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The History of Welding (Background and Timeline of Events)


Welding is a process for joining materials by using a high heat to melt parts together. The materials, usually metals or thermoplastics, fuse together as they cool. As a process, it is distinct from brazing and soldering, which are lower temperature processes that do not involve the melting of the base material – but when did welding start?

Welding can be traced back over thousands of years, with archaeological evidence dating back to around 3,000 B.C. in Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean. These earliest forms of welding involved hammering two pieces of metal together under heat until they joined.

Versions of this type of forge welding continued for thousands of years until the 19th Century and the discovery of acetylene gas, in 1836 by English chemist Edmund Davy, led to the later creation of modern conventional welding and, in 1881, Russian inventor Nikolay Bernados introduced carbon arc welding, which became the first practical arc welding process.

Prior to these nineteenth century developments, forge welding was the only welding process, with blacksmiths using heat and hammering to join metals such as iron and steel. While the late 19th Century saw the development of oxy-fuel and arc welding, it was in the 20th Century that welding technologies really advanced, driven by the needs of the two world wars to find reliable and inexpensive joining techniques.

Following the end of the Second World War, a number of modern welding methods were created, including shielded metal arc welding, gas metal arc welding, submerged arc welding, flux-cored arc welding and electroslag welding. These were later joined by laser beam welding, electron beam welding, magnetic pulse welding, and friction stir welding in the latter half of the century. Today’s welding techniques also include robotic welding, which is frequently used in industrial settings.


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Welding Etymology

Clues about the background of welding can be gained by looking at the roots of the English word itself, which has its roots in Scandinavia. Although some may think that ‘weld’ comes from the Old English word ‘weald,’ this actually referred to a forested area and became the modern English word ‘wild.’ The Old English for iron welding was ‘samod,’ which means ‘to bring together,’ or ‘samodwellung,’ which means ‘to bring together hot.’

However, weld actually comes from the later Middle English verb ‘well’ (wæll) or ‘welling’ (wællen), which means 'to heat' (to the maximum possible temperature) or 'to bring to a boil'. The past-tense participle of this verb is ‘welled’ (wællende). It was first recorded in a version of the Christian Bible from 1590 that had been translated into English by John Wycliffe. The original English version, taken from Isaiah 2:4, read, "...thei shul bete togidere their swerdes into shares..." (they shall beat together their swords into plowshares), but Wycliffe’s fourteenth century version was changed to, "...thei shullen welle togidere her swerdes in-to scharris..." (they shall weld together their swords into plowshares).

As with a great many English words, the root of the word ‘well’ goes back to Scandinavia and the Vikings (in this case Swedish) with their word ‘valla,’ meaning to boil. Although Sweden was a large exporter of iron during the Middle Ages valla was only used in relation to joining metals when used alongside the word for iron (järn), as in valla järn ('to boil iron').

Of course, other languages had their own words for welding (or ‘boiling’) iron, including the Illyrian (Greek) word ‘variti,’ the Turkish ‘kaynamak,’ the  Grison (Swiss) ‘bulgir,’ and the Lettish (Latvian) word ‘sawdrit’ (meaning 'to weld or solder', which was derived from ‘wdrit,’ again meaning 'to boil').

When Was Welding Invented?

Since the history of joining metals goes back several thousand years, it is pretty much impossible to know who was the first person to invent welding. Early examples of welding date back to the Bronze Age (from around 2,000 B.C. to 700 B.C.) and the Iron Age (from between 1200 B.C. and 600 B.C) in Europe and the Middle East, but there is evidence of welding in Egypt going back to around 3,000 B.C.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus claimed, in his ‘The Histories’ from the 5th Century B.C., that Glaucus of Chios “single-handedly invented iron welding,” although it is unlikely that he was actually the world’s first welder.

Regardless of who was actually the first person to use welding to join metals, there were many advances in forge welding during the Middle Ages (around 500 A.D. to 1500 A.D.), when blacksmiths would beat heated metal to form a bond and create all manner of items, including decorative pieces, tools and weapons. By 1540 A.D., Vannoccio Biringuccio published his ‘De La Pirotechnia,’ which included descriptions of forging as, by this time in Europe (the Renaissance), craftsmen had become skilled in the process.

