Thu, 02 February, 2023
With The Welding Institute celebrating its centenary year, we have been delving into the history of both the Institute and, by extension, TWI Ltd.
One such discussion led to us receiving a piece of welding history, courtesy of Fellow CEng, Alan Gifford – a replica of the world’s first-ever welded pressure vessel.
Of course, welding is commonly used for pressure vessels today, but these were once joined using rivets.
So, how did Alan come to be in possession of this engineering artefact?
He revealed, “Back in 1961, I was welding engineer at International Combustion Ltd (ICL), one of the UK’s seven boilermakers, and they were licensees of the multinational American company Combustion Engineering (CE) with its headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut. CE, as indeed was ICL.”
It was while visiting CE’s main boiler plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee when Alan noticed a small cylindrical pressure vessel mounted on a steel plinth. He enquired about the vessel, which had two semi ellipsoid ends and was around 5 feet long and 30 inches in diameter.
As Alan explained, “I told it was the first all-welded pressure vessel ever made.”
CE’S chief metallurgist at the time, Corbin Chapman then gave Alan a small replica of this pressure vessel. The replica, mounted on a wooden base, included a plaque that read:
First All Welded Boiler Drum
Tested May 2, 1930
CE Combustion Engineering
Energy Systems Worldwide
This replica stayed with Alan as a desk ornament over the next 45 years of his career up until his retirement in 1993, when he took it home and gave it a position on his desk there instead.
However, as Alan told us, “As I now approach 94, I felt it needed to be preserved and so sought more information on the item. Throughout my career I have maintained contact with one of the welding engineers who I met on that first visit – J C Campbell. I emailed him and asked if he knew any more about the manufacture of the vessel.”
Alan was told that the vessel was on display at CE in 1950, when JC Campbell began working there, noting that it was ‘hand stick welded by a guy called Amaziah Jones Moses –who went on to become VP/GM of the Chattanooga plant.’
The vessel was hydro tested to failure but it was not the welds that failed, but rather then manway cover on one of the ends which leaked first, well over the calculated pressure.
Although this testing was completed under ASME observation they did not approve it at the time.
Alan was kind enough to donate the replica pressure vessel to TWI, explaining, “it seemed right and proper that I should donate there - otherwise it would probably be in a dustbin when I am no longer the keeper!”
We would like to thank Alan donating this replica of a unique piece of welding history as well as taking the time to tell us the story of how he came to be in possession of it for so many years!