To paraphrase radio personality Roman Mars, good design (and welding) is 99% invisible. You only notice when something goes wrong, and that’s a crying shame. April is National Welding Month! Welding and welders build the world around us in ways that are both obvious but also unexpected. Whether jewelry, cars, sculptures, bridges, airplanes, skyscrapers, or space stations, welding makes it possible and binds our society together.
The demand for skilled welders is so high that the government and companies are paying to teach workers how to weld. Welders are individuals who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, who are creative, detail oriented, and disciplined. Those that learn this indispensable skill have endless opportunity and can find careers in almost any industry.
To celebrate and commemorate the people who have built our world for centuries, we wanted to take a look back at the history of welding and also offer welding information at the bottom of the page.
Back in the day…
Humans have been joining metals by fusing them together for thousands of years. The ancient Greek historian Herotodus describes people welding metals 2,500 years ago. Welding techniques improved over the centuries, and the Middle Ages saw widespread advances in welding in the form of forge welding, which is a more technical way of saying “heating metal up and hitting it with a hammer until it fuses with other metal.”
It wasn’t until the 1800s electrical welding was discovered. Numerous engineers, primarily in the Russian Empire, experimented with forms of chemical and electrical welding. British chemist Edmund Davy discovered a crude form of acetylene welding in 1836, but it was almost 70 years later that somebody developed a practical version. It was Russian engineer Nikolay Benardos who invented the first modern and practical form of arc welding in 1881, and revolutionized the process.
What is it good for…
Demand for welding as well as technical innovations in welding skyrocketed during World War I. The combatant nations demanded more weapons and vehicles of higher quality and faster manufacture. With the end of the conflict, demand for welding continued to grow, this time for the domestic sector. The first all welded merchant vessel, M/S Carolinian, was launched in 1930. Then in 1932, Soviet scientist Konstantin Khrenov developed underwater arc welding.
The outbreak of World War II saw another massive increase in demand and innovation. It also revealed problems in the technology and techniques used. One of the more infamous examples is the early Liberty ships.
Of the 2,710 Liberties built, about 1,500 suffered significant fractures in the welds. In fact, 12 of the Liberties cracked completely in half and sank without warning. Typically this happened in the frigid and stormy waters of the North Atlantic.
Another example was the T2-class oil tankers. 533 were rushed into production during 1940-1945. They were found to be prone to weld cracking. 6 of the T2s cracked in half without warning and sank as well.
There is a 2016 movie called “The Finest Hours” about that. The film follows the true story of the US Coast Guard rescuing the crew from a T2 after it split in half during a cyclone in 1952.
But chemists and engineers learned from these accidents, and developed methods to ensure better welds which we still use today.
Things are looking down and up…
In the post-war world, welding continued to be crucial. Underwater welding has become much more widespread, whether to work on bridges, ships, submarines, pipelines, or oil rigs. Underwater welding is a demanding profession, and while there is high demand and often high pay, there is a reason. There has historically been, and continues to be, a high turnover for underwater welders.
On a related sidenote, one of the best schools for underwater welding in the world, the Divers Institute of Technology, is less than a mile down the road from our Seattle facility!
The continued growth of cities depended on welders and many of the techniques developed and refined over the first half of the century. Similarly, the recent and explosive growth of “supertall” (984 ft/300m or taller) and “megatall” (1,969 ft/600m or taller) has created huge global demand for welders as well as better techniques. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about regarding the growth of these buildings, consider the following: Of the 55 tallest buildings in the world, only 2, the Empire State building and Willis Tower, were built before 1990, 7 were built in the 1990s, and the remaining 46 were built after 2000. We could spend every day of National Welding Month just talking about the amazing skyscrapers welders build and there would be plenty to discuss.
To boldly go where no one has gone before…
Welding is also crucial in our efforts to explore the Final Frontier. Experiments with the viability of welding in vacuums and zero Gs were first conducted in 1969. Soviet cosmonauts G. Shonin and V. Kubasov of the Soyuz-6 mission did this historic first. They found that although the challenges of welding in space were great. But with the correct gear it is possible to make welds that are as good as those made on solid ground.
Welding is used to assemble spacecraft on the ground as well as in orbit. Even as we expand out beyond the safety of our pale blue dot, this skill remains crucial. The American Welding Society even has special courses for welding in outer space!
Welding has been crucial to human civilization for thousands of years. In that time it has gone from creating nails to launching spaceships. We hope that this little jaunt back through history has given you an appreciation for everything that welders do and mean for society. We also would like to extend our thanks to welders for everything that they do, and wish them continued success in building a brighter future for us all!