The beginning of what was to become modern welding can be traced back to the discovery of the short-pulse electrical arc by Sir Humphrey Davy in 1800, with the results being published in 1801. Elsewhere, Russian scientist Vasily Petrov created the continuous electric arc in 1802, publishing the results of his experiments in ‘News of Galvanic-Voltaic Experiments’ in 1803. In the description of his results, Petrov wrote of a stable arc discharge, indicating that it could have numerous uses, including for melting metals. Humphrey Davy, meanwhile, unaware of Petrov’s work, rediscovered the continuous electric arc in 1808, but it wasn’t until 1881-82 that it was used for welding, when the Russian, Nikolai Bernados and the Pole, Stanislaw Olszewski created the world’s first electric arc welding technique, carbon arc welding, with the use of carbon electrodes. The associated patent officially made this invention the first welding machine.

 Over the ensuing decades there were numerous advances in welding technology as well as developments to existing processes. To provide a full picture of how welding has developed over the years, it is worth providing a timeline of events…

History of Welding (Timeline of Events)

The history of welding goes back thousands of years, but really started to pick-up pace in the latter years of the 19th Century with what could be considered the advent of modern welding techniques.

Circa 3000 B.C.

Evidence from ancient Egypt shows people working with bronze, using charcoal to pressure weld swords and other items.

Circa 1500 B.C.

Evidence shows that early iron smelting begins.

Circa 1000 B.C.

Archaeologists have uncovered welding on small golden boxes dating from this period as well as jewellery, dining utensils and weapons. These items were made from bronze, copper, gold, iron and silver.

589 A.D.

Chinese metalworkers from the Sui Dynasty discover how to turn iron into steel. Around this time Japanese metalworkers weld and forge steel to create Samurai swords.

The Middle Ages (Circa 500 to 1500 A.D.)

This period, which began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire, saw blacksmithing spread across nations to make a range of welded metal objects. Advances in forge welding allowed for the production of a range of different objects, including horseshoes, locks, nails, furniture, weapons and armour. As a result, the blacksmith’s forge became the centre of many settlements, providing essential tools and items for everyday living, protection and transportation.

1540 A.D.

Italian metallurgist, Vannoccio Biringuccio publishes the first printed book on metallurgy, ‘De La Pirotechnia,’ which includes descriptions of forge welding and smelting.

1500-1800 A.D.

This period, covering The Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment leading to the Modern Age, saw welding continue pretty much as it had for centuries, but things would change dramatically with the Industrial Revolution.

1800 A.D.

Chemist, Sir Humphrey Davy discovers the production of an arc between two carbon electrodes using a battery.

1803 A.D.

Russian scientist, Vasily Petrov creates a stable electric arc, which leads to the later invention of the electric generator and arc lighting. This discovery also allows metalworkers to use the arc to melt metals, creating the foundations of arc welding.

1836 A.D.

Humphry Davy’s cousin, Edmund Davy is credited with discovering acetylene, which was important in the later development of gas welding and cutting. It took the invention of a suitable torch in around 1900 for this welding process to become practical.

1881 A.D.

Working at the Cabot Laboratory in France, Auguste de Meritens joined lead plates for storage batteries using the heat from an arc. However, it was his Russian student, Nikolai N Benardos, who was also working at the laboratory, who secured a patent for welding. Benardos and fellow Russian, Stanislaus Olszewski, went on to secure patents in Britain (1885) and America (1887). These patents showed an early electrode holder and marked the beginning of carbon arc welding, which went on to become popular into the early 1900s.

1885 A.D.

Elihu Thompson receives patents for resistance welding, before going on to advance the technique over the next 15 years with a series of further patents.

1888-1890 A.D.

The final years of the 19th Century saw the invention of metal electrodes. Firstly by Russian, Nikolai Slavyanov (1888) and then by the American, C L Coffin (1890), who was unaware of Slavyanov’s invention two years earlier. The difference between these two breakthroughs is that Slavyanov’s method was designed to cast metal into a mold, while Coffin used the melted metal from the electrode to fill a joint to make a weld.

