, Wolverhampton; and others. ...]
But the substance of their replies was, that they had not sufficient orders to keep the forge hammers they already possessed in work. They promised, however, that in the event of trade recovering from its depression, they would probably adopt the new power.
In the meantime my invention was taken up in an entirely new and unexpected quarter. I had for some years been supplying foreign customers with self-acting machine tools. The principals of continental manufacturing establishments were accustomed to make frequent visits to England for the purpose of purchasing various machine tools required for the production of the ponderous as well as the lighter parts of their machinery. We gave our foreign visitors every facility and opportunity for seeing our own tools at work, and they were often so much pleased that, when they came to order one special tool, they ended by ordering many,--the machine tools in full activity thus acting as their most effective advertisements. In like manner I freely opened my Scheme Book to any foreign visitors.* [footnote... Some establishments in the same line of business were jealous of the visit of foreigners; but to our views, restriction in the communication of new ideas on mechanical subjects to foreigners of intelligence and enterprising spirit served no good purpose, as the foreign engineer was certain to obtain all the information he was in quest of from the drawings in the Patent Office, or from the admirable engravings contained in the engineering publications of the day. It was better to derive the advantage of supplying them with the machines they were in quest of, than to wait until the demand was supplied by foreigners themselves. ...]