1893 A.D.

Thermite welding is invented and then patented in 1895 by German chemist Hans Goldschmidt as oxy-fuel welding also becomes established as a welding process. Due to the relatively low cost and portability of the technique, Oxy-fuel welding becomes one of the most popular welding methods of the earlier 20th Century. However, it goes on to be largely replaced by arc welding due to advances in flux to shield the base material from impurities and stabilise the arc.

1900 A.D.

In around 1900, A P Strohmenger, working in Britain, released a metal electrode coated in clay or lime, which provided a more stable arc.

1905 A.D.

Russian scientist, Vladimir Mitkevich proposes the use of a three-phase electric arc for welding.

1907-1914 A.D.

Oscar Kjellberg of Sweden invents a covered or coated electrode by dipping short lengths of iron wire into mixtures of carbonates and silicates.  During the same period a variety of resistance welding processes are developed, including seam weldingspot welding, projection welding and flash butt welding.

1914-1918 A.D.

World War I led to an upsurge in the use and development of welding as the Allied and Axis powers tried to determine which welding processes would be best suited to military means. Arc welding was, for example, used by the British to construct the ship, the Fullagar, which had an entirely welded hull. Meanwhile, aircraft manufacture took advantage of welding processes, with German aeroplane fuselages being constructed with welds.

1919 A.D.

C J Holslag invents alternating current welding, although it took until the 1930s to become popular as heavy-coated electrodes came into wider use. This year also saw the founding of the American Welding Society (AWS). Formed as a non-profit organisation, the AWS was created by 20 members of the Wartime Welding Committee of the Emergency Fleet Corporation under the leadership of Comfort Avery Adams and was dedicated to the advancement of welding and allied processes.

1920 A.D.

P O Nobel of the General Electric Company invents automatic welding, whereby an electrode wire is fed continuously through a welding machine regulated by arc voltage. The 1920s also saw the investigation of various welding gases to protect welds from oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere, preventing rusty or brittle welds. Alexander and Langmuir used hydrogen in chambers to create a welding atmosphere to shield welds. They also experimented with two electrodes – starting with carbon but changing to tungsten electrodes – and began to use atomic hydrogen in the arc. The atomic hydrogen was blown out of the arc to create a heat that was 50% hotter than an oxyacetylene flame, creating the atomic hydrogen welding process. While this process was primarily used during the 1930s and 1940s it never became popular.

1923 A.D.

The Institution of Welding Engineers is formed after 20 acetylene welders and electric arc engineers meet at the Holborn Restaurant in London. It was formally registered in February 1923 with the aim to ‘advance and develop the science and practice of welding.’ These humble beginnings marked what would later become today’s Welding Institute and TWI Ltd.

1924 A.D.

The method for linear friction welding was patented in England by W Richter and by H Klopstock in the Soviet Union the same year, before being patented in Germany in 1929.

1926 A.D.

H M Hobart and P K Devers experimented with argon and helium atmospheres during the early 1920s, applying for patents in 1926 for the use of gas supplied around the arc. This was a forerunner to gas tungsten arc welding. Hobart and Devers also demonstrated the use of a concentric nozzle through which the wire was fed; a process that was to later become gas metal arc welding.

1927 A.D.

Following debates over the relative advantages of heavy-coated rods versus light-coated rods, Langstroth and Wunder from the A O Smith Company develop heavy-coated electrodes.

1928 A.D.

The Maurzyce Bridge in Poland becomes the world’s first welded road bridge.

1929 A.D.

The Lincoln Electric Company begins production of extruded electrode rods. Meanwhile, welding codes begin to appear that require the use of higher-quality weld metals, increasing the use of covered electrodes by the industry.

1930 A.D.

Stud welding is developed at the New York Navy Yard, where it is used to attach wood decking over a metal surface. Submerged arc welding was also developed in 1930 by the National Tube Company for use at a pipe mill in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. This process used powder or a smothered arc to make longitudinal seams in pipes. The process was patented by Robinoff in this year and then sold to the Linde Air Products Company, who renamed it Unionmelt welding. It became increasingly popular at shipyards and ordnance factories as nations began to build up armaments in 1938. 1930 also saw the launch of the world’s first all-welded merchant vessel, the MS Carolinian in Charleston, South Carolina. The 1930s also saw advances that led to the welding of reactive metals like aluminium and magnesium.

1932 A.D.

Russian, Konstantin Khrenov develops the first underwater electric arc welding process.

1939-1945 A.D.

The outbreak of the Second World War leads to a number of advances for welding history, building and improving on earlier developments. This includes the perfecting of gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) in 1941; patented by Russell Meredith and originally named Heliarc welding. This process was later licensed to Linde Air Products who developed the water-cooled torch.

1948 A.D.

The Battelle Memorial Institute, working under sponsorship from the Air Reduction Company, develops gas metal arc welding (GMAW), also known as metal inert gas (MIG) or metal active gas (MAG) welding. The process used a gas shielded arc similar to that used in gas tungsten arc welding, but replaced the tungsten electrode with a continuously-fed electrode wire. The process was improved through the use of small-diameter electrode wires and a constant voltage power source. The principle had already been patented by H E Kennedy and the process was originally introduced to weld nonferrous metals. Higher deposition rates meant that the process began to be tried for welding steel, however the high cost of inert gas hampered the spread of this technique at the time. It was first patented for aluminium welding in 1949.

1953 A.D.

Lyubavskii and Novoshilov announce the use of consumable electrodes in a carbon dioxide gas atmosphere, creating CO2 welding. This used much of the same equipment developed for inert gas metal arc welding, but was able to economically weld steels. Over the following years, the diameter of the electrodes being used were reduced, meaning that lower currents could be used. This led to the appearance of short-circuit variants such as micro-wire, short-arc and dip transfer welding in late 1958-1959. These variants meant that all-position welding was now possible on thin materials and became the most popular of the gas metal arc welding processes. Also in 1953, Soviet scientist, N F Kazakov proposes diffusion bonding.

1954 A.D.

CO2 welding is developed further with the introduction of a special electrode wire, called an inside-outside electrode, which had a tubular cross-section that contained the fluxing agents within. Called Dualshield, this process used both the gas produced by the flux as well as an external shielding gas. Invented by Bernard in 1954, it was patented in 1957 after being reintroduced by the National Cylinder Gas Company.

1956 A.D.

The first experiments into rotary friction welding take place in the Soviet Union by machinist A J Chdikov and was introduced to the United States in 1960.

1957 A.D.

Flux cored arc welding is created, using a self-shielded wire and automatic equipment, greatly increasing welding speeds. Also in 1957, Robert Gage invents plasma arc welding, using a constricted arc or an arc through an orifice that creates an arc plasma with a higher temperature than tungsten arcs.

1958 A.D.

Electron beam welding is developed in France, using a focused beam of electrons as a heat source within a vacuum chamber, although it was first made public by J A Stohr of the French Atomic Energy Commission in November 1957. Electroslag welding is introduced by the Soviets at the Brussels World Fair of 1958. Although it had been used in the Soviet Union since 1951, based on work undertaken by R K Hopkins in the United States (with patents granted in 1940), this process was not much used for joining.  The process was perfected and equipment was developed at the Paton Institute Laboratory in Kiev, Ukraine and at the Welding Research Laboratory in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. It was soon picked up by the Electromotive Division of General Motors in Chicago, who called the process Electro-Molding and used it to manufacture welded diesel engine blocks.

1959 A.D.

A new inside-outside electrode was produced that didn’t require external gas shielding, named Innershield.

1960 A.D.

A new welding variation using inert gas and small amounts of oxygen for a spray-type arc transfer is developed. This became popular during the early 1960s as another variation, using a pulsed current is introduced. The laser is also invented in 1960 by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratories, leading to the development of laser welding over the following decades.

1961 A.D.

The Arcos Corporation introduces Electrogas welding, based on electroslag welding but using a flux cored electrode wire alongside an externally-supplied shielding gas. This open arc process doesn’t use a slag bath. It was developed further to use self-shielding electrode wires while another variant was created using gas shielding and a solid wire. These methods allowed for the welding of thinner materials than were possible with electroslag welding.  Elsewhere, The Welding Institute begin the first studies into friction welding in the UK.

1962 A.D.

MTI and Caterpillar Inc. develop an inertia friction welding process in the United States.

1965 A.D.

Originally invented in the 1940s, ultrasonic welding for the joining of thermoplastic materials is patented by Seymour Lindsey and Branson Instruments laboratory manager, Robert Soloff.

1966 A.D.

Kuka AG and Thompson launch rotary friction welding for industrial applications, before going on to develop a direct-drive process in 1974.

1967 A.D.

Magnetic pulse welding comes into industrial use.

1970 A.D.

A team at TWI produce a 2kW laser and use it to demonstrate a deep penetration laser weld, although the work was not published at the time. Scientists in the United States were working on welding with cross-flow lasers around the same time, but their work was not published either. However, lasers would go on to deliver a range of welding applications over the following years.

1991 A.D.

Originally invented in the Soviet Union by Klimenko, friction stir welding is experimentally proven and developed into a commercial technology by Wayne Thomas of TWI, at which point it receives a patent in the UK.

1999 A.D.

TWI develops the ClearWeld method for welding plastics using a layer of infrared absorbing dye between two plastic parts and a laser beam which is absorbed by the dye, heating it up to melt the plastic and creating a join under pressure.

How Welding has changed over the Years

The timeline above is not exhaustive as there have been numerous developments and modifications made to welding processes over the years, with TWI being influential in this field through our welding research work.

Modern welding has developed to be fast, accurate and effective, with over 90 different welding processes now in existence and being used in industries ranging from aerospace to nuclear power, and construction to shipbuilding.

Welding techniques have not only evolved in their effectiveness but also in the levels of safety and sustainability. Modern inspection techniques have also reduced instances of weld defects and imperfections, allowing for higher standards across industry.

While TWI famously developed friction stir welding, this has also led to more recent advances, such as the development of the Coreflow technique for creating subsurface channels in materials using the friction process.  Friction processes have also been developed at TWI to weld wood, with ongoing research having caught the attention of both industry and academia.

This work continues at TWI and other research technology organisations around the world, proving that there are still plenty of possible welding advances to be discovered yet.


When was TIG Welding Invented?

Tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding was perfected in 1941 by Russell Meredith using a tungsten electrode arc and helium as a shielding gas. This invention built on earlier developments by Charles L Coffin, H M Hobart and P K Devers.

When was MIG Welding Invented?

Metal inert gas (MIG) welding was developed by the Battelle Memorial Institute in 1948 and patented for aluminium welding in 1949. Relatively easy-to-learn, it is now one of the most commonly used welding techniques.

When was Arc Welding Invented?

Arc welding drew on Edmund Davy’s 1836 discovery of acetylene and Sir Humphrey Davy’s 1800 invention of the electric generator. In 1881, the Russian, Nikolai Bernados and the Pole, Stanislaw Olszewski created the world’s first electric arc welding technique, carbon arc welding.  

When was Stick Welding Invented?

Charles L Coffin’s use of an electrode to melt a metal and create a join was patented in 1890, marking the start of stick welding, which is also known as shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), manual metal arc welding (MMA or MMAW), or flux shielded arc welding.

How long has Welding been around for?

The first archaeological evidence of welding goes back around 5,000 years, to 3,000 B.C. The earliest forms of welding show ancient Egyptians using charcoal to pressure weld swords and other items from bronze.

Who Invented TIG Welding?

Russell Meredith invented TIG welding in 1941 while working at the Northrop Aircraft Corporation in Southern California, United States.

Who Invented MIG Welding?

MIH welding built on a number of previous welding inventions dating back to the nineteenth century, however, it was finally developed by the Battelle Memorial Institute in 1948 and patented in 1949.

Who Invented Arc Welding?

In 1881, Nikolay Benardos of Russia and Stanislaw Olszewski of Poland introduced carbon arc welding, making it the first practical arc welding method.

When was Welding First Used?

Archaeological evidence points to pressure welding first being used in Egypt in around 3,000 B.C. to make swords. However, when it comes to actual archaeological evidence, small golden boxes have been found dating back to around 1,000 B.C. as well as many other items including jewellery, weapons and dining utensils.

How was Welding Invented?

It is unknown exactly how welding was invented, but evidence shows that pressure welding using charcoal was being used by ancient Egyptians around 5,000 years ago.

When did Welding Begin?

The earliest evidence of welding comes from ancient Egypt, where charcoal was used to pressure weld swords in around 3,000 B.C. However, the oldest examples of welding found by archaeologists date back around to around 1,000 B.C.

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